Category: design opine

Faking It

So I stumbled on to a really terrific podcast: 2Bobs. It hits my sweet spot for creative yet practical business advice and thinking. This morning on the way to the office, I was listening to the August 23rd show about the X-Factor, the qualities that set exceptional people apart from the pack. The discussion was quite good. The “Bobs” made good points made about what they believe qualifies as being/having an X-Factor, but that is not the point of this post. You can listen to the podcast to get their thoughts.

They discussed the idea of confidence being one of the predominant characteristics of a person’s X-Factor, and unfortunately you either have it or you don’t. That is not to say that you cannot develop confidence or have it become a bigger part of your character. But one comment during the discussion on confidence really hit me.

In a good way.

There is a common misconception that you can, or should, “fake it til you feel it.” Or the other variation, “fake it til you make it”. This got me to thinking about my own lack of confidence growing up, and how I have always attributed any successes in life to my ability to just keep on faking it. In retrospect, that is the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, this revelation has now given me a new mantra, an important one to share with students and young creative professionals:

As a creative person, the best way to become more confident in your abilities to produce good work is to push yourself. Plain and simple – work at it. Put in the time. Put in the extra effort when necessary. Do whatever you must, but continue to create. Make lots of stuff. All the time, in all aspects of your life.

I firmly believe that the more you make, the better you will get, Period. But if you don’t improve, you should consider a different line of work. Not to be mean here, just being practical.

Make it til you make it is about getting to the place where you will know you can solve the problem. You might not have the answers, but you know what questions to ask and what it takes to find the solution. You’ll have confidence in yourself and your abilities.

I suppose this is a reinterpretation of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which says it takes about 10,000 hours of doing something to get good at it. I have been a believer. My only knock on that rule is it is time based, and no creative activity should ever be bound by such rigid structure. It should be more about the quality of time spent. I know plenty of designers who have put in well over 10,000 hours and their work is not much to speak of. (Maybe they should reconsider what they’re doing…)

I always thought the 10,000 hours rule was true because I noticed that after about 5 years in the business, you finally get it. You can competently maneuver through your work day and actually be productive. You might even do something really great by then. But until you have 10,000 hours under your belt, you’re still an apprentice in my eyes.

But I suppose the difference with the Make it til you Make it philosophy, you’re not bound by time. You’re only constraint is yourself. Are you getting better at your craft? Are you becoming thoughtful about your work? Are you becoming confident in your abilities to link disparate ideas?

There are lots of fancy ways to articulate this idea, and I like this one that popped into my head this morning while sitting in traffic. I am confident that this is a great idea.

I think it might make a good t-shirt.

Design in Texas

Quite possibly, AIGA-Texas’ 1986 tome Design in Texas had more influence on me than any other book. More than Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Alan Fletcher, or any of the numerous books I’ve previously cited here.

I stumbled onto this book during Christmas break after I had finished Intro to Design Comm as a sophomore at Tech. By this time, I had drunk the Kool-Aid and been fully indoctrinated into the Cult of Good Design.

Being a good young designer, I trolled the bookstores, and grocery stores for that matter, seeking out finely designed ephemera. At the now defunct Bookstop, I found Design in Texas, and life would never be the same.

Not sure why it hit me, but I pulled the book down off the bookcase last night and thumbed through it. My heroes still live in here, with their work coming to life on every page. You know there’s work from Fred Woodward in there, long before he reinvented magazine design at Rolling Stone. I thought Woody Pirtle was a genius. Still do.

The book is also evidence that some of the premiere photographers on the planet are here in Texas. In Houston, in particular.

And of course, brilliant design work from all over the state, but primarily from Dallas.

Dallas was exploding back then, and where I figured I’d end up after graduation. Being a Creative Giant, Stan Richards would bring me on as a power forward for the company basketball team and then we would make history. Didn’t really work out that way. He did hire a girl from my class, though.

There are lots of people in the book I’ve met over the years, some are merely acquaintances, others can I proudly call friends. Many I’ve had the honor and pleasure to collaborate with.

I used this book as a guide to look for a job after graduation. If you were in Design in Texas, I wanted to work for you. I interviewed with Chris Hill (a great story for another time), who taught me a valuable lesson in humility. I wrote to Jerry Herring to try and get in with him. He wrote me back what is quite possibly the nicest rejection letter ever. Beautiful stationery. I held on to that letter for years and told his son, Stephen, about it over lunch one day a couple of years ago. He was mortified.

