Sunday, February 17
I realize New York Life has a long history of being a well established company. It was founded 160 years ago after all. You'd think that a company with such rich heritage would take just as much pride in their logo.
Look how beautifully kerned the word New is. The letters touch forming elegant ligatures. The N and E even share the same stem - how marvelous. While the letters in York don't touch, the spacing has been finessed to fit perfectly under New. But someone must have then taken a nip from the bottle before working on the word Life. Can you say poor kerning? Sheesh. I realize the designer wanted Life to be the same width as New, but please, they could have done better then this. Every time I see this logo, I want to take an Xacto knife to it and fix the horrible letter spacing.
Friday, February 15
I have a tendency to copy down little scraps of wisdom I find here and there on loose sheets of scrap paper. (Yes, a notebook chained to my ankle would be a wise investment.). I often find these little notes to myself months and years later stacked in piles of mail, stuffed in books or drawers. In the midst of sorting through another of my endless piles of things, “I can’t throw out but never seem to find the time to file,” I came across the following list:
The Top 10 Skills Employers Want
1. Communication Skills
2. Computer & Technical Aptitudes
5. Interpersonal Abilities
6. Professional Personal Traits
7. Critical Thinking
8. Intelligence and Common Sense
9. Willingness to Learn
10. Work-related Experience
I can’t take credit for the creation of this list but I thought it was important enough to copy down and remember. It may have been lifted straight from the Career Services Department right here on campus — if so, thank you very much. I’ve decided to share it with you all and it has become the catalyst for this blog entry.
I think many CD students work really hard under the misconception that all you need to get a great job is a strong portfolio. If my book looks good I am there like a fly on …sh…sugar. Please don’t misconstrue my sentiments here, a great book can get you in the door and keep you there but it isn’t the only criteria for landing your dream job.
To illustrate my point let’s take a look at this misconception from the perspective of a studio owner, hiring committee, and/or art/creative director. You will need to develop a little art director empathy here so put on your “I’m the Boss Hats.”
A Not So Untypical Scenario:
“The following drama and characters are purely fictional. They are not based on actual people or events.” I just love when they say that in the beginning of cop shows.
You’re a KUCD grad, you’ve been out of school several years and you’re a very busy and successful art director at Jackpot Design and Marketing. Jackpot is well regarded for its high quality of design work and stellar reputation in the business and design communities and on most days you enjoy your job. You are used to the high stress frenetic pace—in fact you thrive on it. As crass as it may sound, your main job responsibility is to generate strong design and visual communications for clients in a timely-manner for which your company will be paid and turn a profit. These profits are how you get paid your generous salary because your boss and company CEO, Ima Pennypincher, realizes that you’re worth every shiny cent.
Jackpot Design has taken on several new and lucrative accounts and you’ve been working double shifts for the last 6 months to meet your deadlines. This has taken a real toll on your social life and you feel like you have joined a design monastery. Ms. Pennypincher has just given you permission to hire and train an entry-level junior designer at the bottom of the designer pay scale. You argued for someone with experience, but even with new clients she SWEARS —with an eye roll— that the company can’t afford that. Anyway, at this point, the potential of any extra help is welcome news. You are well aware that Ms. Pennypincher pays eagle-eyed attention to extra costs, downtime, missed deadlines and mistakes that an inexperienced designer can bring to the plate—all potentially reducing the company’s profit margin. You will be directly responsible for this new hire. If the person you hire doesn’t work out you’re the scapegoat and Ms. Pennypincher will have your hide.
Thoughts of what you need in a young designer start to gel. You realize this person may need to be open to some drudge work to get started, answering phones, photo and design research, and following your very specific design instruction. Not too creative to begin but if you see creative and professional potential the job has possibilities. This person may need to put in extra hours immediately—without whining—as your “right-hand” until they are up to speed and can take on more responsibility. You want to hire someone that can be sure footed in three months and self-sufficient in terms of direction in a year.
Realizing that taking the time to screen and hire a new staff member is time that you are in short supply you email your old Profs in KUCD. They post the job in the office and direct you to Career Services as well. One of your old professors offers to announce the job opportunity at Senior Portfolio Review. They collect resume and sample sheets and mail them to you. You receive employment information from 25 CD seniors and you pare down your short-list to 7 employment candidates. Why did you screen out the first 18 people? Do you think that as a busy art director you had time to really “read” 25 resumes?
