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7 Questions, 7 Designers – Day 7

posted by Matt Ward on Dec 24, 2009.

This is the last in a seven part interview series in which I put a number of design related questions to seven awesome designers including: Chris Spooner, Sneh Roy, Mike Smith, Jeff Finley, Brad Colbow, Grace Smith and Nick La. Come join the discussion!

This is final post in the “7 Questions, 7 Designers” series, in which I throw out a different question each day and compile the answers from seven different designers. There are participants from all over the world, each offering a different and unique perspective on the realm of design.

To finish off the week’s discussions, we are going to take a look at some of wisdom that our designers have gained through their own, various experiences!

Well, here were are – the last day and the last question! Today, I’d like to ask you to share one story from your design career from which you think others can learn a valuable lesson. I’m gonna leave this one pretty open ended. It could be anything – something you learned while working on a project, an interaction (good or bad) with a client or even just something that you read somewhere that really stuck with you? Why is the experience meaningful and what do you think that others could learn from it?

Nick La
Nick La
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Before you start on any project, always have a clear agreement with the client (ie. a legal agreement on the project scope, payment, etc.) because this will protect both parties in case conflicts arise.

Chris Spooner
Chris Spooner
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There’s one tip I’ve found that has resulted in more free time, which is to batch tasks such as email. It’s amazing how much extra time can be generated for working through client projects, personal projects or purely for more personal time simply by checking email once a day, spending an hour or two responding to every item, then leaving it until the next day, or even the day after before opening up that inbox again.

At first it seems crazy to ignore what might be some important messages, but in reality it makes no difference whether there’s a response within 30 minutes, or in 30 hours. I’m sure there’s stacks of other experiences more interesting to write about, but if there’s anyone out there still clicking the new email notification every time the ‘ding dong’ chime sounds – Try quitting email for a day and see the benefits!

Sneh Roy
Sneh Roy
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There are a lot of experiences that I have had, that have made me the person I am. Good or bad, they have enriched my knowledge and made me better equipped to handle a situation till the next crisis arises. One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb though is my first branding project. The client company wanted to see 3-4 concepts with appropriate taglines and a mission statement that would be used extensively. Now there were some hierarchy issues in the corporate structure and because of that the marketing director [with whom I was working] insisted that once the concepts were ready, I should explain them to the marketing manager and let them present it to the board in their upcoming meeting. I tried to tactfully steer the situation away from this direction and did manage to present it to part of the board. But I didn’t have much of a say and I had to eventually give up my thought process, my ideas and concepts to the marketing manager. I am sure they didn’t present it the way I would’ve presented it because I had lived this project for 4 weeks and had researched extensively before developing those concepts. They ended up choosing a very basic design because of “confusion” in the presentation where the concepts were cut off on the projector and couldn’t be properly viewed.

I learnt my lesson very quickly. It was my first project and I was obviously nervous and a bit intimidated by the whole corporate scene. But ever since, I and only I have presented all my branding concepts and design and in all my projects so far, the client has usually picked the first concept presented to them. The moral of the story is, If you are a chef and you cook an exclusive dish, you plate it and present it, don’t leave it to someone else who wouldn’t even know what ingredients went in it in the first place.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
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I can’t really touch on the specifics of the clients I have previously worked with, but if I could give a word of warning, it would be to make sure you’re not taking on clients because you’re desparate for work. Don’t let your guard down and always make sure you’re picking clients that will not burn you in the long run. If your guy tells you to move on – do it!

Jeff Finley
Jeff Finley
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I’ll go with something recently. I watched the Pixar Story and learned about how this group of artists and scientists got started and grew their business. It was truly inspiring and relatable as Go Media started in a similar way.

However, it made me realize that to truly pioneer in this industry you need smart “tech” people. I’ve realized that as art/design company we are truly experts in the art department, but we’re probably getting a B or C in the tech area. Unlike Pixar, we cannot engineer software in-house to suit our exact needs. There have been many moments the past few years where an idea we had fizzled out due to lack of technical resources and know-how. Brilliant ideas gone to waste. You need that perfect blend of artistry, science/tech, and entrepreneurism.

