10 Creators On When They Knew They Had to Make a Change in Their Careers

Change is inevitable. Without it, we would cease to exist. It is happening every day, in imperceptible ways and major milestones that alter the course of everything, like getting married, switching careers, and having children.

But sometimes you need to seek out change. You are in a slump, feeling uninspired, unhappy, or stuck. It is during these times that the changes we make – subtle or large – often have the biggest impact on our lives. So we asked 10 creatives, from creative directors to photographers, what change they made in their life and what impact it has had on their work.


1. When my work values shifted:
Miyako Nakamura, Creative director and head designer, MM.LaFleur

I had to change my perspective about how I created value in my clothing. I spent 10 years working as a designer in the luxury fashion market in New York City. Yet I found there was a disconnect in how people see fashion, and how people inside the industry see clothes.

No matter where I worked, the universal struggle was that I had to define value.  There was a delicate balance between art and commercial potential; there was never an easy answer to satisfy both sides. So I wanted to revisit the idea of my profession and what it means to be a fashion designer. I felt that for the clothing to be appreciated, I had to change how people value the garments I create.

I met Sarah, the founder of MM.LaFleur, during the time I was changing my thinking process. She gave me an opportunity to create a line of dresses that serve professional woman. When I started to design for her, I streamlined my design: less decoration and more focus on cuts and quality of textiles, as well as the way they are manufactured. Then, I focused less on inventive looks and more on an inventive approach to the product. After designing for MM.LaFleur for the past six years, I am proud to have created products that support the lives of our customers in a very true sense.

What this whole experience taught me is that the way you define the value of your creation might not be the same as others around you. It is up to you to decide how valuable things can be.

2. When I recognized the importance of business:
Elaine Chernov, Founder of Shipshape Studio

Somewhere, five or six years into my career, I began to see that having a successful career in design was going to have to be more than just striving to have the most creative awards. Leaving design and advertising school, I believed that if I just worked really hard on making the best ad creative or design work, then nothing else really mattered – it would all fall into place.

But after spending hundreds of late nights in an office working on a pitch or a big branding project, I realized there was not anything really heroic in creating the best work; it was all business. I was just helping to sell more of whatever, and the agency I was working for was using creative people’s inherent need to create their best work to their advantage.

I had a shift in mental attitude that didn’t just come from burnout but also from reading about perspective, being a slave to an agency and, at the time, its toxic culture.

At first, I just wanted to not feel taken advantage of. I started asking for more pay and being clear about when my workday was over. At the time, I had cofounded an all-female design collective in Chicago. We learned about business stuff – salary negotiation, copyright laws, and presenting to boardrooms, to name a few. It was all the other things that design school skipped over because it’s not directly tied to making the best design work.

Eventually, when I went from agency work to working in-house at startups, not only did my quality of life go up but I was also able to see how design directly impacted businesses.

When you understand the lifecycle and gears behind how a business operates, you begin to see what parts of the business can benefit from creative work and which parts just sound fun to work on but won’t move any significant needles. As such, not only do you begin to work smarter but you become an indispensable part of the business – not just a design monkey tapping away on your computer.

3. When I reconsidered what it means to have a ‘real job’:
Stephan Ango, Cofounder, Lumi

I went to college for evolutionary biology but discovered partway through that design was actually a profession. For some reason it had never crossed my mind that this was a job. I had always been interested in making websites and interfaces and various forms of art but didn’t consider them real “jobs.” That changed after a visit to a Muji store in Shanghai. I realized there are people in the world whose job it is to decide how all the things around us are made. It was a life-changing moment and made me want to pursue industrial design. Yet making that switch was quite difficult. With a degree in biology, I applied for internships to more than 50 design agencies in the U.S. and was rejected by all of them because I didn’t have enough experience. I finally found an internship at a great design agency in the Netherlands. This experience convinced me I wanted to pursue design, and I’ve been working as a designer ever since.

At Lumi, my experience as a biologist still shapes the way I think, as I often find myself falling back on scientific methods. Being methodical about my approach to answering a question helps me make progress in a more predictable way. Also, natural selection is a process I think about when developing products over several generations. How do we take what we learned with each iteration and continue making it better?

People should pick an industry they are interested in and become obsessively curious in understanding its inner workings. Too much of education focuses on “problem solving” and not enough on “problem finding.” Getting good at finding interesting, important problems is a skill of its own. I continually ask “But why?” as I delve deeper and deeper into any area.

4. When I felt totally stunted:
Trevor Basset, Senior designer, Starbucks

I once worked at a very small, toxic branding agency. I felt like my work wasn’t being taken seriously, and there was little room to grow. I did not feel inspired coming into work, and my mood was increasingly down. This stemmed from uncommunicative, unavailable, and cold leadership. After two years I knew I needed to move on. I decided to leave the agency. I took a leap of faith. I didn’t have anything lined up but had previously worked as an in-house designer and was interested in returning to that world.

During this time, I felt freedom to try new things, but was hesitant of committing to anything full-time right away. I contracted with Outdoor Research for nearly a year before I transitioned into my role at Starbucks, where I’ve now been working for the past two years. It was the perfect move for me, and I couldn’t be happier going back in-house.

I had primarily worked for smaller companies, so it was a big change moving to an office that has somewhere around 5,000 people in it. There are so many talented artists within the organization. Seeing the work everyone makes has pushed me to continue exploring new styles within my own work and to challenge myself in a way I didn’t feel before. Looking back, I wish I had listened to my gut and left earlier. If things aren’t feeling right, I think it’s important to move on and find an atmosphere that supports you.

5. When I had a change of scenery:
Nina Hans, Cofounder and creative director, Weekday Studio

During a big trip around the world for five months with my now business partner and life partner, we spent the time reflecting on what our lives looked like working for other people and what we wanted for ourselves. That trip was where the idea of Weekday Studio was born.

Our studio has five values, and only one of them is actually about design. Time management, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, conflict resolution, follow-through, resilience, and positivity all affect my job just as much as, if not more than, actual design skill. Doing what you say you’re going to and in the time you committed to doing it can help you stand apart, and get repeat clients and tons of referrals. As obvious as it may it sound, it really has helped our studio grow and sustain itself in a short amount of time.

Since Weekday Studio opened, everything for me has changed. I now focus on learning everything possible about my clients, their customers, and their competitors. I feel it’s one of the greatest strengths we have – listening to and learning about our client’s needs and pain points and utilizing design to solve them.

6. When I sensed that there was more I could be doing:
Sara Woolsey, Creative director, Richer Poorer

During my first six years of working as an apparel designer, I came to realize that working primarily from my desk on my computer was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Gaining experience as a designer was a huge plus for my career, but I wanted to be more involved with an overall brand strategy at a smaller company; I knew designing clothes wasn’t the only piece to running a successful clothing company.

So in 2012, the company I worked for gave me an option to take a promotion that involved more management or be laid off. My husband and I had been talking about doing some traveling for a while, and after being given this choice by my manager it seemed like a natural time to go.

We took an extended road trip around the U.S. in our Volkswagen for three months. While we knew a few people who just got up and left their life, it was really hard for me to make that change. While on the road, I almost had a nervous breakdown when our van broke down. Once I was able to accept that this was just part of our adventure, it was like I gave myself permission to start enjoying myself. Not only did I learn to let go, I also learned to have a different approach to my work.  For so long, I had discerned that I had been trying to fit myself into a certain box of what a designer should be like and what they should reach for. I knew I had to start thinking of each experience – whether at a job or on vacation – as a building block to discovering what I loved. It’s the discipline of choosing what you ultimately strive toward every day. In my case, it was deciding to advance my career as a freelance designer and spend any extra money on travel – my own personal creative R&D. After six years, this led to me gaining my current position.

