I tend to get an email with a few questions from a student once a month or so. It usually takes me a bit to respond because I want to put time into the answers, and I have a million and 1 things to do. This set of questions I got was pretty comprehensive, so I thought I would post it. These answers are what tends to work for me, but maybe there are some differing opinions out there that others would like to share:
in regards to your most recent job
1- Whats a typical day at your work like?
It is hard to say what is typical. My days are very different from one another. When I first started, 11 years ago, they were solid 10 hours of sketching. Now I meet with my marketing, engineering, and business counterparts a lot, present ideas and concepts, a bit of sketching, mostly as overlays for my designers… most of my day is spent convincing the people above me, below, and around me to do good design.
2- What tasks take up most of your time?
Managing egos out of design solutions.
3- How many hours a week do you work?
40-50. I believe in a good balance between all of the aspects of my life. I am a designer, a design leader, a mentor, a manager, a husband, a son, a brother, a friend… all of those rolls need time.
4- How does your position relate to the rest of the organization?
There are several design directors over different divisions, we all report to a Creative Director. My Creative Director, the Director of Development, and the Marketing GMs of each division all report to the Vice President… who happens to be a designer.
5- How did you get into your job position?
Sweat. Working hard as a designer, a mentor, a thought leader, and managing the relationships around me. Effectively by being a Design Director. In that way we promote ourselves. The titles come when others recognize what we are already doing.
6- If you were a student about to graduate, what field would you go into, or what would you study?
I would do what I’m doing. I wouldn’t change a thing. It all went in to who I am and that is important to me.
7- What kind of special training to you recommend?
8- How does one advance within your organization?
By working hard and managing the relationships around them. By consistently going above and beyond expectations… by effectively blowing peoples minds on an everyday basis… it’s not easy.
9- How are promotions and raises decided?
Directors make recommendations to the leadership team if they feel they have an employee that should be promoted to a full designer, or senior designer level. The employee’s work performance (this includes attitude) is reviewed and a consensus is reached to confirm or deny the recommendation. To get a Design Director position, one generally applies for it as if applying from the outside, or it is thrust upon them.
10- What do you find meaningful in a career?
Everything. Everything I do impacts the quality of design we do. There is no small stuff.
11- What type of things do you find frustrating?
When then doers clash with the talkers. Designers, in general, are doers, but we need to learn how to selectively behave like talkers in order to influence the organization around us.
12- What books, publications, associations, etc should you be aware of?
I tend to like to have a wide array of art, architecture, and design books around me at all times. I like Auto & Design out of Italy, and Carr out of Germany. I’m not big on associations in general, but I believe the best association is the one you make of your own friends, mentors, and mentees.
13- What do you think are promising niche opportunities?
The ones you make. Things are only as promising as you want them to be and in that anything can be promising. What is going on in the automotive industry right now is promising for the right people.
14- Has the profession surprised you in any way?
I have to say it was pretty much what I expected in that it is competitive, fun, rewarding, exhausting, and ever evolving. This is not a static profession. This is design.
15- Whats one thing you wish someone had told you before you entered the profession?
To be patient… though I would not have listened… maybe someone did tell me… You must control what you are good at, because you will be employed for that. for example, if your best skill is 3d modeling, you will be employed to do that. Know that you won’t be a director for 6-10 years, but keep your goal there and be aware of what you need to learn to do that. Keep a list of what attributes you like about each of your bosses, it will come in handy when you are a boss. Remember, you will be doing this for 30-40 years… it is a marathon, not a sprint.
16- What do you need to be successful?
As my good friend Scott Patt said to me “You must be savvy.”
17- What business trends have the most impact on design?
In the modern era, most products are pretty good. They work generally well and the quality is a minimum of decent. If a product only brings this to the table, it is a loosing proposition. The best business today know how to leverage design into brand as a phyisical manifestation of experience. As the CEO of Starbucks once said, to paraphrase, “We don’t sell coffee, we rent premium, relaxing environments for $4 with a free drink.”
18- Whats is your current status of the design profession?
Competitive in a healthy way. There is no better time to be a great designer, and no worst time to be a mediocre one.
