Throughout my career, I’ve found that when I have the right environment around me, putting that extra 10 percent into my projects is much easier. So for this weeks lesson I thought I would share with you what creates the ideal environment for designers to strive in. If you’re reading this as a project manager, creative director, freelancer or student I hope you are able to pull something out of it that will benefit you or your team.
My first job out of college was amazing. It was full of creativity. We had large clients, big budgets, strategists, copywriters and even our own librarian to help us research our projects. Other perks included breakfasts and half-day Fridays. My team consisted of a group of award-winning designers who were experienced and overall great to be around. Everyone in the company was dedicated to creating great projects, even the team in the binding and printing department that was on staff and on call who would have no issues coming in to help us wrap up a presentation in the wee hours of the night.
This agency was not located in downtown Columbus, but instead it was tucked away in the hills off an outlying city. My commute always consisted of the fresh smell of flowers, grass and trees combined with the crisp morning air of the country side. We had ample parking right up to the door. It was a great way to start your day. The campus was vast and all of the buildings felt like tree houses tucked away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We had rooftop access and secret rooms that allowed us to have massive brainstorms without any interruption. You literally could get lost in this place and often times I would. Getting lost was often fun, because it was then when I’d stumble across a War Room and be able to see the vast amount of creativity I was surrounded by daily.
Yes, we had fun with remote helicopters and harmless pranks, but we also worked hard. I remember spending many nights at my desk till three or four in the morning working on projects with my creative director. I also remember a summer where it was mandatory saturdays. I even remember one weekend driving from Knoxville (after visiting Julie’s family) straight into work so I could wrap up a presentation for a beginning of the week deadline.
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me I never felt like I was ever really working. I was simply creating and learning from everyone around me. As an agency we were asked to create great solutions together and I was happy playing my role in that. Working hard was always rewarded and recognized by either upper management or those you worked with directly.
Nothing is perfect and all great things must come to an end. In 2008 on the brink of the economy collapsing, I witnessed (like many others in the design industry) my first ever lay off. It was not easy to accept, but shortly after I decided that perhaps it was time for me to venture into the world of web design.
After leaving, I stayed in close contact with those I’d worked with. During those hard times and even without the great perks, I still found myself amazed at the quality and dedication of those who remained. It was then when I learned that in an environment where design is the core focus and processes are in place, and perhaps most importantly designers have ownership in their projects, it will bring the best out in everyone and a team will pull together for the greater good.
The optimal environment for a designer is not the same for everyone. It depends on your goals. The ideas above are a small sample of things to consider when thinking about the ideal environment to strive in, and I hope it at least helps give you a starting point to evaluate your situation. Finding all of these characteristics in every job, project or client is not always easy, but you should at least try if you want to ensure you’re working in the best environment for yourself as a designer.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that your best work doesn’t come from fancy perks and office buildings. It comes from being empowered and trusted to do great work from the very beginning. Many companies will say they view design as an important piece to their process, but you have to ensure it goes deeper than just making ideas look pretty. Yes, every company wants pretty, but does every company want a designer to help them reach their goals by problem-solving and asking them the hard questions? Do they want to give up control and trust you so that you can create beautiful graphics and solutions, that not only contribute to their company’s goals, but also their bottom line?
In the end, you have to decide what is the best environment for you. Your needs and goals don’t have to be complicated or shared by anyone else. When you find the right environment for you, you’ll help move mountains, not because you’ve been asked to, but because you are empowered and truly want to.