On December 5, 2011, six experienced and highly regarded creative directors and principals in Jacksonville gathered for a private dinner to discuss how their workflow, strategy and business development have evolved throughout their careers. The gathering was for Acquired Taste—an elite panel discussion crafted and led by Stephanie Soden and Jim Ward of AIGA Jacksonville to be filmed for a short documentary soon to be released. The guests of honor discussed topics ranging from how they came to be where they are today, valuable things they’ve learned over the years, how they prepare for the future and changes they have made to stay on the cutting edge of rapidly changing technology and venues for communication. The guests of honor were (in no particular order): Mary Fisher, Owner, Mary Fisher Design; Carl Smith,Chief Keeper Upper and founding member, nGen Works; David Wingard, Owner and Creative Director, Wingard Creative; Jan Korb, CEO,f BroadBased Marketing Communications and Public Relations; Jefferson Rall, Creative Director, Brunet-García Advertising Inc.; and Mike Barnhart, Art Director, Shepherd.
I had the privilege and honor to participate in the event as a volunteer. To have the opportunity to listen to individuals from our local creative community, people whom I have deep respect and admiration for, discuss subjects I am passionate about was an invaluable experience. Their discussion was fascinating. There was an innate sense of camaraderie shared by all throughout the evening that I can only assume stemmed from being in the presence of like-minded individuals who share a mutual passion, similar experiences and speak a language few others understand. I found myself scribbling notes like a mad woman every chance I could. I captured some really solid stuff. Even though I am considered an experienced designer myself, I am still young in my career comparatively and I have much to learn and experience yet which was both humbling and exciting. I certainly aspire to one day achieve the level of experience, accomplishment and confidence that these professionals have.
I could go on and on about everything I learned, how awesome the event was and the crazy notes I captured. For the sake of brevity (well, somewhat…) and also saving a few surprises for the documentary, I’ve narrowed down my notes to my personal key takeaways and sound bites I grabbed from the main topics discussed. For more, keep an eye out for the documentary scheduled to release this Thursday at AIGA Jacksonville’sI Love Design event—it’s going to be epic!
Key takeaways and highlights
My favorite quote of the night was from Carl Smith when he said “Do cool stuff for cool people. Eventually that will build into other great things and more cool people. It will make your day and your work better for it.” I really loved that. I mean, that is the ultimate goal, right? Something to work toward for sure as I evolve in my life and career. A few of the highlights here I already knew and practice, but it’s nice to hear it reiterated by seasoned professionals like these. There’s comfort in knowing that even though technology and communication are evolving rapidly, there are still basics to the profession that are timeless.
- Having a process helps get things done efficiently and makes people and clients feel safe.
- Anyone who is passionate is never satisfied.
- Make things every day.
- Branding is so much more than what you create and what you put on paper. It’s everything about you—from how you answer the phones, how you behave outside of work, how you pay it forward (or don’t)… everything!
- People will brand you if you don’t brand yourself. Find your voice before they find it for you and use it, LOUDLY. Be the loudest one out there to GET NOTICED!
- DON’T go after people’s accounts, especially if they help you.
- The power of know—knowing when to say no and how to say it the right way.
- The work is the catalyst and the identity of the agency. You can’t sell a business model, you sell your work.
- Keep good clients happy. If good clients are asking for something you don’t normally offer, find a way to provide it to them. Transcend expectations. Blow them away. Galvanize the relationship based on what your product is.
- Have a chemistry meeting with a potential client—if you like us and we like you let’s work together.
- Sometimes you need to convince your client that the work is great, and why.
On new technology and rapidly-changing venues for communication…
My key takeaway here is to embrace technology, you have to, but ALWAYS remember that the design is paramount. There always has to be a good concept, a good design, an aesthetic to everything and consistency across all touch points—branding, print, web, PR, multimedia, Facebook, iPhone apps, etc. Without it, your creative is crap and the technology is irrelevant.
- There are more ways to communicate now and the number is increasing. You can’t do it with the same number of people you used to be able to. It has certainly complicated things.
- Social media is a social network, it’s all about sharing, and it changes constantly so you have to stay on top of it to stay current.
- Social media is WORD OF MOUTH—SEO is NOT.
- Tweet ideas to find people who are interested and think like you do. It’s a flare sent from you out into the world to say “Hey! This is me and who I am.”
- Don’t do “me” tweets, thank people for compliments privately and don’t re-tweet your own PR—it’s tacky.
- There are some hybrid designers out there that can do more than one job at a time, but the trouble with “tweeners” (in-betweeners = people who are responsible for two or more jobs) is they don’t have time to learn and grow because they’re doing two jobs.
- Tech people are totally different than creatives. The best developers are usually musicians because it’s all based on math, but they are not typically good designers.
On young designers & interns…
A brief discussion about new technology and young creatives brought up the topic of insecurities. It was refreshing to hear each panel member agree that, at times, there is an equal amount of insecurity for them as there is for the young creatives they meet and hire. It makes sense, and it was refreshing to learn that even these power players in our creative community have moments of doubt and insecurity. It’s easy to forget in the presence of people we admire that no matter who someone is, we are all human and experience vulnerability at times. Creatives are always afraid of not being good enough no matter what experience level or age. I appreciated and respected their candor on the topic. In the end, though no matter how talented, driven or tech savvy a young creative may be, the one thing they will never have over a senior creative is experience. Our panel’s main piece of advice for young creatives is to put your time in, nothing beats experience. Below are a few more sound bites on the subject.
- Interns are great for new, emerging media.
- Students almost shut down from fear when it’s real because school is so controlled.
- Throw your creatives, especially newbie designers, into the fire and make them figure it out.
- Take a risk on a design from your creatives, even if it isn’t your taste. Let someone really run with their ideas, see where it takes everyone.
- Fight for what is right and let your designers fight for it too—hear what they have to say. Teach them and help them to build confidence in themselves and their work.
Advice for young designers & interns
- Come up with solutions, not problems (this goes for anyone).
- Do things quick and not perfect.
- Do not jump right on the computer. Sketch!
- Don’t over design it.
- Share, be open and fake confidence until you have it.
- You have to be durable.
- You have to learn when to let go and don’t get too attached.
- Estimate time, give a range of what it will cost, track and bill your time—ALWAYS! YOU HAVE TO!
- It’s more about time and it being correct and done right than it is about money.
- If you want to get noticed, hired, a foot in the door, etc… CALL PEOPLE! Pick up the phone and call people! (When asked what made them decide to participate in this event most said it was the fact that Stephanie or Jim called them to invite them personally, that made the difference and tipped the scale in favor.)
How to stay current, grow your business and longevity
- Develop business acumen
- David C. Baker—consultant for firms in the marketing industry
- HOW’s Mind Your Own Business Conference
- Peers and CEO leadership groups
- Learn, read, network
- Campfire or Basecamp—collaborative business tools
- Learn from the people you learned from
- Learn from people with different skill sets
- Learn from younger people, too, because they are usually on the cutting edge, they learn faster and they have unbridled enthusiasm
- Hire really good interns and young people
- Second Wind—a powerful information resource designed with one thing in mind—helping smaller and midsized advertising agencies, design firms and related businesses be better
~Amber-Lynn Gusa, designer, creator and author of Designerd