I learned that we are often our own worst critic. We need to be kinder to ourselves, and give ourselves grace each day.

7. When I was laid off:
Kristian Tumangan, Product designer at the Weather Company

I began my professional career as a graphic designer doing a mix of print and marketing work. While I was working for an online marketing agency, I wanted to know more about the users and customers our clients were trying to reach and know how they built their products and businesses.

I started going to UX workshops and having conversations with designers that made the change from graphic design to user experience design. I also started taking part-time UX classes at institutions like General Assembly and UCLA Extension. While taking classes I was laid off, and as unfortunate as that may sound, it actually pushed me to strive for more opportunities outside of my comfort zone. From those events I was fortunate enough to get hired as a product designer and work at the Weather Company.

The shift helped me design for users and meet challenges to which I never thought I would be exposed. These new experiences are always pushing me to become a more empathetic problem-solver and designer.

I also learned that by taking the time to immerse yourself in a curiosity can not only help you learn something new but it can also lead you to new opportunities you never thought would be there. For those looking to make a change, continue to see how you can always evolve as a professional, and always strive to learn more about the curiosities you may have.

8. When my boss gave me some real talk:
Brooklyn Dombroski, Freelance photographer

Photography has always been my first love. Ever since I picked up a 35mm camera at age 11, it’d be an extension of my arm. But when it came time to go to college, I decided to get a degree in graphic design – and found out pretty early that it wasn’t for me.  But I didn’t think I could make it as a photographer in such a highly competitive field, so I got a job doing visual merchandising and marketing for a corporate surf company in Hawaii. Yet that photography dream kept gnawing at me. Three years down the road, I began visualizing how I could transition into freelance photography. I knew if I was going to make the change, I would have to go all in.

My boss could tell that my heart was no longer in it, and she actually encouraged me to move on and pursue my dreams of becoming a full-time photographer. I respected her so much for that, because it was terrifying for me. I was constantly questioning my ability and self-worth. So honestly, that little push from her changed the trajectory of my life.

I have built my business from grassroots and feel so blessed to do what I love every day. During this transition, I learned to let go of words like stability and security that the corporate world can offer to pursue my passion. I also realized the strength I had – I was more than capable and equipped to take charge of my life and to make my dreams a reality.

And while the freelance lifestyle isn’t for everyone, I do encourage people to relentlessly pursue whatever it is that they are passionate about. I do believe that our souls will forever be restless until we are living out our authentic lives. So take a chance.

9. When I gave myself a reality check:
Suzan Choy, Designer and illustrator

I’ve worked in quite a few different environments and situations in my professional life – everything from a corporate office to an agency and startups. But I’ve learned the most while working at an agency, as rotating projects are frequent and new teams are constantly formed. Yet learning to work happily as a team with new people was a struggle for me. At some point in my agency life, I realized a constant debate wasn’t going to solve any problems. I couldn’t change how other people were going to act or feel, but I could change how I approached the situation.

I started to mentally note when conflicts arose and started asking myself what I was feeling and why it mattered. Then I took a step back and thought about how my teammate or client was feeling. What were all the possible motives behind their words – good or bad? The point was to put myself in everyone’s shoes and think about if there was a way the situation could’ve been handled so we could all feel good about the outcome.

With this change, I started feeling empathy for my clients and teammates. In doing so, I began to feel better in general. That meant whenever a tense topic was brought up or a problem arose, instead of automatically feeling defensive or annoyed, I approached the situation with humor and ease. This created a positive space, and others around me also started approaching situations with less tension.

This process helped me learn to have patience with others and myself. How I react to a situation can also drastically impact how others respond to me. I also learned to trust others. Most people do not have ulterior motives and are just trying to get their jobs done as best as they can.

10. When I got tired of complaining:
Adi Goodrich, Set designer, photographer, and founder of Sing-Sing

A change I recently made was to start a school at our studio, Sing-Sing. It’s called Saturday School. For our jobs, my partner Sean and I work on numerous projects, including set design, photography, animation, and filmmaking. We have this studio in the Cypress Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and we felt we needed to share it with the community.

Sean and I had been complaining for years about how cool other cities were and how Los Angeles lacked this certain feeling. We longed for more education and chances to meet like-minded artists in our city.

With starting a school, we’re able to attack the negative feelings we had about Los Angeles. We invite artists we don’t know into the studio, teach our 20 combined years of experience to them, and have great discussions about art, creativity, and collaboration. The last class we did was a music and figure-drawing class. Fifteen people attended while our friend John Bowers played music. The proceeds went to paying the model and the musician – which is pretty amazing that they could show up for two hours and take home some cash while feeling like they gave back to a group of artists.

Los Angeles often feels lonely, and we feel more connected to the city by simply using our skills and inviting our friends to share their talents with the people who show up. This is also a way to combat the time we put into commercial projects. Advertising can leave you feeling a bit hollow.

If you have negative feelings about the community you live in, it’s up to you to make that change. I understand most people don’t have studios to share, but this is the thing we had to offer. To imagine them also sharing their obsessions and meeting new collaborators is blowing my mind.

After an Iconic Logo, What’s Left to Create?

It was 1977. Robert Janoff had been out of school for seven years and was working at public relations and advertising firm Regis McKenna in Palo Alto, California. Intel was one of his biggest accounts.

One day, a guy entered the office holding a machine that looked vaguely like a typewriter. With long stringy hair and holes in his jeans, he was looking for the person working on Intel’s ads. His name was Steve Jobs, and he very much wanted Janoff to design the logo for his new company, to be put on the Apple II computer.

“Talk about being in the right place at the right time,” says Janoff, now 70.

The only direction he received from Jobs was to “not make it cute.” Janoff got to work, designing what would become one of the most iconic logos on the planet. He played with the dichotomy of a complicated electronics company having the name of a simple fruit, focusing on an apple shape and adding in the bite for scale and the multicolor stripes as a way to represent the test pattern bars shown on computer screens.

He presented only this one idea to Jobs. “I just did the one – I have never done that after that,” Janoff says. “I was so clear this was exactly the thing it should be that there weren’t any alternatives.”

Fortunately, Jobs approved – and the logo, while tweaked in the coming years, remains Janoff’s original design.

“Today, when I go into an airport and everyone’s on their laptops, I’ve got these little white logos looking at me all over the place,” says Janoff.  “It’s a great reward to see it all over the place.”

It’s easy to imagine that Janoff’s life changed the day he created that logo. But it took years for Apple to become the trillion-dollar tech giant it is today, years for its logo to brand itself in consumers’ minds. And the reality is, if Apple hadn’t become a great company, Janoff’s great logo might have faded into oblivion.

“Success is not a certificate that promises you smooth sailing after that.”

That’s the thing about logo design – so much of its success is wrapped up in external factors, particularly the fate of the company itself. With no guarantees that one “big break” will lead to another, designers must develop their own barometers for success.

Ruth Kedar, the designer behind Google’s original logo, came to terms with that reality long ago. “I am absolutely positive that if Google had not gone to the great heights that it has gone, and that if the Google logo had not become the most ubiquitous design of all time, you would not be talking to me,” she says.  

Kedar, 63, had been introduced to Sergey Brin and Larry Page through a mutual friend while she was teaching at Stanford. Recognized for her forward-thinking approach and interest in arts and technology, the two founders sought out Kedar for their Google logo. Using a unique Catull typeface, Kedar set out to create a logo that was approachable, disruptive, and different, with an anti-establishment tone.

Logo iterations of Ruth Kedar's famous Google logo.

Logo iterations of Ruth Kedar’s famous Google logo. Photo used with permission courtesy of Google Inc.

After getting blessings from Brin and Page, the logo remained with the company until 2015 – and is forever imprinted in consumers’ minds.

