Not a good situation.

There has been a little friction with my boss about a project that we have been working on for the course of the last eight or so months. It has been a strange project in that essentially I’ve lost count of how many times it has been killed and resurrected.

On the last occurrence it was given the kiss of life about three to four weeks ago, it is apparently the new hottest product coming through the pipeline.

Essentially it is a smaller version of a container that a new design was released to the market a year ago. Originally the design language was to follow the bigger brother but it has been decided that instead of investing in completely new molds, we have an existing smaller product from 15 years ago which I was tasked with designing a new cover for whilst keeping the existing body (this way there was only one mold required, rather than two)

I’ve tried my best but the base has distinct forms that need to be carried in to the new cover whilst trying to give it a contemporary feel. It almost feels like it has become like someone that has had just a bit too much plastic surgery and doesn’t look right. No matter what I sketch, CAD up and have 3D printed my boss just doesn’t seem happy and it’s at a point where he is displeased in me and saying he was not happy with my performance.

I’ve also had a lot on my plate in the timeframe and although I’ve been chipping away at it I had another project due before which I completed with the idea to spend the remainder of my time on this, however something got changed with my other project meaning I needed to devote extra time at the expense of this project.

To be transparent with my boss I let him know I was running a little behind and not that it wouldn’t be finished, it’d be at the last minute and certain protocols we have would need to be sacrificed (such as having it 3D printed for the handover). I work corporate so even though it is not an excuse, it isn’t like I’m pushing it to the last minute with a client and the reality is the next steps wouldn’t be starting for a few weeks anyway, it’s just the deadline is this week.

Not being happy my boss took the decision to brief a freelance designer that used to work here full-time but decided to go it alone however we’re still his “bread and butter” client. My boss briefed him towards the middle of last week to see what he could come up with whilst I still pushed away at my design which I took home with me this weekend to finish with the idea of releasing files for printing today even though I know my boss wasn’t completely thrilled with the direction I took.

When I go to send my files over I see there is already a job from the same project and I look at the files which are from the freelancer. Apparently he had a few options but essentially his design is based on my sketches and the CAD I have been working on, which my boss picked out of his options to proceed with. Admittedly the freelancers is a little cleaner and there are some features that are better than mine but these are the sort of things someone who has more experience with the products of this company would know to add where as I’m a junior and still learning as I progress through my workload.

Now I’m at a loss because there is this bad blood between myself and my boss in that the design he has never been happy with when I do it, is the one that will go in to production. Now I’m not looking for credit when it is produced but I don’t know what to do next, my boss gives me the impression he doubts my abilities and is not pleased with my performance even though this is the first hiccup I’ve had. I’m just at a loss considering on Friday he hated my version yet here we are on Monday about to hand over the same design with just slightly cleaner CAD…?

My advice would be to have this discussion with your boss, but ask more questions and don’t complain so much. State the facts of the situation and minimize the feelings. Here is what I would do:

Schedule an hour with him, over lunch if possible. Let him know that you had difficulty with the project due to competing demands on your time, and trouble with the new direction of starting with existing tooling. Tell him you were really impressed with the evolution of the concept the freelancer did (see how I positioned that) and you want to learn how to move your concepts further faster. Next ask him his advice. How would you recommend I do it differently next time? What do you think I can work on to improve? When you were a junior designer were you ever in a similar situation? How can I prioritize my time better?

Engage him as a mentor not a manager and see if that shifts the relationship. Next time, when this kind of thing is happening, don’t let it get this far. If something is starting to go off the rails, ask your boss if you can set up a collaborative project workshop with him where you are both working on the solution together vs jest reviewing and not getting on the same page. Mush of these kinds of things are due to communication and alignment. We can’t read minds, so we have to collaborate and build upon each other’s thoughts.

I would echo everything that Yo has written, before i offer some additional advice can you answer the following questions

  1. what is your bosses background

  2. what type of personality would you say they have

  3. describe your interaction with them over past projects.

  4. how long have you been at this company.