Passion finding questions:
19- If you could do just one thing all day long and get paid well for doing it, what would you do?
Mentor aspiring designers. I would love to be the head of a design department at a college or university. That will happen at some point, I have lots of time.
20- If you could give one speech, for one hour, for one million people, what ONE WORD would that speech be about?
21- If you didn’t have to work, what would you do all day long?
Sketch and Mentor.
22- What activity always makes you lose track of time?
Sketching and mentoring.
23- What activity gives you the most energy?
Sketching and mentoring… I’m consistent.
24- What could you talk about forever?
The truth about of materialism and our culture’s current lack of respect for the material world and what goes into designing, engineering, producing, shipping, distributing, and selling it to you. If we understood that, no one one would buy that pack of 5 tee shirts for $5. I also love to go on about the importance of the arts in education with an emphasis on creative problem solving, and how that is whre the US can excel in the global economy. And of course how design impacts daily life and exemplifies our cultural priorities. How we create the artifacts of daily life.
25- What things are you able to do, without even trying?
Sketch, evangelize and advocate for good design.
26- What do you like to do, just for the fun of it?
Sketch… it is like a disease for me, an affliction, my hands don’t like to be still.
27- What do you love to do that (you can’t believe) people actually pay you money to do?
Dream. People pay me to dream up what could be. Hard to beat that.
28- When you don’t know what to do, what do you find yourself doing to find your way?
In those situations I typically just take a break from the problem, I’ll sketch on something else, work out, call up a friend, read, watch a movie, grab dinner and drinks with friends and my wife… the solution tends to present itself in its own time, you can’t force it. Give it space, let your mind percolate.
29- Why do you admire the people you admire?
The people I admire tend to be tenacious and polarizing. They are loved with as much passion as they are hated. They are the best at what they do and they know it. They are passionate, and uncompromising. Frank Lloyd Wright and Raymond Loewy tend to be at the top of my list.
30- You, yourself, are at your best when you’re acting HOW?
When I have a lot on my plate, but not so much that I bust. I tend to be like a bulldog, and if I only have a couple of things to do, I obsess and won’t let go. When I have a lot of different tasks, I can spread my attention a bit, and oddly, I get more creative and efficient as the different things start to influence one another. It is a gentle balance, too much, and nothing gets done! I tend to like to test the limits of that all the time… to my wife’s constant amazement, or is that frustration?
1- Does one project stand out from being your favorite- if so, why?
My favorite is always the one I’m working on right now. I tend to loathe my work and only see the mistakes, the things I would do differently. Looking back, what I tend to like most are the things that where the result of true collaboration, not compromise, but synergy. Nothing is ever done by one persone alone. there are always relationships and influences. Know that and use it.
2- How do you approach ‘networking,’ or meeting new people and staying in touch with other designers
I tend to work it in to everything. I don;t think of it as networking. The term “networking” always seems kind of sleazy for some reason. I think if it as relationship building and searching for others with common goals, needs, interests. When it is that, it becomes fluid and easy. I’m also very upfront. I’m not for everyone, people tend to either like or dislike me. Best to get that out of the way right away instead of pretending to be someone else at first.
3- Do you have any suggestions to young designers interested in the footwear/ sports equipment industry?
Think about the big picture.
On the sport side, at its root, sport is the celebration of human achievement. This is why sports have such a universal pull across cultures. Most people love an underdog who wins, a local boy who makes it big, a team of people who pull together to try to win, even if they loose. This bigger connection is what makes sportwear such a part of modern life.
On the footwear side, shoes are an important product for people. They fall into that category of products along with watches, eyewear, and cars where all of the competitive product generally do a simple task, but there are endless choices in design, price, and brand. People will splurge on shoes even when they have little else. For a kid, under 16, a cool pair of sneakers is his first major purchase, and his first opportunity to individualize. These kinds of products are tribal indicators. A lanky kid with pony tale and Birkenstocks communicates volumes about his value structure through what he selects to put on his body. We all do this every day unknowingly. It is the designers job to know this.
NOTE, edited out some typos…