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Archive for the ‘INside Track’ Category

It can be a delicate balancing act, but allowing for workplace banter improves team morale and collaboration – especially for design teams for whom teamwork is critical to their performance. Healthy interpersonal relationships, which are partially created through playful conversation, foster trust, communication and innovation.

While too much small talk pulls people off of their tasks leading to unacceptable inefficiencies, too little leads to a siloed environment where lack of respect for coworkers and poor team culture can lead to rivalry, finger pointing and poor project handoffs – also contributing to unacceptable inefficiencies.

The rule of thumb is that any personal conversation that creeps over the 5 minute mark is probably best tabled to be picked up again either at lunch or after work. It’s critical that the whole team is on the same page and that everyone gives the other team members permission to end a conversation and thus ensure that feelings are not hurt if someone calls a time out.

The biggest challenge can be running interference with HR and upper managers who don’t understand the design team culture and the benefits that banter bring to the team’s performance. “Click”, a book by Ori and Rom Brafman on the value that strong personal connections bring to business is a quick read that can provide rationales to support a more informal culture when dealing with doubters of that type of environment.

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Yesterday our production and studio managers here at Designer Greetings presented a detailed description of our production SOPs and file prep requirements. They also created a binder documenting everything covered during the meeting. This was a labor-intensive undertaking that has already paid off in so many ways.

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The task forced our managers to clarify processes even we were unsure about and build in improvements along the way. The presentation clearly communicated to the entire team just how serious the managers are about process and how important process is to our success. It showcased to the designers the toll their lax adherence to procedures takes on their coworkers and it gave me an opportunity to let the team know that we are committed to setting them up for success but that they would now be expected to meet my and the other manager’s higher expectations.

I can’t emphasize enough that every in-house team should create, document and communicate their SOPs. I saw it in action yesterday and it works.

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Last week there were several posts about creativity and it’s importance in elevating the contribution that design and design teams can make to the success of their host companies. I have a bit of a different perspective this week given that, here at Designer Greetings, we’re struggling with finding solid hard-core production artists – the artisans and craftsmen/women of our profession.

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I’m talking about those individuals who love and take pride in crafting a well composed digital mechanical akin to the pros of the past who used to use ruling pens, French curves, acetate overlays, waxers, T-squares, stats, registration marks, rubylith and compasses to create bluelines that were works of art in and of themselves – those production rock stars who could absorb all the content that needed to be included in a project, understand the messaging priorities, label the colorbreaks accurately and proactively call out any inconsistencies with past projects that might be a problem.

Individuals who possess the above mentioned skills and aptitudes and an attitude made up of equal parts of taking pride in their work, flexibility, patience, humor and a desire become masters of their craft are in short supply. If our profession doesn’t acknowledge, compensate and elevate the practice of production, we’ll be offshoring even more of this once-prized craft than we already are. That would be a real loss for the design community and make all our lives that much more difficult and less gratifying.

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Over a dynamic dinner with a group of designers, master storyteller, Stefan Mumaw, author of “Caffeine for the Creative Mind” and “Chasing the Monster Idea”, related the following true tale…

Stefan was playing in a basketball tournament in Anchorage Alaska. The team members were staying at the homes of generous Anchorage residents and Stefan found himself awkwardly trying to make small talk with his host. Noticing the biggest handgun he had ever seen on the top of a china cabinet, Stefan asked his host what he had the gun for.

“See that window in the kitchen door down the hall?”, the host responded. “Go pull back the curtain.”

A little nervous, but intrigued nonetheless, Stefan cautiously approached the door and drew back the curtains. Peering intently through the fog covered glass, Stefan almost jumped back at the sight of 2 huge pulsating nostrils. He looked closer and saw an enormous moose, it’s massive frame perched squarely on the back porch, calmly warming it’s nose on in the inviting kitchen door window.

Walking back and shakily sitting back down on the living room couch he turned to his host who explained, “One day that moose just may figure out that he can bust through that door with not much more than a tap – that’s why I got the gun.”