Generally the very quick “look and skim” of the resume and sample sheet pile is the method of choice. Some reasons people are screened at this stage are as mundane as they didn’t seem like a good fit. If you are confident in the quality of your resume and sample sheet you shouldn’t take this personally. It is somewhat out of your control. But remember a resume can start to give clues about everything from #3: Leadership to #10: Work Related Experience. These areas aren’t out of your control but take some planning and follow through while you are still in school.
Outside of just poor design, #2: Computer and Technical Aptitude and #6: Professional Personal Traits come into play on your resume. In our field marginal attention to organization in a layout, lack of attention to typographic detail and awkward computer skills in a poorly crafted resume can eliminate you immediately in the “look and skim” stage. These deficits all have something to say about what an art director would expect from an on-the-job novice.
So I will be generous and say that “you” the art director actually “read” eight resumes and paired the pile down to six. Awkward writing, misspelled words and poor grammar eliminated the next 2 people under #1: Communication Skills. Writing skills fall under this category.
So the countdown begins with six phone calls. The work looked good in the sample sheets. These resumes actually identified important design and professional qualifications beyond the standard list of computer programs the applicant knows how to use. You visualize a cognizant people not a lifeless computer drones.
One person’s voicemail message berates you with a litany of curse words and tells you to leave an “F”ing message and they might get back to you. Ooopsie, you hang up without leaving a message and six potential candidates just narrowed to five.
You have five interviews scheduled on an open day the following week. In your mind you have two terrific candidates and three really good candidates. It is going to be a tight day so these interviews need to go as scheduled.
So after a crazy day of interviews you decide: one book was super, two books were really good and one not so good—well let's say the work wasn’t bad but the cat hair, booger-like adhesive and die-cuts that looked they were cut out with a grass clippers really didn’t help. That person looked great on paper but you were skeezed-out at the poor presentation of their work. Deficiencies in #6 and #8 eliminated another candidate.
The third interview was late because they got lost, hmm… That person had a really nice book too. But you think of #6: Professional Personal Traits, #7: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving and #8: Intelligence and Common Sense. You just aren’t late for an interview. Period. If they didn’t know where the place was, they should have recognized the problem early and addressed it before it became your problem. You had to play catch-up the whole rest of the day.
Tomorrow you will probably check in on recommendations of your potential hires but before you go home you just can’t resist going on My Space and punching in your candidates’ names. Ooopsie! You find a photo of super-portfolio-person dancing on a table in skivvies with a cigarette in one hand and a cheap beer in the other. Well this one just got eliminated on #8: Intelligence and Common Sense. Just because they like to have a good time? Probably not. For publicizing it in an open forum and not thinking about the consequences? Yep.
You decide to give them a second chance and the next day you call one of your old Profs that the applicant has listed as a reference. (It is good form to ask permission of the people you are using as references.) The Prof emails you back telling you that the person didn’t request that the Prof be a reference so they can’t comment due to privacy issues. Red flag. Down to two.
So you are disappointed that you eliminated what you thought was your strongest portfolio. So you call the references of the other two candidates. They both have really solid books but all of the work isn’t exceptional. One candidate seemed a little nervous but nice, but they had really made an effort to ask questions. You liked that. The other spoke well, was confident and had a comfortable sense of humor. They have pretty equal quality portfolios and so far stack up well on the Top Ten Skills an Employer Wants List. This is a tough decision. Some pieces shine while others are just good. They both used Profs and their internships as references. You call and find out that they were both really good students, hardworking and on time for class or work, they take direction well, have been willing to learn new skills (#9), revise projects to make them better and got along really well with everyone in their classes (#5). Other things are pressing so you get back to the tasks of the day.
