Thoughts from the road.

This month it will be 10 years since I graduated from school and officially started the professional part of my life. I took a long weekend on the Oregon Coast, and have had a lot of time to just sit and think and reflect. I thought I would jot down a few things I’ve learned. They might not be helpful at all for you and your journey, but they are helpful for me.

The most important thing I wish I could have made myself understand 10 years ago: “Life is a marathon, not a sprint”. I first heard that about 10 years ago. It didn’t mean nearly as much to me then as it does now. You have to strengthen yourself with patience. Make a long term plan. Make a back up plan. Be ready to throw both away in heartbeat when a unique opportunity comes along. There will be times when you think you won’t make it, but you have to keep moving forward. Just like a marathon, it is about doing your personal best, which in some cases may mean just barely finishing. If you pull out ahead at the start, you might not make it to the finish line. Finding your pace can be the hardest thing you will ever have to figure out. This is not meant to discourage anyone. You might be the next Marc Newson, it might happen fast (it didn’t for him), but there will still be things to accomplish and learn. The good news is most of us will hopefully have upwards of 50 years to make mistakes, learn, improve, design, redesign, teach, mentor, relearn and hopefully make things better.

Empathize with your boss. I’ve had some great bosses who have been wonderful mentors. They took the time to understand me, to help me, to teach me. I didn’t always take the time to understand them, the things they were dealing with, what they valued, or the trouble I made for them. I’m not saying not to challenge and question, but just think abut your boss from time to time. I’ve had some not so great bosses who I did not see eye to eye with. Looking back on them now, I think I understand some of the difficult decisions they had to make. Even if I still don’t agree with what they did, or how they did it, I better understand the challenges they faced and how they reached the conclusions they did. Apply the empathetic abilities you use to think about people, consumers, and customers; and think about your boss with those a bit. Just because your idea is not picked, does not mean your boss didn’t think it was a good idea. It just might not have been the right idea for the client, brand, project, moment, collection, larger direction. Think about the things your boss has to think about.

Don’t take everything personally. It’s business. Know that it is business. We exist to make things better. Better always implies better sales to the bean counters.

Take everything personally. It’s design. Put your heart and soul into it. You are creating objects that people will use everyday. Objects that are with people in their most intimate, vulnerable moments. Objects that people will spend their hard earned money on. Don’t ever take that lightly. Think about your work in terms of a natural history museum. The way arrowheads and ancient water vessels are displayed could be the way your work is displayed in 1000 years (and that injection molded USB hub will last that long in the dump by the way).

Take responsibility. Never say “marketing made me change this” or “engineering costed this part out”. Every step on the road to commercialization presents unique design challenges that you didn’t think about in your sketch, in your solid model, in your first prototype. Never stop designing at any point in the process. Collaborate with people you don’t agree with. Guide the team to the best solutions.

Move around. Take risks. It’s a big world. Get out and take a look at it. I never heard anyone say “I regret that trip to Istanbul”, “If only I didn’t start my own business”, “I should have stayed in that job I hated”.

Fail. We all do. When you fail, it means you tried something. That in itself is success. Cherish your failures.

Stretch yourself. Take jobs you think you might not be able to do. You will learn and grow.

Friction is a sign of movement. If it was easy, everyone would do it. When you find yourself struggling, it is often a sign you are getting somewhere. The only way to coast is down.

Practice what you preach. If designers don’t support good design, why should anybody?

Pass it along. Give back to the design community in any way you can. When the water rises, all the boats float higher.

Have fun. for the love of pete, we get to design things. It is an awesome job. So remember to smile.

I’m not saying I do all of these on a daily bases, only that I wish I did. If you have any to share, please do. Add, subtract, agree and disagree.

awesome. thanks. good, real, down-to-earth wisdom we can all use in our daily life/work.

anything in particular make you reflect like this, or just a reflection of your time/efforts?

only thing i can think of to add at this point, is:

“know what you know and what you don’t know”. if you know what you don’t know it can’t point you in the direction of what you can learn, and it’s always a better position to be in than thinking you know everything.

thanks again for the great contribution.


Very good words indeed. Everyone needs to realize it’s their own race and they have their own unique obstacles that they have to deal with. Don’t compare yourself to others in terms of your personal success, everyone has their own path. At 11 years out, I see people that I’ve taught and mentored on various subjects that could be seen as technically doing better than I am, but things like that all depend on your definitions and what your specific goals are. It sounds cliche but is good to always be true to yourself and being able to be understanding of others and their point of view on things can be pure gold.