With only the best of intentions, I’d propose that most in-house designers are like the moose; creative powerhouses who may not recognize their true innovative potential and are pressing their collective noses against a self-imposed glass wall that separates them from the higher-level strategic positions and roles they desire within their companies.

I’d urge anyone for whom this analogy fits, to take stock of their currently hidden creative and strategic problem-solving talents, embrace them and crash through that thin glass wall right into your corporation’s boardroom.

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I had the pleasure and privilege to judge this year’s Cleveland AIGA biennial design competition. My fellow judges, Stefan Mumaw and Diti Katona, were great partners in trying to be firm and fair-minded when judging the entries. Dawn Zidonis, AIGA’s chapter president was gracious, thoughtful and completely focused on having the process be fun but professional and the commitment of the chapter’s Director of Programming, Lee Zelenak, to having the many gears of the judging and the follow-up judges panel event mesh smoothly was only surpassed by his humor and enthusiasm.

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Being focused on all things in-house, it was a special treat for me to meet Maggie Crosswhite and Claire Brothers, two young, earnest and passionate designers working in very different environments but sharing a heartfelt commitment to design, their profession, the organizations where they work and to their fellow designers.

Though Maggie works as a solo designer for Case Western Reserve University and Clarie as a Product Line Designer for American Greetings, the stories they related shared a common theme of 2 creatives looking for ways to grow professionally while serving their clients and managers to their fullest potentials. Their earnestness was touching and their passion inspiring.

We need more Maggies and Claires to step up and add their voices to the dialogue about how designers can become a powerful force in the companies where they work and to support their peers in any way they can.

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“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” -Desiderius Erasmus

The odds are that most corporations today waste a cartload of money on unnecessary or trumped-up marketing services charges. Neither the Marketing nor the Procurement folks have much of a clue as to what they’re buying or how much whatever it is they’re buying should cost. This isn’t willful or malicious ignorance; these employees just haven’t had the training or experience that would enable them to distinguish between production costs and core creative fees, a UV coating versus a matte varnish or Flash and HTML coding.

Designers, on the other hand, are intimate with the creative and production process, and are therefore uniquely positioned to help out their less informed co-workers with understanding marketing services expenses. This opportunity to save their companies money should not be wasted by said designers. It improves the corporate bottom-line, forges strong supportive relationships between Marketing, Procurement and Creative (when the designers are enlightened enough to share the credit for the cost-savings) and positions the in-house department as a strategic consultant and partner within their companies.

Lend a hand, or rather an eye, to your colleagues who are tripping around in the dark trying to figure out how to buy creative. You may not be offered the throne but you’ll definitely get a seat as a knowledgeable knight at the roundtable.

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Designers, especially those working in house, have, in the past, had to deal with the more is more (or more for less) business mindset. We’d combat this culture of too much with the battle cry, “It’s quality not quantity” when being told to add more logos, copy, images, messages ad nauseum to a particular design artifact. The quantity adage has also been liberally applied to the argument for an in-house team to turn out more substandard work at the expense of  the creation of higher quality design.

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Now the quantity variable in this destructive equation has been replaced with convenience. How does this show up? In the consumer space it manifests in MP3 and MP4 technologies where the quality of the song or movie is compromised to allow for them to fit on mobile devices or be streamed over the internet. Fast food is another more vested product delivery model.

For internal creatives, the convenience challenge expresses itself in the corporate adoption of online on demand print delivery and layout solutions with generic templates and limited print production and finishing options. CMS sites that give authors easy access to updating corporate websites offer only limited design options. These tradeoffs favor convenience of use over the quality of the final product.

It wouldn’t be realistic, or best business practice, to have a pat knee-jerk negative response when confronted with placing convenience over quality, but there are plenty of times where it’s your job to take a stand and argue that the benefits of convenience do not outweigh the sacrifice of the quality of a particular design project.

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