Posts Tagged ‘adrian shaughnessy’

“What if?” and the Successful Business Owner

Thursday, December 30th, 2010


Convoluted pathIn an interview with Peter Stemmler, A successful German-born illustrator, author Adrian Shaughnessy* asked, “If you were starting your career over again, what would you do differently?”

His response: “…Maybe I’d get a good office chair right away…don’t save on the monitor—get a good one; go to work on a bicycle; do some kind of sport like running; don’t work every weekend; drink your coffee with sugar then you don’t have to eat all those candy bars; get a cell phone….”

So, in other words, he’d only change the small stuff. But when it comes to his career path—his previous work as a wedding and portrait photographer, his degree in Political Science, his internships as a designer and art director before he “accidentally” fell into his career as an illustrator—he wouldn’t change a thing.

I think my answer might be similar to Mr. Stemmler’s response. It’s my convoluted path to business owner and creative professional that makes me most qualified to do my work.

Case in point: in college I majored in Psychology and minored in Music and Biology. While music kept me rooted in the arts, Psychology and Biology led me to develop my analytical side. A PhD program in Neuroscience led me to find my way to developing new exhibits at the Science Museum of Minnesota. There, I learned to write and design for a target audience, and became resourceful in assembling a team of professionals—science advisors, exhibit builders, graphic designers, editors, programmers, marketing professionals, and museum leaders—to achieve the common goal of creating and promoting a successful traveling exhibition. Along the way, I fell in love with graphic design and enrolled in and completed a college program in Graphic Design and Visual Communication.

Would a straight path to becoming a graphic designer have been simpler? Absolutely. Would I give up the experience and education I received as the result of my convoluted path? Never.

The fact is, most of the business owners we work with here at Mix are in their second or third careers; they’re former executives, financial planners, furniture sales people, scientists, and corporate climbers. And now they’re seasoned business owners, growing their businesses and clientele year after year while following their passions.

What do they have in common? They don’t waste time asking “What if?”. Instead, they’re asking themselves, “What have I learned?” and are leveraging their experience and education to create new product lines, bring on new team members, and launch targeted, innovative marketing campaigns.

And so I suggest, the stronger alternative for the business owner to “What if” just might be: “Given your experience and education, what will you do next?” With the ambition and the right team, the possibilities may seem limitless.

*Adrian Shaughnessy is the author of “How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul.”

Motives of a design firm/ad agency

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Recently, I read an article about an established Twin Cities advertising firm who spelled out their company’s culture in three simple rules:

  1. Have fun
  2. Make money
  3. Make money for our clients

This struck me as ridiculous. Really? Making money and having fun came before making their clients happy? And where was the goal of doing good work?

It seems like ages ago now that I worked at an ad agency with nearly identical goals. Only, it wasn’t fun. We didn’t do great work, and it felt like we were doing our clients a disservice. When I pushed for better quality in the work we do, the agency pushed back—if our clients were happy with our work the way it was, why would we waste time and money trying to improve it?

So I started my own design firm, placing quality at the center. My credo:

  • Do quality work for good people

Following this motto, I anticipated that:

  1. Quality work would bring loyal clients and good referrals,
  2. That I would have career satisfaction knowing that I produced a good product
  3. Money would follow

And indeed, this has been the case.

For me, the importance of benevolent motives fueling the work of a design firm cannot be understated. My clients place their business in my hands, trusting me to understand their company and convey that appropriately to their audiences. They trust me to approach each project with a problem-solving nature, never recycling work from other clients or applying a cookie-cutter approach to their unique business. They trust me to not sell them something they don’t need, and they trust me to not charge them for something I didn’t do. They trust me to be current in my understanding in the technical aspects of design and to be knowledgeable about the cultural climate of design.

In brief, they trust me to have integrity.

Designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy wrote in his book How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, a passage about integrity that rings true:

We have to show integrity to the three “audiences” for which design is mostly done: our clients, our intended audience and ourselves. Designers will differ on the order of importance in which they place this trinity: in my view, the demands and responsibilities of all three have to be equally balanced.

It should be said that the agency mentioned in the article is fiscally  successful, and has sustained its growth in a poor economy. And, to their credit, the article states that their clients enjoy working with them. But for me, the question is, at what cost is success?

I’d LOVE your feedback on this article. Let me know your thoughts on the motivations of design and ad agencies. What are your “top 3″ rules for running your agency?

A note on integrity

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

One of the many blessings in being a small business owner is that you get to set your own rules: your hours, who you want to work with, how you do your work, what constitutes a “finished” product, and more. Well, a big one for me is being able to maintain personal integrity in my work. Until you’ve been challenged, you may not realize how important this is.

Let me share my favorite excerpt from the book, “How to be a graphic designer and not lose your soul,” by Adrian Shaughnessy:

By standing up for yourself, by having beliefs (creative and ethical beliefs), and perhaps most importantly of all, by questioning what you are asked to do as a designer, you can acquire self-respect, which is the first step on the path to earning the respect of clients and other designers. You might get the sack—but that’s integrity for you—there’s a price to be paid for it. Just remember, it’s always less than the price of your self-respect. I might even say, the price of your soul.

Of course, you can substitute “employee” or “business owner” for the word “designer” throughout the above passage. This really applies to anyone in the workplace.

The author makes a point that we must show integrity to each of three audiences: our clients, our intended audience, and ourselves. If we show our clients and intended audiences that we believe in them, they will in turn believe in us. And of course, we can live with ourselves at the end of the day.

The hidden value of personal integrity in the workplace? Higher quality work. When you demand this of yourself, your employees, and your contractors, the shift turns from “How can we make a buck?” or “How fast can we do this?” to “How can we make a quality design/product?” and “How can we better service our clients?”.

Author note: I’d love to hear your stories of personal integrity in the workplace. Please leave your comments for others to read!