“We started a very small company with a great vision, but none of us envisioned the company to be where it is today. And the fact that the brand allowed them to use and grow them with them for such a long time was my biggest success,” she says.

Yet similar to Janoff, Kedar didn’t become an overnight success. While the public’s response was positive, there was no major media coverage, accolades, or peer recognition. After its completion, Kedar continued teaching at Stanford before she transitioned into the online marketing world, focusing more on her design firm, Kedar Designs.

“Success is not a certificate that promises you smooth sailing after that,” says Kedar. “Because the truth is, if everything is fantastic after that, what do you really draw your inspiration from?”

It wasn’t until Google’s 10th anniversary, in 2008, that the world would pay attention to Kedar.

Not only did the U.S. media want to meet the woman behind the Google logo, but so did press outlets from all over the world, including Brazil, Israel, and Argentina.

“There was definitely a lot more interest, no doubt about that,” she says. “There were a lot of opportunities that I had that I would not have had, had those articles not been published.” It helped her get more clients for logos and also provided her a platform to mentor young women designers, participate in speaking engagements, and inspire others.  

The Sean Kenney’s Lego Wall located in the New York Google office.

The Sean Kenney’s Lego Wall located in the New York Google office. Photo courtesy of Ruth Kedar

For Janoff, his opportunities arose only after getting over internal conflict about what success should look like for a designer behind such an iconic brand.

“For the longest time, I didn’t talk about it that much. I believed that people thought the person who designed the Apple logo must have a huge design studio and be really rich,” he says. “I was neither of those things.”

It wasn’t until meeting a business partner pushed him to share his story with the world that opportunities based on the Apple design started coming in.

“People love Apple. People love American stuff,” Janoff recalls his business partner telling him. After sharing his story on his website, he says, “We started getting inquiries from companies, and I am having a wonderful time working for international companies all over the world doing interesting work.”

“Greatness is not created by always trying to do something better than you did last time; it’s a constant expression of where you are in your own evolution.”

Because achieving external success often takes a long time in the creative world, many designers continue to build their portfolio in the ensuing years – focusing less on what the public may one day deem successful and more on how they continue to raise their own bar in their career, including creating milestones.  

“Whether they are personal goals or business goals, the idea is that they have a clear direction,” says success coach and mentor David Neagle on how to stay inspired. “They should not be focused on a destination at which they can stop, but focused on opportunities to step into situations that will challenge them and also give them experiences that then lead them to achieve their next set of goals.”

For Mike Deal, 31, one of the designers behind the Pinterest logo, success, even in the digital age, took years. Yet he never waited for external recognition to push himself to the next level; it had to come from inside.

“At the time the Pinterest logo came out, it wasn’t a highly recognized brand, and so it was kind of a slow build over time,” says Deal, who even before Pinterest had successful ventures early on in his career, at around the age of 23. Rather than wait for any sort of recognition, he focused on his next milestone, which took him to the media industry and soon to the blockchain world.

“A lot of designers, creative types – you are driven by a kind of curiosity, and it’s at odds with what makes more business sense, which is to specialize deeply in something and command a high asking price for those services,” he says. “But a lot of designers and artist types are more prone to leaping around and trying new things and chasing butterflies.”

And that sort of mind-set is what success tends to be about: an individual’s internal journey. Creatives often look to use their skills to finish a problem, and due to their ambition and drive, once solved, they want to try something new. Otherwise, life can become a bit stagnant.

“Greatness is not created by always trying to do something better than you did last time; it’s a constant expression of where you are in your own evolution,” adds Neagle. “Your mindset should be that you can be constantly creating throughout your entire lifetime.”

From Embracing Imperfections to Designing Alternate Realities: 99U’s 10 Best Innovative Ideas

The perk of being a creative is that we live in a world of constant inspiration. We gathered up some of our favorite innovative thinking from this year—from emoji emotions to sound logos (what?!)—in the hopes that the unexpected ways other creatives are approaching their work brings a shot of inspiration to your career.

1. Get paid for creativity, not time.

In his recent paper, State of the Digital Nation 2020, FKTRY founder Jules Ehrhardt sees a tough road ahead for the long-standing creative agency model of paying for time instead of creativity, which he says has led to company consolidation, lost jobs, and cheaper pricing. “The only way for us to escape and build a new prosperous place, a new happy place, is to basically break that ‘paid for time’ client service model,” says Ehrhardt.

Matteo Farinella illustrates the new rules for communicating in a virtual world, including use emojis to share current mood status.

Matteo Farinella illustrates the new rules for communicating in a virtual world.

2. Bring emoji intelligence to your virtual meetings.

In the current distributed world of remote work, we need to treat our virtual communication with as much emotional intelligence as our in-person chats. When sitting down for a conference call, don’t dive straight into the agenda. Take the emotional temperature of the room. Are people stressed? Do they have exciting news to share? Start by asking every teammate to send a string of emojis to express their emotional state.

3. Design a set of questions to separate the good ideas from the great ones.

The curators at the MoMA Design Store put their new products through an eight-step “filtration” process designed to cut out all but the best. Their key questions are relevant to anyone launching something new: “Is it useful? Does it solve a problem? Does it use materials or technology in an innovative way? Would the world miss it if it wasn’t there?” And lastly, but most importantly: “Will the customer buy it?”

Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, and Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton, filming in the Microsoft office. Photo by Brian Smale.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, and Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton, filming in the Microsoft office. Photo by Brian Smale.

4. Break ground with your job title.

The title “Chief Storyteller” was once highlighted on a Fortune list of wackiest jobs titles. But, as it turns out, Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton, was ahead of his time. “What it does is it gets people’s attention,” says Clayton.“I do think we’ll see more Chief Storytellers as we move into the era of brands and companies talking about their mission and purpose—purpose over product. They will be inclined to take on more of their own storytelling.”

5. Recognize trick questions.

Veteran investor Tige Savage always asks the people pitching him who their competitors are. Sure, it might seem cool to say, “No one has ever done anything like this.” But don’t be fooled. He is actually testing your market savvy. “Venture capitalists want to understand your awareness of the competitive environment,” says Savage. “They want to know why you think you have strengths that carve out a reasonable niche versus the rest.”

An empathy kit with VR and candy to help people better understand autism. Photo courtesy of OnComfort.

An empathy kit with VR and candy to help people better understand autism. Photo courtesy of OnComfort.

6. Create virtual-world solutions.

The VR boom hasn’t quite changed the world quite like we thought it would. But it’s certainly changing lives, from drug rehabilitation programs to PTSD therapy, by giving users access to experiences in a safe environment. “From time to time, naysayers will mention VR is dead, only because it hasn’t radically re-shaped the gaming industry in the way it was hyped. But even if all innovation stopped tomorrow, we would be at a sufficient level to continue to do great stuff, clinically,” says Albert Rizzo, director of Medical Virtual Reality at the Institute for Creative Technologies.

7. Think beyond color.

Whether it’s a red/green color deficiency or chromatic confusion over purple, one in 12 men and 0.5 percent of women have some kind of color blindness. But our digital world—from to-do list apps to clothing websites—often uses color differentiation to deliver information and wayfinding. “Many designers aren’t aware of this disability,” says UX designer Matej Latin. It’s time for digital design to get over this blind spot. To start, pull texture, pattern, and shape into your design repertoire, not just color indicators.

8. Design with sound in mind.

Joel Beckerman, founder of sonic branding firm Man Made Music, is the force behind the sounds that are as iconic to a company as their logo, like the purr of a Nissan hybrid engine (artificially added to the otherwise silent car), or the iMAX audioscape. But the soundscape he most enjoys redesigning? Hospitals. “Take for example this problem of hospital alarms: Who says an alarm has to scare the crap out of you?” he says. “We believe we can use sound to make alarms and soundscapes much more purposeful.”

