Just four months ago seems like so long ago now, but in August 2011 I wrote that I was leaving Codeworks and DIBI to start my own project, Industry Conf – which is alive and well, as well as joining the world of freelance again. It’s been a short fun ride, starting off with a few freelance contracts before joining a team of talented people at a growing US based agency. It was a very interesting time which I’ll no doubt write about in the near future.
The want and need to work on a product rather than client projects was so overwhelming that I’m now very very proud and excited to say that I’ll be joining the team at happiest full time.
Some of you will know about happiest, I’ve been semi-involved with the Newcastle upon Tyne based startup for a while now, some of you may even have an account which is now slightly dormant.
I’m excited knowing that what it is currently is very ‘beta’ and acts as a very very strong foundation to build on and what we will achieve in the near future is something that you will be able to use every day, something that is quick and painless which will reward you for doing it.
Focusing on singular products is what I want to do and for now all my energy is going in to happiest and Industry Conf and I just can’t wait to get going.
Today is a new day and the start of a new journey for myself.
If you like to do something you do it often, whether it’s playing sports, designing, gaming, cooking or blogging. If you’re one of the lucky people in the world who actually manages to do this and make money from it you’re actually working whether you like it or not.
Someone asked the other day, “What do you want to do?”, as if to make me think at the moment I wasn’t truly doing what I wanted. It was an out of the blue question which got me thinking, in an idea world what would I like/love to be doing?
Since starting work at 15 I’ve had 8 different jobs and only 3 of these I have not liked. They paid bills. Some people are fortunate in finding a job which they enjoy or love which also pays for you to have a comfortable lifestyle, one where you can enjoy your life both ‘at work’ and ‘at home’. I’m not talking about being extravagant and going on multiple holidays a year, I’m talking about going to cinema, a gig or visiting places that you want when you want to.
The building in which I work is on the same campus as a University, I’m saddened to see people younger than myself heading to get an education knowing full well nearly 90% of them gaining a high-end qualification (degree level) will probably not end up in a job which they enjoy.
I didn’t go to University. I chose to make my own life choices, to better myself personally and professionally in something that I loved and it ended up being in design and online *stuff*. This has meant that at 27, I’ve got a lot of experience in multiple areas that I use to do my work and I’ve also done a lot where I’ve gained life experience. Experience is what will get you through just about anything, I firmly believe this. I believe that experience is the one thing that has guided and is still guiding me through my professional life.
I’m currently one of those people who is fortunate enough to actually love what I do. I get asked one question a lot. What do I have to do to get in to design? And time and time again is that you need to live, sleep, eat and breathe it. Our industry moves so fast that at the best of times its hard to keep up, never mind if you treat it like a 9 to 5 job. I also think that the design industry is unique in being one of the only types of work that people can genuinely fall in love with on such a large scale. Take web conferences for instance, the majority if not all of the attendees go to a web conference because they enjoy being a part of the hustle and bustle of the industry, they enjoy learning and they most certainly enjoy meeting up with people and discussing design/development over a beer. I just couldn’t see this happen in other industry’s like teaching or nursing. You’d almost always see other industry’s forcing themselves to go to a conference or spending hours outside of work on work-related activities.
Whether it be designing, planning, writing or the many other things I end up doing from day to day there isn’t much that gets me down about what I do for ‘work’. Most of the people I speak to outside of our industry think I’m crazy. Whenever they ask me what I’m doing they receive the usual answer of “Just working…”. It’s the easiest way to explain to them that I’m doing something I enjoy. It eliminates long conversations about what I’m doing so I can get back to it.
I enjoy and love what I do and there shouldn’t be a problem with that. I enjoy working longer hours, it means I can do more, I can read more, I can speak to people more. I know a lot of people who work longer hours and from what I gather, they never complain as they’re always doing something ‘cool’.
In noticing this article by Paul Boag where he discusses the point about working too much being bad for you, I had to agree to most of it. I believe even if you do love your work so much, you have to be realistic about how much your body can take. From experience, I now know that an all-nighter will ruin me the next day and will take me another couple of days to get back to normal. However, I believe that working more hours in the day when you can is not a problem and everyone should try to do a bit of reading / writing or just trying something new whether it be coding or designing to keep us on top of our game.
I wasn’t exactly sure on how to title this blog post. ‘Standing firm’ seemed quite apt to suit the point I’m going to try and put across.
Over the last 4 years I’ve worked on a range exciting projects for all kinds of different clients, some of which have been fantastic! I think every designer in the land has come across issues with client contact and clients not understanding the way we choose to represent their business or their ideas.
You quickly find yourself receiving sketches in the post, ideas of “websites” via email or even mocked up designs fresh out of MS Word. One of my all time greats was a client who though it would be fantastic to write some copy in MS Word, put it into a small typeface, cut it out and place it over one of his business cards and secure in place with pritt-stick to make sure I knew how he’d want the card design. I’ve seen it all, some you can laugh at, some you can cry at and usually the favorite is to simply starting pulling hair or banging your head on the nearest wall. When you can’t bang your head and have to reply in a meeting. Some have pained me just replying to emails.