The next day you receive in the mail, a handwritten personally designed thank you card from one of your two final candidates, the shy one. The candidate thanked you for your time and suggestions on their work. The candidate requested an opportunity to come in and work freelance as a field test. The card comments on how impressed they were with Jackpot’s Design work that they saw and read while waiting in the lobby for their interview. The candidate remembered that you said Friday morning is usually a little less crazy so they would call at that time. They even hoped that your cat was feeling better and you remembered mentioning that in the interview. You’re swamped. You make a snap decision, you turn the card over and there is contact information. You call. “Hey thanks so much for the card, we don’t get them often. Can you come in tomorrow and work? I’d like you to freelance for the week on a test drive.”
So here’s my question to begin discussion. You’re in the driver seat. You’re the boss. You make the decisions. (But don’t forget Ms. Pennypincher.) Write your own Top 10 Skills Employers Want List. Is this list thorough? What’s missing? What might you add? Outside of a great portfolio, what do you think would be great traits for a young designer to have? What might be the worst? If you had the responsibility of hiring someone you had to work with closely everyday what would you want them to be like? Describe the perfect employee.
Monday, February 11
Wednesday, February 6
Ask any designer what makes the perfect client, and they'll all give you the same reply: the one who lets you do whatever you please. In a perfect world, all clients would be this way. As designers, we have the education, the training and the experience to know precisely what would work best for the target audience, and we're rarely short of innovative and creative ideas to engage that audience. The more we work on a job, the more we become excited about the designs we're creating, and the more certain we become that our designs are The Right Ones, and They Will Work. And of course they'll be beautiful, original, and almost certainly, award winning.
As students, you’ve been lucky so far to have guidelines that specify size, loose topics and other small details but the creative idea generation is largely your responsibility. You become the client, the company owner, the editor, the copywriter and the creative director all rolled into one. It’s your idea that gets pushed forward therefore you get to make the “rules”. There is no printing budget or photographers to pay. There are no government regulations to meet or bosses to please (unless you count your professor, of course). The account manager isn’t going to be looking over your shoulder begging you to get done so a press release can go out. Your ideas are what matter therefore ego becomes part of your process—it needs to be to make you a better designer.
The real world, of course, is never quite so straight forward. One of the greatest rewards about the design industry is that there will be times when you really are given full freedom, when the client is open to new ideas and is excited by your creativity, and will give you free reign to do whatever you feel is right. Sometimes, however, you'll find yourself working from pretty tight guidelines, where your client already has a good idea of what they want, and they require you to stick closely to those guidelines. Perhaps they have a particularly awful logo that they want you to use prominently, perhaps they have a color scheme as part of their branding that you're required to adhere to, or perhaps their design idea is just plain stupid, and they're not open to alternative opinions. So how do you respond to this as an artist? How do you work to meet their guidelines without losing your own creativity in the process? The easy answer is to say, “screw ‘em, I know what good design is and they don’t. I’m doing whatever I want to do.” Unfortunately, this answer is unrealistic. Oftentimes a client had good reasons for using a corporate color or specific logo or demanding only Helvetica be used— it’s their right as it’s their company. They are paying you to help make their company better and sometimes that means dealing with items that can’t be changed. 95% of companies have some sort of standards when it involves their branding. Some will provide you with entire manuals with what you’re allowed and not allowed to do. Many clients have some idea of what they need and want.
This isn't a problem exclusive to the design industry. If you're a writer, and hired to do a piece on cycling, they'll expect cycling to be the focus of the article. However, they'll expect you to give your own personality and flourish to the piece, for it to have an angle or a point of view. If you're an interior designer, your client will specify what colors they want the bathroom, or the kitchen, but you'll have the freedom to express yourself a little, to make it something wonderful. The same is true of graphic design - it's important not to lose your personality in the process, to use that training, experience and enthusiasm to give them what they want, and then give them more. It's one of the most important lessons to learn - how to give your clients what they want, and also give them what they didn't realize they wanted and love it even more.
But how far should you take this? Is there a point where you should accept defeat, go through the motions and give them what they want and move on? Or should you fight for the job, and try to give your client the best that you can and perhaps even surprise them? How far can you push that initial idea before you begin to irritate the client? Just where exactly is that happy medium, and should the client indulge you, so long as you're still keeping to the letter of their specified guidelines? How important is your ego in the creative process? Where does the role of your graphic design training fit in?