9. Embrace alternate realities.

Vince Kadlubek, the co-founder of the immersive art experience Meow Wolf, sees a bright future for creativity—actually, he sees many alternate futures. “In the next 20 years, alternate realities are going to be the biggest product that customers will be seeking,” he says. Kadlubek encourages creatives to start envisioning and building them now, not just physically, but in even more undiscovered territory, digitally. “The world has felt limited by previous infrastructure that we can’t affect. That’s changing.”

Mona Chalabi uses images to provide context in her data sets, like a person practicing yoga, for a yoga data set. Image courtesy of Chalabi.

Mona Chalabi uses images to provide context in her data sets. Image courtesy of Chalabi.

10. A colorful visual trumps a bar graph every time.

Data journalist Mona Chalabi is fighting the false pretense that we all know exactly what we’re talking about. Specifically, she’s frustrated by the veneer of scientific objectivity that comes with traditional data visualizations like piece charts and graphs. “They make it seem like the data is so pure and precise and that’s not the truth of data,” she says. Instead, Chalabi hand-draws her graphs to create a more human-centric way to consume data with the proper context.

Build Solidarity, Tackle Exclusion, and Redefine Success: 10 Ways to Use Design for Good

We looked around saw how design had a tremendous positive impact on society this year. From crafting new products aimed at accessibility to bolstering democracy, here are 10 inspiring ways creatives applied their craft to making the world a better place.

1. Don’t expect a user to be satisfied with the status quo.

ELIA is a free font that low vision and blind users can learn in—purportedly—an afternoon. It’s just one of a constellation of products, like text-to-speech technology, aimed to bring more assistive technology than the single option of Braille to the U.S.’s eight million blind people. “We are focused on helping people achieve greater independence and literacy,” says founder Andrew Chepaitis. “It’s been really challenging. But I’ve had faith that this initiative is the most worthwhile I could spend each day.”

Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful. Image courtesy of Fetell Lee.

Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful. Image courtesy of Fetell Lee.

2. Fill overlooked spaces with joy.

IDEO’s Ingrid Fetell Lee believes the aesthetics of our surroundings—like bright, happy colors—are a powerful tool to enliven a community. She’s developed a syllabus of joyful design that she hopes will be a resource that brings aesthetic delight to overlooked spaces like nursing homes, public housing, and schools in underserved neighborhoods. “I’d like to see the places that house the people who are most vulnerable designed with as much aesthetic sensitivity as the places that house the people who have tons of resources,” says Lee.

3. Volunteer to redesign your government.

The Center for Civic Design brings the elegant solutions of design to the complex needs of voting. Simple gestures like directions that say ‘turn ballot over’ or text that works for assistive apps can have a profound impact on our democracy. “The potential role of design in government is to change how government works,” says Civic Design’s co-founder Dana Chisnell. She suggests designers bring their much needed skills to the table. Get started by volunteering as a poll worker in your next local election to see the kinds of challenges and questions voters have.

Carmen Herrera photographed in her New York studio. Image courtesy of Herrera.

Carmen Herrera in her New York studio. Image courtesy of Herrera.

4. Prioritize long-term fulfillment.

The world whispers ‘money’. Your clients demand your creativity and hard work. But you, and only you, are the one who makes room for fulfillment. That means developing muscles around taking a step back and applying a healthy dash of perspective. According to lifelong designers who have been around the block a few times, one secret to a fulfilling career is seeing the big picture—thinking in systems, not pixels; in decades, not deliverables. Or, as abstract artist Carmen Herrera, who got her first Whitney Museum retrospective at age 101, says: “Patience, darling, patience.”

Image of the iconic Rainbow Flag. Photo by Ink Drop.

The iconic Rainbow Flag. Photo by Ink Drop.

5. Make a banner for people to gather around.

The history of identity-driven banners got a colorful new chapter when Gilbert Baker developed his iconic Rainbow Flag, which celebrates LGTBQ culture. Baker “created a symbol of hope and inclusion for an oppressed minority at a time when their efforts at liberation were new,” recalls Baker’s estate overseer, Charley Beal. Create community and impact with symbols that help people trumpet their identity and their solidarity.

6. If you’re in the room where it happens, influence what happens for good.

Naresh Ramchandani and the Pentagram team at Do the Green Thing believe creatives can have a powerful positive influence on their corporate clients. Use the access of being in the room to expand a corporation’s idea of what success means. “Too often, commercial creativity is self-serving for a corporation and their P&L,” says Ramchandani. “Put something good into the world.”

Designer Marie van Driessche presenting on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.

Designer Marie van Driessche presenting on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.

7. Provide choice.

Not everyone thinks or functions like the person designing a product. People take in information in all sorts of different ways—whether due to preference or ability. One choice can’t suit everyone’s needs. To design for all, inclusive designer Marie van Driessche advises colleagues to make sure their products include multiple options for how to engage.

8. To tackle exclusion, find a place outside your comfort zone.

Automattic Head of Inclusion, John Maeda, went all the way to Appalachia to break out of the comfortable grooves of his usual mindset. The goal? Find how people were being excluded from Automattic’s product, and then design for them. “How do we find exclusion?” Maeda asks. “It’s by being in environments unlike the ones we’re used to.”  

9. Create space for joy at home in order to bring joy to work.

Your company’s culture, not just its work, should reflect its mission. Jason Mayden, founder of healthy play startup Super Heroic, makes sure that the spirit of prioritizing imaginative play for children extends beyond the office doors. “We have an open, healthy dialogue that’s focused on promoting work/life balance,” says Mayden. “We have to play with and enjoy our families in order to embed joy in the work that we do. It’s imperative that we live what we speak.”

Indhira Rojas is the founder of Anxy, a magazine about creatives' inner worlds. Image courtesy of Rojas.

Indhira Rojas is the founder of Anxy, a magazine about creatives’ inner worlds. Image courtesy of Rojas.

10. Remember, you’re human.

There are times where you’ve hit the sweet spot. The world is onboard with your passion. The planet is throwing opportunity your way. Care for yourself as thoughtfully during the boom seasons as the low times. Don’t let opportunity get the better of your health. “When you want to create impact, it feels like the sacrifice and the hard hours are all worthwhile,” says Anxy founder Indhira Rojas. “And then you faint in the subway and you remember that you’re human.”

Follow Your Passion Way Off the Beaten Track

The words of photographer Scott Rinckenberger as told to Lauren Covello Jacobs.

The Pacific Northwest is unlike most anywhere in the country in that it has every type of landscape you can interact with. Within a couple of hours of Seattle, you’ve got a wild, rugged coastline where you can surf or kayak. Go the other direction and you’ve got giant, glaciated mountains that are often compared with the Alps. A little further east you’ve got desert environments, rain forests. There are just endless ecosystems in which to explore.

I grew up in a rural, woodsy part of Washington, and my childhood was very much about being outdoors. My friends and I weren’t “sit inside and play video games” kids. We were into getting on our bikes and finding a new spot to make a jump, finding a new creek to swim in, catching lizards.

Scott Rinckenberger spotted in the great outdoors of Washington state.

Scott Rinckenberger spotted in the great outdoors of Washington state.

Throughout my childhood and into college, I was really obsessed with skiing. It was sort of my driving passion. By the time I was college age, I had devoted enough time and energy to it that I was one of the better skiers around in my age group. That morphed into a semi-pro ski career that had me traveling all over the U.S., Europe, and South America. I skied professionally from when I was in college at the University of Washington until my late twenties.

I’m still a passionate and involved skier, and that’s a lot of what I bring to my photography.