THE DREADED WORKING PARTNERSHIP
Going through the worst of client confrontations means that you can learn a lot from the whole process. I recently went through a scenario of thinking a client I knew of was compeltely crackers/barmy/mad. They put over the impression they were causing someone some serious issues, so much so you could see the stress in the face of the worknig person. My understanding is that clients are not mad, they’re not stupid or barmy. They, on occasion are simply misunderstood and it’s the simple fact that we move so fast through our own understanding of our industry that we fail to realise they are not as quick. Clients need objectives explaining and interpreting into their own way of thinking. Explain to them why things won’t work or will work and in what context.
LETS GET IT TOGETHER
Paul Boag recently talked about ‘Educating clients to say yes’ in depth at Future of Web Design, NYC, Paul has been in the Industry enough to know how to work with clients rather than manage.
My view is ‘managing clients’ sounds more like they’re a problem rather than a part of the job you’re working on. We designers have to realise that they infact know more about their business than we do, we certainly do not know their target audience until we ask, we do not know how much of what product they sell the most of at any one time.
HOW DO WE TURN MANAGING A CLIENT INTO WORKING WITH A CLIENT?
It’s not that difficult. We need to realise, as I said above that clients are not crazier than a dog chasing its tail. The fact is they do not understand a bloogy thing we’re going on about that they react differently than if we approached them saying why their idea may be a problem. This is only a lesson I have learned over the past 3 or so weeks, and oddly Paul Boag talked about it at FOWD, NYC a few days after it happened to me.
Clients love direct contact yet they need to understand that contact with you can have different outcomes. If you’re busy working on their project and are interrupted you can lose focus completely. Every client I have worked with has two numbers for me, my land line work phone and my mobile. The clients I’ve given my mobile to know not to use it at randomly however if/when I work from home they know how to contact me and I am more than happy to answer their calls.
The management of a phonecall can pay dividends. A lot of clients will think that a simple phone call will not disrupt your focus. How wrong they are. Explain to them about urgency, the scales of urgency. Explain the ensuing result of a random phonecall with little point can achieve little else than failure because of the way they’ve approached you.
One thing which works well is a spare office desk with Internet connection that is the client desk. This is a place where they can come in and work around you. It builds relationships, it helps them realise just what happens within our workplaces and how we work best. Meetings can be called on a moments notice and results can be achieved with great accuracy and focus.
I believe we should stand firm, I believe that clients should listen to us and take what we’re saying on board. Don’t be obnoxious about it, help them, guide them. Designers and clients can work together to bring tremendous results as long as we give them a chance to do so.
I’ve always liked small teams, being apart of them and managing them. Small teams make sense, they connect quicker and work better. In a fast flowing business, no matter what it is, communication is key. A breakdown in communication between the end user to any numbers of departments can be the bane of any one’s life. A breakdown in a working team can cause a whole lot more pain. I am not saying you need to get on with everyone in your team but you should respect and listen to their views before automatically trying to shut them down, work with them and not against them.
I recently ordered Getting Real by 37 Signals. The book was unpacked as soon as it hit my hands, sat down and read the opening pages of which they talk about ‘The Three Musketeers’ and using a small team to start a web app. They say that if you can’t start a web app with three people you’ve got the wrong three people and should start looking around for a new team.
This view to me is very good, I have a theory on an elastic team which is quite similar, a team which can be brought together at any time to produce something spectacular but you have to have the right team. This elastic team would be held together through good communication, something which small teams are usually fantastic with.
GOOD WORK FLOW
To like each other and respect each other is one thing. Work flow is another.
Double handling any part of a job is a personal pain and annoys the hell out of me. I find if work flow isn’t worked out prior to setting off on a project, the amount of double handling can get astronomical. If you can sort your work flow out prior to starting a project you’ll notice a significant improvement in the speed of the work you’re producing as a team, as well as feeling proud that you’re handing something over which is all ready to rock on the other side.
MANAGEMENT OR SUPERVISION?
When starting a project there should always be a point of contact in charge, or at least someone who can be at the front line of question and answer sessions. Working in a small team can change a manager into a supervisor as usually the smaller the team the more people are hands on. This eliminates the typical manager type figure that looks over your shoulder to make sure you’re working hard enough. A supervisor (in my mind) would be there to help and assist rather than man manage, members of a small team should already know their capabilities and what they have to do.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE WITH SMALL TEAMS
We have a small team and so do a lot of people, Carsonified’sCarsonites, Woothemes bunch and the Reading Room to name but a few. The three examples are rather diverse. Carsonified work on web apps and conferences, Adii at Woothemes claims success from the realisation of working together with Magnus Jepson and Mark Forrester as a tight-nit team and although Adii is bringing in other professionals to work on themes I would not expect the core team to change anytime soon (Adii – you can correct me if I’m wrong). The Reading Room, recently featured in the .net magazine (issue 182) have small teams throughout the company acting like their own companies working on certain projects which they’re best at and they have just been given the Digital Marketing Agency of the Year award.
That is proof that small teams work and I for one swear by them. I work within a small team every day and love working. Not just because of the job, heck – I love my job but because of the team. We stand by each other when the going gets tough and enjoy ourselves every step of the way. The one thing I have noticed over time is the ability of someone within the team to lead is exceptional, they do it effectively and when they’re done it’s passed on to the next person. We’re all supervisors when we need to be.
If you think small teams are not going to cut it, sit back and think about it for a second. It will make sense in the end.