Managing Designers Like Students…

Edit: This does not apply to ALL designers, but it does apply to some that I have met and spoke too, I have also fixed some typos and cleared up some statements.
Managing designers is not easy, some are quiet, some rant and rave, and some are actually pretty good. It can be a fickle thing designer management as personalities are varied. Recently I have had the opportunity to catch up and chat with a few designers that I have worked 2-3 years ago with during their final year at university. Now its seems many designers including myself seem to go through a phase that we loose the energy we had at school and become a little tired, disillusioned, and slightly psychotic even!

What came to my mind’s eye is this quote by Allan Chochinov, I think it struck a chord:

Treat the undergrads like they’re grown-ups (which they are); show them crazy respect, and ask their opinions all the time. Tell your graduate students to stop talking and start building; tell them not to come to class next week if they don’t bring in 12 sketches. And then thank your lucky stars when they arrive with 3.

Interestingly enough I find this comment on “graduate students” can apply neatly to professional designers as well. Having the opportunity to be both a design educator and a professional design manager I like to expand on this quote a little.
Design students are young full of energy, opinionated and often argumentative. Often many lack confidence and are struggling to understand the complex topic that is design. So treat them like professional designers. Talk to them like they know what they are doing, be hard on them and act as it their career depends on their performance (it does actually). Be firm but fair when looking at their design work. Be straight with them and don’t beat around the bush. Finally never treat them like students or kids, and never ever spoon feed them. They need to find their own way, and you must be their guide.
Professional designers on the other hand, occasionally need to be treated like students! Expanding from the quote which I think implies that they are too scared to actually pick up a pen to start their design work for fear of making a mistake, I find many are close to being burnt out, disillusioned with the hard realities of real world design constraints, and occasionally lost in their plans. They need direction, nurturing, and occasional molly coddling as a form of chicken soup for the soul. Help them think of their future, work and career as a mentor or advisor. Occasional nagging for mistakes, verbal knocking around (no swearing now!) all has its place at the right place and time (be diplomatic at all times). The reason is, especially with the fresh grads, they are often overwhelmed with so much stimuli, that they can be befuddled with all that mental information, and will need to be guided to what to do. The good news is that a slight nudge in the right direction is all it takes, before the flood gates are open and the work takes off like a rocket!

5 Comments
  • blackchocks

    March 29, 2007 at 5:34 pm Reply

    hmmm…DT…how do you get back that energy you had at school, and even that interest that you had in design then? i found that i completely lost interest and got really, like you said, discouraged, disillusioned and tired after graduating. it felt like burn out more than anything else.
    how does one conduct design career CPR?

  • Design Translator

    March 29, 2007 at 7:40 pm Reply

    Hi Blackchocks,
    That is an very difficult question to answer. There is no one right answer. I experienced this going into my 4th year of design and I hated it so much that I wanted to quit and be a stock broker! I was getting more satisfication from making/losing money on the stock market than i was in my design work.
    Here are some factors that can actually help:
    1) Your design manager or boss in any profession is a very important person, he can help you love your job or hate it depending on his abilities.
    2) Consider a change in environment or job, sometimes its the environment that is a factor. However sometimes its the individual. Put it this way if the environment cannot be changed, its up to the individual to realise that he has a better change of changing his/her point of view than trying to change the environment. The people who bitch and moan often are their own worst enermy.
    3) Be happy with what you have. If you continue to compare with the haves and have not, you will never be satisified. If its about money or how crap you are being paid, consider how much you really need to survive and think of other ways, like designing t-shirts to sell, to achieve it. If the issue it not so much money, be happy you have your family, life, health, friends etc etc. Truly this is important, and you must really belief it. I always felt I was happy with what i had, but in reality I always thought I deserved more shamefully.
    4) On a smaller level, get a hobby, enter design competitions, design your own work, start a blog, all these takes your mind off work and refreshes it.
    5) Have long term goals, and understand a designer in career pain and surving it, is a far more useful and powerful designer in time to come. Use your long term goals to re-access your current situation to see if you are truly where you need to be. If not its time to make a change.
    All this put together is not easy to pull off. I had to spend the following 2-3 years finding myself and find out what it meant to me to be a designer. Sucessful design is really all about love and passion. Its not so much of how good you are, cos if you lose the love you lose the ability to do it well. I hope this helps and please let me know how things turn out for you?
    PS: I had to thank my very good friend, and my wife (then girlfriend) for bitch slapping me almost every day to wake up! Be truly happy with what you have!

  • edmund_180779

    March 30, 2007 at 5:43 am Reply

    Go for a short holiday or backpacking in Asia. That’s what I did to find myself.

  • leekinu

    April 15, 2007 at 11:12 am Reply

    Great article! Yeah… Being happy with what you have is really important. The most difficult thing is to conquer your mind so that you stop moaning about everything and start doing something about it.
    It can be going for a holiday,changing an environment, or even reading a book to get a different perspective.
    This problem is so common at the workplace (especially creative fileds) that someone even published a book titled UNSTUCK.
    PS I bought the book (when i was in the doldrums) and it’s pretty good

  • Design Translator

    April 16, 2007 at 6:48 am Reply

    Thanks for that great link! I will check it out.

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