For me, skiing was as much a creative pursuit as it was an athletic one. I say “was” only to compartmentalize it; I’m still a passionate and involved skier, and that’s a lot of what I bring to my photography. But there definitely came a time when I needed a new creative stimulus to keep my mind sharp and engaged. I didn’t want to continue to relive the same year over and over. I needed some new input, and photography offered that.

So in the second half of my twenties, I started self-educating in photography and looking for jobs assisting other photographers. At around 27 or 28, I ended up landing a full-time job working for a photographer named Chase Jarvis. That became my real foray into photography as a career.

From there, I began developing an eye for these wilderness winter landscapes and creating imagery that I wasn’t really seeing anywhere else.

On weekends, I’d be out in the mountains skiing, riding my bike, or rock climbing. Eventually, instead of skiing mostly out of ski resorts, I started to do more backcountry skiing, where you climb the mountain on foot and ski down. All of a sudden, instead of skiing the same five resorts, I had an entire mountain range as a canvas to explore. It opened up all of these astounding, wild, rugged, beautiful places. I started feeling like I at least needed to bring a camera along to record these adventures. From there, I began developing an eye for wilderness winter landscapes and creating imagery that I wasn’t really seeing anywhere else. And that’s what started to pull me in my own direction.

Scott Rinckenberger's photographs capture the stories of nature, as told in the colors of black and white.

Scott Rinckenberger’s photographs capture the stories of nature, as told through the colors of black and white.

My best imagery is reductive and graphically simple. The mountain wilderness has so much power and beauty that, as a vast sort of panorama, it’s almost overwhelming. A lot of my work is directed at trying to reduce it to really simple elements that, when combined, translate into that bigger grandeur.

Safety is a constant focus. In the last 20 years, I’ve lost friends to avalanches, rockfall, and rope accidents.

That’s also the reason much of my work is in black and white. For me, eliminating color from my work serves as one of the final tests to see if the image is graphically strong. If you remove all the elements of a giant wide-angle landscape and you start to tighten up your scope in terms of composition, and then you remove color from the equation, you sort of reduce and reduce and reduce. And that allows you to see if the image is still strong without relying heavily on things like color or artificial lighting. Turning things into a monochrome state helps me take that reductive ethos all the way to its natural conclusion.

Safety is a constant focus. There’s no getting around the fact that the mountain wilderness is unforgiving. In the last 20 years, I’ve lost friends to avalanches, rockfall, and rope accidents. All of these things are ever-present dangers, and on some level you have to come to terms with it. If you come to the decision that it’s a big enough part of yourself and your life, you have to develop an ongoing education and respect for that environment. You have to religiously assess risk and carry the tools to deal with an accident or emergency. Going on an adventure is highly motivating, but making it home at the end is really the ultimate criterion.

This skier waits to tackle a steep angle down and deep powder stash.

This skier knows the importance of documenting a steep angle and deep powder stash.

Home, for me, is in Fall City, Washington, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Before we had our son, Cedar, my wife and I lived in Seattle. That was a lot of fun – there’s tons of culture, great restaurants, lots to do professionally. But once he was born, we got really excited about moving out to a landscape where he would have a lot more room to roam, and where going hiking or swimming in the river wouldn’t be a whole big “load up the car” mission.

It was a transition going from Seattle to living out in the woods, but it’s been one that fits us well. Cedar is definitely an outdoorsy kid. Every day he’s out riding his bike in the woods or hiking around or swimming in the river – all of the things that give a person a lifelong love of the outdoors. We love where we’re at and what’s nearby. We definitely don’t have any plans to leave.


10 things to do before switching jobs

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In today’s booming work culture, it is an accepted norm to switch jobs so you can explore and experience things to the fullest of your capacity. It is a constant process, finding that perfect job as your current job could fulfill its purpose or you may evolve as a person, having different needs. Whatever the reason, there are some things you ought to wrap up before you switch your job. The write-up below by Nisa Chitakasem (Founder @ Position Ignition) has listed the top 10 things you need to keep in mind during the hectic and challenging job switching phase.

Looking for an interesting job switch? Check out Yanko Design Job Board to find an opportunity now.

Hiring a designer? Post your requirement with YD Job Board to connect with our dynamic young professionals who are always on the lookout for interesting opportunities.


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In today’s world, individuals will change careers on average 7 times more in their lifetime, compared to only a couple of decades ago – and this rate is rising. There is more choice available to us – especially for those with talent, drive, and ambition. Currently, the support that we tend to find is really limited. It’s also pretty generic – maybe some careers advice from your school, uni or MBA school. Otherwise, not much support until you are really senior in an organization – and even then whether it is effective or not is debatable!

What results is a combination of lack of control and a cycle of movement from one unfulfilling job to another, or getting stuck at a ‘dead end’. However – do not fear – you do not need to stay in this ‘rut’. New horizons could be just around the corner.

So – you want to look for a new and the right role. This can be challenging, difficult, lonely, and sometimes stressful. You might want to consider getting someone to ‘walk the path’ with you and help you get clear about what your options are, what you want to do and how to get there can be hugely valuable. It is even more helpful when you know that the person accompanying you has been involved in this process before on many occasions and is a real expert. So if you work with someone to help with your career change look at their work and life experience to make sure they know what they are on about!

Right – so you are ready to change careers and want to find that right role. In order to succeed bare in mind the following tips:

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1. Invest in yourself

This journey is important, so give yourself time to work it all out. You will need a significant amount of thought, consideration, time and investment in order to make this change smoothly and to make it the right career change. There are many key stages and turning points to consider so take the time to do it.

2. Get Clarity

Without real clarity about what you want to do or how to get it, achieving any sense of fulfilment or being in control of your future will be very difficult. Therefore it is really important to work on getting clear about what your central goal is and how to achieve it. If you want to learn about the different ways to do this then feel free to drop us a note.

3. Create an action plan

Simply knowing what you want will not ensure that you get it. You need to be clear about your plan of action and how to carry out what you have specifically designed for yourself. Get clear achievable steps in place. Outline it so that it is broken down into steps that you can work through towards that bigger goal. Reward yourself and be proud of yourself as you get through each stage of your plan.


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4. Focus your energy on the change

Making a change and finding the right role is not always an easy task. It can be tough, tiresome and long. You need to stay really focused and be efficient around where you put your energy and effort to get the outcome you want. Make sure that you are in control of the key elements in your world and are able to drive forward with the career and life of your choosing. You will need perseverance and determination to help. Being smart about how you spend your time is crucial.

5. Understanding your strengths

Get to know yourself better. Identify what your key strengths are. What are you really good at? What do you enjoy that you are also good at? What skills have you learnt? What are you naturally inclined to do and be better at? Make sure that you get right to the core of it. The more you know yourself the more confident you will become and the better you will be at identify the right role for you and projecting yourself in order to get it.

6. Ignite that passion

Without real passion for a role – it will be difficult to get. Even if you do get it – you will find it difficult to maintain and grow within and beyond it. What you want here is the right role. This means something that you are truly passionate about. It might take a bit of experimenting to find what ‘floats your boat’ – but it will be worth it when you have found it.

7. Know your boundaries

Being clear about what works and what doesn’t work for you in order to be happy can be groundbreaking. It sounds simple but so many of us do not actually take the time to work it out. In each different work situation – we may have different boundaries. By being clear about what they are and then communicating this clearly to others and staying true to what is important – will make a huge difference. This impacts work and your personal settings.


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8. Manage and improve relationships

This is important from all aspects. If you learn to manage your relationships effectively you will be able to control the process and transition. You will be able to manage your exit smoothly from your current or old role. Understanding where your old boss is coming from and the impact you have on him/her – and how you interact could really influence how you leave a job. How you get your next job and keep it may also rely heavily on your ability to manage relationships well.

