GDE730, GDE730 - Week 1

Week 1 – Learning from the Pros

This week it’s back to it and we’ve hit the ground running! I was initially terrified of starting this module – the idea of using our experience in Design Studios or Freelance work to discuss our current positions and future paths we want to take. For someone with minimal design studio experience this is not something I can confidently discuss.

However, on reading the lecture by Gem Barton I swiftly realised that it’s ok to learn from others and obtain skills or knowledge from those who have way more experience. I consider myself to be well versed in the world of self employment and tax returns which is great but only useful for 20% of this course. One needs to be business-minded, absorb so much information and relay this into an elevator pitch for their future.

Hearing the established and well run businesses discuss their starts in this world was super illuminating. The difference between their responses for the questions was both hilarious and an overload of information. To hear Manchipp’s sensible cautions not to start a business without clients and an accountant, Intro design pushing the fact that if you don’t have a specific skill within the design world then hire someone who does. Then Sam Winston innocently describing how sincerity and transparency is vital, a wonderful contrast to the more business minded advice.

The thing that stood out for me is that you need experience of the workings of a design studio to understand how to run your own – you can’t blindly step out into the real world with those lovely rose tinted specs and think it’s going to be ok. The interviews really highlighted how you need both feet on the ground and you need to be financially and professionally secure.

I started panicking that with my minimal experience, how am I ever going to create an honest, open and inspiring elevator pitch about your own dreams of a design career. I am a driven individual and for this reason I have happily hopped through different careers gaining a wealth of experience and skills: as a school teacher I understood the value of honesty and hard work; running a property rental business I appreciate the time it takes to complete tax returns and use my people skills to take me further; working in a chocolate shop… OK, nothing major learnt here except how good I am at selling and how fattening chocolate really is.

Looking at these skills laid out infront of me I realised the past module has made me so much more self aware and self confident, something I was lacking previously. And how, with these skills together, I am in fact a strong individual and I can achieve what I want to achieve.

Barton’s framework for personal career development was illuminating:

Recognising your own failures and your weak points and analysing them means you not only can acknowledge your downfall but know how to learn from that. And, of course, Be Brave – something that is so much easier said than done but something that I will take with me for this first week.

I took the above screenshot from John Maeda’s website which was linked to the Ideas Wall by Lindsay. I found the wealth of knowledge on his blog was fantastic and definitely a site I’ll be referring back to for the duration of this module. This specific blog was a discussion of the benefits between Start-up’s and End-up’s. Maeda promotes End-up’s as being traditional and knowledgeable and claims they shouldn’t try to blend in to the crowd of start-up’s. We can learn so much from established and successful companies that have been around for a long time – look at Pentagram, such a successful studio and individual. They’re not pandering to the coveted “start-up style”, but in fact staying current with both long term and new designers. This combination results in a well oiled, fresh and exciting design studio with a trusted legacy.

I can also recognise that the descriptions for both also reflect on us as designers – those who have years of experience have the ability to take risks and already have made something of themselves. Whereas I recognise that I am currently only aiming for something, I’m still forming and I do not have a wealth of background experience to fall back on should things go south.

Using all of the above I am now excited to start developing my own “about” paragraph – I will be speculatively describing where I’d love to end up one day when perhaps I feel I have more to give than working for someone else within a design studio.

I found Chris’ interview with Melinda super honest and open and eye opening. His website is a fantastic resource for all designers and I think as time goes on is something I’ll be referring back to.

A Fampany – Really in sync with my future ideas and thoughts regarding the route I’d want my business to take. To have such balanced respect for all employees and the care the team feel within the business is rare. In the video they discussed how, if they want to try and experiment or make something, they can – they have the support to try new things. This is so vital both when just starting out but also when you’re an established designer – it prevents your work from becoming stale and helps learn new skills, experiment and push yourself out of the comfort zone. For me, if I was to help younger designers I’d want them to have the ability to try something new – instead of confirming or fitting in with the studio’s existing image, designers can continue to find their own voice.

I’ve come across Michael C Place before in the previous module and completely respect his views on how location does not have to get in the way of creativity – Leeds is an incredible hub for creative companies and I was intending to find a design related job in Leeds because of this. (more on this on my next blog).

There were some super interesting opinions on Jessica Walsh and Sagmeisters websites and the impact they have – personally, I feel so many new businesses or freelance designers conform to a certain aesthetic to bring in new clients and appear approachable and “normal”. I believe if you have certain style (or eccentricity such as Sagmeister) then he’s done the bravest thing in following that through to his designs, website and more. Finding someone who also has the same beliefs is rare and should definitely be a business partner if they compliment you as much as Walsh does to Sagmeister. The reason I turned down a graphic design job in a small studio was because they would want me to follow a set way of working, a given design style and their work ethics weren’t something that I could get on board with. That was a huge decision and one I didn’t take lightly – their insistence on my creating a new facebook page was also something I couldn’t get on board with

The crux of all this is in staying true to yourself you will find employees or business partners who both respect and admire the work you produce and your values. As Nick Bax put it, “we hire people we want to work with and get on well with” – this, to me, is fundamental to maintaining your core principles.

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