Texas needs another book like this. Another time capsule, if for nothing else. Another book that will fire up the imagination of a young designer here in the Great State of Texas.

Don’t Do It

I go to great lengths to not be political with my blog. There are many issues I feel quite passionate about and a blog is a perfect place for me to express my views, but I choose not to.

The reason is simple: This is a blog about ideas on branding and marketing, creativity, leadership and design. The last thing I want to do is run people off, start an argument or open myself up for attack. The very last thing I want to do is polarize and piss off potential readers.

Pissing people off should not be the purpose of an ad campaign, but that is exactly what Nike has done this week. In one fell swoop, they’ve taken their brand to a whole new level, and depending on who you ask, it is either elevated to new heights or plopped in the toilet.

If you’ve read other posts of mine, you have seen me call into question the validity of brands taking on social issues. Making commentary and judgements on the morals of those who do not believe like some corporate giant is just plain wrong. I am 100% a believer in free speech, and I do not want to tell any media department how to spend their money, but this move certainly cannot be good for business.

Especially for a company like Nike who in the past has been accused of all kinds of heinous acts.

If you are a for-profit enterprise with shareholders to answer to, you are irresponsible for picking a side in an argument. By taking a side you are consciously choosing to alienate the other side. That’s bad for business, and you’re in business to make money, not political statements.

Full disclosure: I have been a fan and ardent defender of Nike for years. As noted, Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog was one of my favorite books. I’ve run in various Nike’s for years. And I have always loved the notion (because it’s more than a slogan) of Just Do It. Not so much any more. I will not be burning my running shoes, shorts and such. But if they are trying to create change, they’ve done it. I won’t support them any longer.

Thoughts and Actions on Organizing the Org

In my current role with Sysco, I am in the midst of building out a design organization. We are rounding up designers from all over the company, and country, to assemble them into a single unit. Controlling costs is one reason, another is to help protect the brand and identity guidelines. This reorg started well over a year ago and the company got to a point where it needed some help to finish. That’s where I came in. Today I’m celebrating my 60th day on the job, and wanting to share some learnings:

The great philosopher, Hugh MacLeod recently noted that “Humans do not scale” in response to a quip I tweeted out a week or so ago. He could not be more right. People do not scale, but in order for the organization to grow, it has to be able to scale.

Artwork used with permission by the artist. Thanks, Hugh!

The tweet was my reaction to a comment one of my coworkers made while we were defining roles and responsibilities for the designers to follow when purchasing stock images through our new enterprise license.

I made some fields on the request form mandatory – things like the project owner’s name, a project number and the like. She felt that even though inputting this small amount of info did not take much time, it nonetheless requires the designers to eat up a little more time. I understand that many of the designers previously had access to their own license, which allowed them to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. According to my coworker, this little extra effort was too much to ask.

I said they would do it and I am unbending on this issue.

Another great philospher once said “The big picture is made of of millions of tiny details.” I actually tweeted that out a few months ago, thinking that someone much smarter than me must have said it already, but I haven’t found a source yet. (It’s a great saying.)

Those tiny details are the things that will enable the organization to have the ability to grow and thrive. Tiny details like metadata may not seem terribly important today, but it will become a huge issue in the coming months and years as more distance is put between the designer and their project. A good memory will only get you so far.

Getting out of that “me” mindset and into an “us” mindset is one of the central challenges to make this effort succeed. For anyone undertaking a reorg like this, I recommend reading Todd Henry’s Herding Tigers, as he hits the nail squarely on the head.

Scaling up is not easy. It requires you to keep one eye on the current bevy of projects and clients while the other keeps looking ahead to the future. This is probably the hardest part of the reorg – managing the change.

The group has to find ways to strike a balance that ensures current customers are happy while going through the change. Customers are not always receptive to change. Go figure. They’re looking out for their projects and have little concern for the future state you are working on, no matter how much it may benefit them.

You can’t just go into work everyday and just do your job. Do the work. You have to always be thinking three steps ahead, about processes and procedures. This is how you and your team will work. This is no easy feat. Nor is it fun.

Building an organization is not easy. Of course, as with everything in life, you have to work for the things that are worthing having. That’s what I tell my kids all the time.