9. Leverage your connections

Learn how to network and harness your connections effectively. This does not mean bombarding people you do not know with emails or adding everyone you can find to linkedin. Neither is this picking up as many business cards you can at a networking event and calling that person part of your ‘network’. Real networking is about getting to know people. You need to work on identifying and getting to know those who can help you along your way.

10. Rid yourself of blocks, fears, and insecurities

All of us have them at one stage or another. Many of us keep them for years. However, do not let them stop you. If you are afraid – that is ok – just do not let it take over and control what you do or do not do. If something is blocking you from moving forward – take the time and action you need to confront it, deal with it and resolve it. This does not have to be done alone. Find support from those around you. Get support from a professional if it is a deeply personal issue that is troubling you. If you do not deal with it now – it will keep blocking you in different ways throughout your career and life. Once you have worked through the blocks – you will be so much more energized, comfortable, confident and free.

Those are the 10 pieces of the pie that you must do before or as you start your journey and change careers. Each step requires some work, time and thought – but they are important if you really want to make it work. There might be a lot to do – but you are not alone and you CAN do it.

YD’s endeavor is to increase your efficiency by connecting you to your ideal candidates. Yanko Design has curated Industrial Design followers for the past 15+ years, and we know these are the best match for your company. To recruit now,  Post a Job with us!

The original write up by Nisa Chitakasem published on The Undercover Recruiter can be found here.

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Designer Confessions: The Most Embarrassing Moments Edition

We’ve all had spine-tingling, stomach-roiling episodes of  embarrassment. Whether we slip up ourselves or miss a thousand and one warning signs, we’ve all had OMG moments. However, with time and distance, we can often look back and smile rather than cry. In the spirit of having a collective laugh, we asked a few of our favorite designers to relive a time that made their faces burn.

To get us started, Arianna Orland recalls taking a project shortcut and drawing blood, illustrator Ping Zhu remembers botching her first big break with a major publishing house, and Zak Kyes recounts how he flew all the way to Asia just to be mistaken for someone else. Here are their stories.

Don’t cut corners when no one is watching.

Arianna Orland, Creative director, and founder of Paper Jam Press

I was freelancing in the 2000s, and I had to design these cardboard shipping boxes for one of my clients. It was also my responsibility to ‘comp the box’ – make a facsimile of the final packaging. I had ‘comped’ quite a few boxes in my career, so I thought this was going to be just another job.

Because I was freelance, I didn’t have a studio. I decided to use a service bureau to get the large-scale printouts I needed. And I asked them if I could use their production table. ‘Sure,’ they said. ‘But this is a favor. We can’t have nonemployees using the facility. Whatever you do, don’t cut yourself.’

“X-Acto cuts bleed fast. I was bleeding all over the comp, all over the table, all over the floor.

“The boxes I had done in the past were all on standard card stock. But these were a heavy gauge cardboard: a much thicker challenge for my X-Acto skills. When it was time to cut the cardboard around the curved edge, my hand slipped, and yup, I cut my finger.

X-Acto cuts bleed fast. I was bleeding all over the comp, all over the table, all over the floor. So there I was, a potential liability in someone else’s workspace, and still on a deadline to complete the job.

In a perfect world, I would have mustered the courage to ask for a Band-Aid right then and there. But instead, I told myself, ‘You can’t ask; they’ll kick you out!’ Then I remembered there’s an REI a block away! They’ll have first-aid kits. 

I stuck my finger in my mouth and ran down the street to REI. Thirty minutes later, I was back on the job. I tried to hide my Band-Aided finger for the rest of the day. 

The lesson? Obviously, I can’t resist: Don’t cut corners.

The real lesson? Never attempt to cut a curve on heavy-gauge cardboard with a dull blade.

Take your presentation cues from Madonna.
Sean Adams, Acting chair, Undergraduate and Graduate Graphic Design, Art Center College of Design

In 1996 I was invited to speak at the first AIGA National Business Conference. It was my first major speaking engagement. Most of my friends and design heroes made up the audience.

I was standing backstage, ready to go on, and the organizer told me, ‘I’m sorry, we’re running behind. You need to cut your presentation from thirty minutes to fifteen.’ I stepped up to the podium and began.

Rather than focusing on what I was actually saying, I watched the clock and cut sections of the presentation on the fly. The end result was a schizophrenic mash-up of words that made no sense together. I don’t think I was finishing sentences. Then, the time was up and I received a very, very lukewarm, mostly silent, sad applause.

As awful as this was, it was a blessing.

I was sure I’d ended my career right then and there. I walked Central Park for hours, replaying the train wreck over and over. Soon after, a magazine article singled the presentation out as the ‘worst low point ever’ and suggested, ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’

As awful as this was, it was a blessing. It knocked me down to earth and reminded me that I was not ‘all that.’ It taught me to be prepared down to even seemingly spontaneous comments. I learned that I should have said, ‘No. I prepared for 30 minutes. That’s what I need.’ From that point forward, at each speaking engagement, I took a cue from Madonna demanding that the AV be tested, the lighting fixed, and the timing confirmed. That doesn’t mean becoming a total jerk, just holding my own. Over the thirty years since, I messed up many other times. But mostly because I said something really stupid, not because of something that I didn’t get to say.

Treat every job prospect as an opportunity to break through to the next level.
Ping Zhu, Illustrator

I was still in school, and I went out to New York, where my professors had given me contacts of people to show my portfolio to. One of those people was Rodrigo Corral, an amazing designer who does book covers. 

I met with Rodrigo, showed him my work, and he was very kind. A few weeks after I got back from New York, he wrote to me and said, ‘We’re doing a book cover. Would you be interested in doing the illustration?’

That’s a huge opportunity. Normally when people get a job offer, they stay up all night doing the best they can. But I had no understanding of what it takes to be an illustrator. I didn’t sense the gravity of the situation. So I took it as a school assignment: Come up with some ideas, do some rough sketching, then paint something. I did my sketches on graph paper. I thought, I’ll just use a felt-tip pen, draw something really loose, and put it on paper that’s not even plain.

I sent back some really crummy drawings. But I thought it wasn’t terrible. Rodrigo would understand what I was going for. His email back ‘This isn’t really what I had in mind. Maybe we should just stop here without wasting anyone else’s time.’

I didn’t know what to say. I was so ashamed that he thought, ‘These are so bad, I don’t even want to engage.’ I’ve never cried that hard again for any reason regarding work. I was like, ‘I’m never going to make it. I’m a failure.’ I was desperate. But I was also determined to make things right. As horrifying as that experience was, it shook me into place mentally.

I wrote him an email to say, ‘I’m so sorry. Please take me back. I can do better than this.’ And Rodrigo let me try again. I painted three finals: super refined; everything as polished as possible.

As horrifying as that experience was, it shook me into place mentally.

He wrote back, ‘Oh yes, this looks much better.’ Unfortunately, it dropped off the map at that point. He never got back to me on whether they used any of them. At that point, I was too afraid to ask him anything else. In my professional career, I’ve never worked with Rodrigo. Maybe I’ve been blacklisted.

If you ever get an opportunity, just don’t screw it up. Give it everything you’ve got. Do your best. Underperforming won’t get you anything. As horrifying as that experience was, it shook me into place mentally. I said, ‘No more phoning it in. Even if you think it’s okay, you have to do better.’

If Rodrigo ever sees this: I’m very, very, very sorry. But I really hope he doesn’t remember.

A red flag means “stop” not “charge!”
Mac Premo, Stuff Maker, Mac Premo, Inc.