It made me wonder who in MY generation (born in the 80s) will be the pioneers of tomorrow? What small team of artists and tech guys are starting today? Could it be us? Could it be your team? I take the Pixar pioneering spirit as a huge inspiration for how I want to run an art/design company. I don’t know if we’ll be able to invent a new medium (3D Animation) but we hope to find a gap in the creative community and fill it. Do we stay a for-hire design company? Do we focus on filling a need for the greater creative good? These are questions that will be answered in the coming years.

Brad Colbow
Brad Colbow
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I learn best from screwing up. A couple years ago I had a fairly complicated interface project where I did everything right, or so I thought. Before designing I talked with the client, got a feel for all the features, and created wireframes of all the pages before designing, and the designs looked great. Just before launch they did some usability testing. It performed miserably. There were many reasons why, some my fault some not.

This experience changed my entire outlook on web/interface design. It’s great to know the tools and techniques of our craft but it’s all pretty worthless if you don’t understand the human side of what you’re doing. I’ve spent the last few years focusing less on the “how” and more on the “why” of design and at times it creates work that might not win awards or attention but it works.

Grace Smith
Grace Smith
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One of the most valuable experiences I’ve had as a designer (and small business owner) happened one evening in January 2008 when i received a question on LinkedIn from Leo Babauta (one of my connections) asking if any of his contacts were available to design the cover and layout of an e-book he had written which was due to go on sale.

I didn’t have much experience designing e-books but i thought i would reply hoping my other portfolio items would show my graphic design experience as a whole. I sent a reply that evening with a brief overview of my experience along with a link to my portfolio.

In all honesty i didn’t think i would hear back (as e-book design was not my speciality) however a few weeks later i received an email from Leo. He explained although he had chosen someone else to design the e-book, he was very impressed with my portfolio and asked if i would like to design and develop a new website he was working on called Web Warrior Tools with this partner in the project – Glen Stansberry. After i had collected the necessary information i quoted for the project and once accepted we began work in mid February.

It was an amazing project to work on, Leo and Glen were an absolute pleasure to work with. We collaborated well together and the final result was both a very successful launch and website.

Shortly after finishing work on Web Warrior Tools, Glen and Leo referred me onto Muhammad Saleem, one of the top Diggers and social media mavens, along with Jay White, creator of Dumb Little Man, an amazing life and productivity blog both of whom have also sent me referrals since working together. I have recently finished a new project with Mu and have just completed the second redesign of Dumb Little Man and two other projects for Glen, which shows the connections i have made have been long-lasting.

In answering one question i have had the privledge to work with some of the top experts in their niches, this has had a hugely positive effect on my freelancing. Although i had carved out a successful freelance career before this, the contacts i have made since working with Leo and Glen have been invaluable.

The takeaway lessons for myself (and hopefully anyone else reading this) is to make the most of your opportunities and build your network before you need it because by doing this I was there to answer a question that ultimately opened up a niche of clientele that otherwise i would not have had access to.

That’s some great advice for young and aspiring designers, or even for those with a bit more experience. What do you guys think? What are some the experiences that have provided valuable lessons of knowledge to you in your design career?

I would also like to take a moment to say a huge thank you to Chris, Sneh, Jeff, Brad, Mike, Grace and Nick for all agreeing to be a part of this interview series. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and I know that many of my readers have also really enjoyed reading their answers! So thanks to out 7 great designers!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Dec 26, 2009

Sneh Roy says:

Brad, I really like what you said about understanding the human side of things in the work we do. :)

Jeff, believe it or not but I have drawn parallels with Pixar and Go Media when I first came to know about you guys over a year ago. :)

Thanks for this wonderful opportunity to be heard and to share, Matt. I wish you, your readers and the rest of the designers who were part of this series a wonderfully productive and happy New Year!

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