In an exclusive extract from his new book, Oh Sh*t… What Now?, Craig discusses the seven things you need to do to succeed as a designer.
You’ve worked hard to get where you are, so don’t rest on your laurels thinking you’ve made it. Keep up that momentum and keep working hard at it. You have so much to improve on, even things you might not be aware of.
Seek continuous feedback, and constantly evaluate everything: your work, your abilities, your shortcomings and your virtues. Evaluate where you are and where you want to be. Constantly set goals for the person you are, knowing you won’t be the same person who achieves them: so keep aiming.
Work with other people. Lots of them. Work with those in the studio, friends at other agencies, your old university and their students, people who do other things – suppliers, makers, doers. Seeing how other people do the same thing as you but in a different way is at the heart of culture – a learning culture – which offers insight and improvement. And the more of those the better.
Almost all agencies are set up to work as teams and in teams – even if they aren’t aware of it, or deny it.
Some adopt a kind of quasi-team structure, but these are usually led by one (or two) creative directors. A brief will come in, and the director(s) will gather the designers together to discuss it collectively. Then, just like American football teams do after a conflab, there’s a ‘break!’ moment where everyone scuttles off with a copy of the brief to think about it and form some responses.
After a period of time, each person will come back to the group with their ideas. A lot of the time it’s the best few that go forward for development, and the work is carved up from there on. You’ll find you get to do a lot of your own thinking in structures like this, which naturally sounds and feels good, but they can also often feel quite competitive. And sometimes it’s easier for the more experienced people in the gang to come out on top, which might lead to you not working on your own ideas moving forward for that particular project.
Other agencies resemble a team in a more familiar way, in that you are in a team of designers with a set hierarchy – creative director, senior, middleweight, junior – with the creative support from artwork, project and client management, etc.
These models work in many ways, and will be different wherever you find them, but they often predictably follow the hierarchical flow of things. That’s not to say the bottom of the pile gets the bum deal, though. You will be surrounded by varying levels of experience in a closeknit group, and so you will see clearly, right before your eyes, who in that team does what, how responsibility is shared, what is expected of each role, and what it takes to reach the next level. That’s a really useful thing if you want to climb upwards, but it will take time.
Some teams are a bit more ad hoc. A small agency, for example, is a team. But because they’re small and perhaps don’t have a person to fulfil every role needed to make a project run, everyone has to muck in and do a lot of different things – maybe not always as well as someone who performs that task as their job.
So it’s peaks and troughs. The more ad hoc set-ups are a mix of the two models described above. They accommodate independent thinking and responses for briefs (while you’re doing lots of other tasks, too), but they also have a hierarchical framework, and you may not always all be working on the same things at the same time.
Ultimately, wherever you work, you will work in some sort of a team. So you have to be able to adapt to it, and accommodate other people. Just like life, it’s give and take, and knowing when to do both. It’s about finding a team that suits or complements your preferred way of thinking and doing, and working with people you get on with.
I can’t stress this one enough. Don’t ever, ever let go of the feelings you have at this point right now, reading this (if you’re a student or graduate, that is). Hold onto them and, every now and again, when you are successful or happy, just think back to how you felt and how you got to where you are. Think about it – how you did it, the journey you took, who helped you and how – and share that with those about to embark on their version of this experience. Not only will it be a great help to other students, but I promise that explaining and evaluating these things will make you a better designer.
Do work for yourself. But understand why. Do it to learn. Do it to express something bigger than what you do day to day. Do it to help others. Do it to invest in things that are worth your time. Do it to ease frustrations, or find your way into something else. There is value in this even if it isn’t monetary. Just don’t do it for reputation, respect, glory, vanity or any of that other bullshit. These come after doing something good. So aim for that first.
Take and make opportunities
The Industry™, although it doesn’t initially feel like it, is very friendly and always looking to connect and create. Judge competitions, do portfolio surgeries, give talks, donate your time, set briefs and workshops, sit on boards and committees. When these crop up, seize them. And if they don’t, try and find them.