When my wife and I met, we were both broke artists. As we built a life together, she realized that she needed a sense of security. So she got a corporate job as a product manager. I continued making art and was like, ‘This is going to work.’ Then the recession hit and everything took a dive. Nobody was looking for talent. Then this interesting opportunity to work on a print publication came up. I was going to be the everything for it: creative director, making videos, designing the website.

To hear the guy putting it together talk about the project – ‘It should be a print magazine. It should be online. It should be both!’– you could see this history of him not being decisive. One perfect example was when he’d plan how to get from one place to another, his time estimate was always about how long it would take if it was 2 a.m., when there was no traffic on the road. He was constantly running late. That’s indicative of an overpromiser-underdeliverer. That behavior meant we were always late, always stressed out, and I’d have to say to him, ‘No, we can’t possibly have that by the time you promised.’

I’ve gone into situations ignorant to red flags, but more often than not, honestly, I plough through the red flags. Plus, this was the middle of the recession and I had just had a second child, so for a few months, there was economic stability. As things started going bad at the publication, I continued to ignore them with the hope that the stability would continue. He ended up not paying me for a few months of work. It put us in a bad financial situation, and I should have seen it coming.

I still get some prospective client calls and hear the dodgy, sketchy, vague talk that I used to hear.

It was tumultuous. I had to downsize my studio. During that time, my wife was carrying the weight of the whole family. And the whole time, I was thinking, ‘But this is a good idea. It has to work. But he said he was going to pay me. He can’t not.’

About five years ago, my wife quit the corporate world. Now I’m technically the full-time breadwinner. I still get some prospective client calls and hear the dodgy, sketchy, vague talk that I used to hear. But that experience honed my instinctive decision-making skill set. I came out of it learning to trust myself more. Yes, there are times when you kick yourself, but that’s the hard part of freelancing; it’s a leap of faith every time.

Let your work, not your title, define you.
Zak Kyes, Creative director, Zak Group

Confusion is common in projects that have large teams from different cultures. But rarely does it lead to a case of mistaken identity.

Several years ago, a well-known museum in Asia invited me for a site visit to discuss a new project. At the time, I was the director of Zak Group, the graphic design studio I established in 2005. I was also art director of the Architectural Association School of Architecture. 

I landed late at night and was brought directly to a dinner. When I arrived, the museum director hushed the room to introduce me to his team as ‘the great architect from London.’ A polite moment of reverence ensued. This would have been very flattering. But only if I actually was an architect.

While my work as the art director of the Architectural Association had become well known, that certainly didn’t make me an architect. I felt like Brian in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, who is born in a stable right next to Jesus and is mistaken for the Messiah. That story doesn’t end well for Brian. I blurted out, ‘Graphic designer!’ I’m sure this sounded strange as a greeting. The director was puzzled. ‘Architect,’ he corrected me. This went on for some time. I was concerned, even panicked. I thought about going back to the airport. I’ve always fought for more porous boundaries between disciplines, so it felt surreal to be reasserting them.

The result of the confusion was that Zak Group received its first commission to design both the architecture and the graphics for a large-scale, citywide exhibition. It ended up influencing curatorial decisions in ways that would never have been possible if we were ‘just’ a graphic design studio.

Last year, for the first time, an architect joined Zak Group’s team of art directors, graphic designers, developers, and a project manager. She has since been mistaken for a graphic designer.

10 Ways to Lead a More Fulfilling Creative Career

We have gathered wisdom from some of the most iconic creatives on how to walk out each day and do what you love. Whether it’s Debbie Millman’s advice to invest in yourself or Amos Kennedy Jr.’s advocacy for setting your own values, these lessons act as a guide toward living a wonderfully fulfilling creative life. 

Play the 88-year long game.

We love immediate gratification and recognition. We want to be a prodigy and make the 30 Under 30 list. But being a shooting star isn’t the key to a lifelong career. Take abstract artist Carmen Herrera. She painted for more than 60 years before her work was widely recognized and, at age 101, her work was finally shown in a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The takeaway? Nothing says your creative career is over if you’re not recognized early on. Remember to play the long game. Even if it takes close to a century. As Herrera herself put it, “Patience, darling, patience.”

Carmen Herrera in her New York studio. Image courtesy of Herrera.

Pursue personal projects.

Louise Fili has made a career crafting understated and elegant graphics, first for Pantheon Books and then for her own studio, Louise Fili Ltd. But her advice for a fulfilling career lives outside of the workday 9-5. “I feel very strongly that every designer has to have his or her own personal projects,” says Fili. “Because it’s the only way that you really grow and find your design voice.” The designer started with an Italian art deco inspired book, based on years of collecting material for fun. That little book grew into a design series that led Fili all over the world. “You have to combine graphic design with something you’re passionate about,” she says. “I wouldn’t be the designer I am today if I hadn’t done my own projects.”

Fili in her New York City Studio. Photo by Franck Bohbot.

Make confidence a part of your practice.

Animator Floyd Norman has been in the business a long time—since the days when an animator’s top pitch priority was to make Walt Disney himself smile. But his advice to young creatives has never gotten old. The secret to a good pitch? Fearlessness. “If you’re hesitant about your work,” Norman says, “this will show in your pitch. If you feel like you’ve delivered the goods, then you can pitch with confidence.”

Floyd Norman started working at Walt Disney Animation Studios in 1956.

Think in systems, not pixels.

A brand isn’t only a logo you hand off to a client, according to MetaDesign founder Erik Spiekermann. A designer must take command of the big picture: strategy, implementation, a plan to put the pedal to the metal. “You can design anything, but if the rubber doesn’t hit the road,” says Spiekermann, “the client won’t call you again.” So, show up not just with color and a typeface, but a vision for how it fits into your client’s environment and business plan. That’ll put you right in the drivers’ seat.

Spiekermann in his studio in Berlin. Photo by Robert Rieger.

Act like you belong until it’s clear that you do.

President Reagan and President Obama White House Photographer, best-selling author, and Instagram sensation, Pete Souza, has his own twist on getting into ‘the room where it happens.’ The photographer earned President Obama’s trust while covering the then-Senator before he reached the White House. That might get him into the family’s Christmas morning celebration, but how about past security at G20 summits? “My approach was to sneak into rooms I wasn’t supposed to be in and act like I belonged,” says Souza. “I wasn’t successful every time, but it became a game to me.” His ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy eventually paid off. Souza’s Instagram documentation of Obama became so popular that ultimately, gatekeepers learned to wave the photographer in.

Souza walks with former President Obama.

Set your own values.

Master craftsman Amos Kennedy Jr. left a lucrative job at AT&T for the tempest-tossed road of starting a letterpress studio. At 60, the printer isn’t just an expert in type, he’s an expert in ignoring social pressures that whisper we must prioritize security, snazzy cars, and early retirement. “Personal responsibility is first for your happiness,” says Kennedy. “That freedom that we so long for is, basically, an ability to express ourselves and just be happy.” Where does that happiness come from? According to Kennedy, it lies in finding and following internal peace.

Sync your schedule with the work style that inspires you.

Sign painter Norma Jeanne Maloney has lived many places, but in every location, she schedules her studio hours like she’s in farm country. “I get into the studio at 7a.m. and leave at 6 p.m.,” she says. “Sun up to sun down, like a farmer.” The schedule isn’t just about an honest day’s work.  It reinforces the idea of Maloney’s studio as a handcraft tradesman’s paradise, versus a 24/7 graphic design mill.

Maloney in her studio. Photo by Matthew Johnson.

Respect the tradition while designing your own spin on it.

Mira Nakashima may come from a rockstar family of woodworkers. But instead of giving her an inflated ego, that lineage has given her a humble sense of tradition and respect for previously tried-and-true techniques and designs. The result? A craft that blends personal inspiration with historical knowledge. “One usually builds on what one has learned in the past that works well and resonates from within,” says Nakashima. “In Western culture, following a tradition is not a respected path, but in most Eastern traditions it is the only way to go.”

Nakashima in the studio with her father. Image from the Nakashima Foundation for Peace.

Pitch ideas you’ll defend to the end.

George Lois made a name with his big ideas (and bigger personality) across ads, TV campaigns, and the covers of 92 editions of Esquire. “Any problem that you get as a designer, a communicator, the answer has to be surprising, shocking, maybe outrageous,” says Lois. “You want to show your creation to anybody and have them go, “You can’t do that.” That is the story of my life.”

Debbie Millman

Debbie Millman. Photo by Julian Mackler

Invest in yourself.

It’s hard to get behind any kind of spec work, much less paying for an opportunity. Debbie Millman’s design career was taking off when Voice America offered her a podcast show…if she was willing to pay the fee. But, Millman reasoned, the paycheck from her big corporate job offered her the chance to invest in herself. “If you aren’t able to do the kind of work that you want to do at your day job, consider creating something of your own…Think about taking some of that money that somebody’s giving you and invest in something that you can do for yourself to make a difference in your own life.” The investment had exponential returns: Design Matters has become one of the top 100 podcasts on iTunes.

How to Define Your Value Proposition

Value Proposition

You’ve probably heard the term “value proposition” thrown around at a few meetings before. While it might seem like a buzzword, it is one of the most important things for your business to define and take ownership of. Oftentimes in branding, we talk about the importance of knowing your “why”. With value proposition, we’re really focusing on the “what”. Your value proposition defines what it is that you have to offer your key stakeholders. Put simply, your value proposition is your niche. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd.

Value Proposition

What’s a stakeholder?

A stakeholder is anyone that holds a stake in the work you do. For designers, the key stakeholder is commonly thought of as the client. The client is certainly central to your work, but they are not the only stakeholder involved. Other common stakeholders for designers include your team, collaborators, the industry at-large, and the end user/audience for the work itself.

Here’s the tricky thing: More often than not, the value you THINK you are providing to your stakeholders is actually different than the value that THEY are seeing. As a result, when defining your value proposition, it is critical to keep an open mind and evaluate both the value you are personally projecting, and the value that is being perceived by those around you.

Recently, we published a series of toolkits called Give All that capture all of the methodologies we’ve leveraged with hundreds of clients over the years at verynice. One of those toolkits, Value Proposition, is great for working through this important process.

Here’s a quick activity from the toolkit to help you define your value proposition:

First, begin by digging into as many things as you can that shed light on the way in which you have been projecting your value. This might look like a collection of public-facing material (like social media posts, website content, etc.). If you don’t have any of that, think back to the last time you explained to someone what it is that you did. Read through all of this, and take some time to reflect.

  • What message is being projected about the value your work provides?
  • What keywords are you using the describe what makes you or your service/product unique?

Next, evaluate the way in which your value is being perceived by others. Take some time to speak to existing customers, and ask them what it is that they think is valuable about what you do.

  • How do these interpretations of your value line up with the value you’ve been projecting?
  • How can you refine your messaging in order to make that value more clear?

Based on what you’ve learned thus far, attempt to write a short description (no longer than 3-4 sentences) that defines your value proposition. This should be informed by both the projected and perceived value that you’ve just uncovered, but also a range of other factors, including thoughts around the following:

  • Your key stakeholder’s greatest need, and the way in which your work fulfills that need.
  • Your greatest competitor, and the key differences between your work/approach and there’s.
  • Your own personal values, and what drives your perspective of the world.

I won’t sugar coat this, this is not an easy task. That said, if you see your value proposition as something that is in a constant state of further definition and evolution, it takes some of the weight off of the process as a whole. The best thing you can do is start. Know that it is natural (and actually great!) for this value to change! A few final tips, selected from the best practices section of our Value Proposition toolkit:

  1. When developing your value proposition, work with your existing audience to get an understanding for how you are being perceived, and see how that differs from the value and unique differentiation you’re projecting in your current marketing material. If you are starting something from scratch, and do not have an audience to get feedback from, you can also have conversations with previous coworkers or employers about your work in general.
  2. A common mistake in value proposition design is to spend too much time thinking about your competition, as well as all of the cool features and benefits of your organization. Don’t get tunnel vision! Instead, think about your users. What do they need? How are those needs currently being fulfilled by your competitors? How do you fulfill those needs in a better way? Take the time to understand how the need that you are meeting fits into the ecosystem of their other needs (which may be fulfilled by others!).
  3. The value proposition has to speak to your core competency. As a result, it will be impossible to appease every pain point of your users. Stay true to what you know you can deliver well, and rank the identified pain points informed by this reality.

Understand your client’s marketing objectives fully when you complete this certificate in marketing.

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How To Stop the Feast or Famine Syndrome: Part 2

Is this you?

  • You see your client’s projects as more important or valuable than your own.
  • You take your client’s business more seriously than your own.
  • You put your own business development (including bookkeeping and billing) on the back burner and literally do your own stuff last or not at all.

If so, then you probably also suffer from The Feast or Famine Syndrome. You know, when you are forced to take whatever comes along (a.k.a. “word of mouth”) because you believe you can’t afford to do otherwise. Or you settle for cheap clients, and sometimes even abusive clients.

This must stop!

The Feast or Famine SyndromePhoto by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

In Part 1 of this article, we established that the way out of Feast or Famine is to begin with these 3 mindset shifts:

  1. Shift from “The client’s project is the real work” to “My business is my priority.”
  2. Shift from “I want my clients to be happy” to “My happiness counts most”
  3. Shift from “Why won’t they respond?” To “The ball is always in my court.”

Now it’s time to add some action, because if scattershot marketing leads to a roller coaster of projects, then steady and focused marketing is the antidote.

In other words, you can harness the power of marketing to smooth out the waves of unpredictable work.

Building on those 3 new mindsets, here are 3 actions you can take:

  1. “My business is my priority.” = “My tasks get done first.” That means, you tend to your own business growth first – literally! Do it first thing in the week (don’t leave it for Friday) and first thing in the morning, when you are thinking most clearly. Don’t put “paying” client work ahead of researching your target market, sending out your email newsletter or attending a networking event. Don’t sacrifice your future to a measly client project! Prioritize your own strategic planning, self-promotion and billing. Carve out time for yourself, put it in your calendar and protect that time as if it were your lifeline, because it is!
  2. “My opinion counts most” = “I do my best for myself too.” That means committing to doing your absolute best for yourself! Use your own common sense. Do what you know is best or, if you don’t know, get help from someone who knows. Don’t let yourself flounder. Your clients get help from experts (that’s you) and so should you.
  3. “The ball is always in my court” = “I know what my next step is.” That means, instead of waiting for a response from anyone, you don’t even expect one and you already know what you’ll do next. For example, if you submit a proposal and don’t hear back within a week, re-send it with a friendly note that says, “Just want to make sure you saw this – please confirm receipt.” That way, when a prospect or a client does respond, you’ll be thrilled and even a little surprised. In the meantime, assume responsibility and always be poised for action. And, don’t give up when the people you want to work with don’t respond to your messages. Keep reaching out and showing your interest, your persistence and professionalism – humor helps too. Because you really have no idea what’s happening on their end. So don’t assume the worst!

None of this is hard, especially if you’re already making the effort to cultivate the right mindset.

On a practical level, all it takes is a little bit of your attention every day. 30 minutes could be plenty. In fact, treat yourself like your own client, if that’s what it takes to put yourself first.

And if you need help, take advantage of the complimentary 30-minute mentoring session I offer to pick my brain and get your questions answered.

The Feast or Famine Syndrome

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