Good stuff Yo. You continue to give and give to everyone on the boards. thanks

These are good words to hear. Being 6 years out I have struggled with some of the directions I have headed and cards that I have been dealt in the field of design and its nice to see some good words of encouragement.

The one thing I would like to add to this also sounds a little cliché but I think it needs to be said especially for new grads and that is never give up. If you work you hard and have the determination you will succeed.

Thanks man. Nothing in particular brought it up. Every 6 months or so I go through one of those What am I doing? Where am I going? Is it all adding up? periods. Always good to evaluate.

Not a cliche at all man. You can’t ever give up.

The only way to coast is down

nice analogy.

keep the good stuff coming yo.

I wish I came up with it. A teacher said it to me once. Not sure where he got it, but that is a good one.

This is very timely stuff…just today I was jotting down some soul searching questions along this line. I am on the other end of the spectrum…2+ years out, moved on to my second design job…definately a move in the right direction. But now I am trying to re-focus and figure out where I want to go and why. I feel like I have been moving quickly to get to the place i am now but that now I need to shift gears and “pace myself” more appropriately. The trouble is I think I’m finally good at and hopefully am qualified for finding new jobs; but I need/want to do the patient “marthon” thinking in order to gain the wisdom that comes from longer term experience…

Any further words of wisdom for how to plan for the future (and how rigorously to stick to those plans) all while being open and watchful for the opprotunites that present themselves in spite of your plans would be tremedously helpful…(don’t know if I’m ready for the whole see it from your bosses perspective just yet :wink: )

If you have any real life experiences that you can talk about when you may not have had the best or clearest plan set out…but now with time and space to look back on, you can see clearer the direction in which you are now headed (even though you didn’t know it at the time) would be very interesting.

Thanks for all the wisdom…I am eager and willing to soak it up…

Some brilliant advice, keep it coming. Im -1 year into working, I graduate summer 2009.

Always good to get advice so I dont have to figure everything out the hard way.

The best I heard was ‘Sink or swim, your ass gets wet’ also from core.


Some excellent insight and preparations for the ones following the road.
Thanx a lot for sharing and the personal honesty in your words.

As I am preparing (mentaly) for my 15th. year reunion this summer I might ad some thoughts later to this thread. Some of my views have changed fundamentally throughout the last 5 years, as I my life also did.

Furthermore I am not sure, if everyone is capable of following a straight plan as well as Yo seems to do.
But perhaps his road only looks bump free from my far view of perception?

Best regards


Dang Yo, it’s great that you’re sharing those thoughts/wisdom!! We’ll have to start calling you Yobe Wan Kenobi… :slight_smile:
I’m almost 7 years in , life sure changed a lot since then.
One thing I remember very well is worrying about my opportunities as a designer before starting out, not being gifted like Starck, Newson or even that guy rendering amazing cars in my class… But through internships and my first profesional year I learned that those people don’t have the time to design everything in the world, there are plenty of things left to design and improve, and even without being a design god it is possible to make good products if you have the passion and are able to communicate with different kinds of people/professions…
Keep working hard kids! :slight_smile:

That’s some inspirational words yo, this’s going up on my softboard in the studio for all to read!!

yes life is a marathon, and like all events they have a bigining a middle and a end. Realize you will end this marathon at some time, you will “finish” or get “knocked out of the race” but races all end. In your life you will re invent yourself at least 3 times, so plan on it. Your postion in the creative corp world is pretty much over at 50, just a fact of life, but your managment life just might be starting. Give some hard thougt to “what will I do if…” and have it in your back pocket, because that “if” (or some other) will happen.

That is a good one zip.

When I first graduated, I took some hourly/freelance positions I knew I wouldn’t stick with, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken a full time position I didn’t think I would be at 10 years+. Just because you get an offer, doesn’t mean you have to take it. In all this time, I’ve only worked for 2 companies full time, Evo and Nike. One of the reasons I went with a large corporation is because of the growth opportunities. There are a lot of unique roles you can transition to and still work for the same company.

That said, one of the other directors here once told me “no one thinks more about your career than you do”. It is important to be open to those opportunities, and objectively evaluate what is best for you. The best thing is to sometimes be patient and stay put. Sometimes its to get the heck out! Each situation is unique, but don’t make a decision based on one bad day or week at work.

It looks smooth from afar, but it’s been bumpy!

I wrote this reply on a plane (without seeing where the trend-line of the conversation was going) so I hope my thoughts are still relevant. Anyway, the early entries reminded me of my educational experiences, eighteen years ago. I had some brutally tough teachers in design school. You see, many of the foundation design courses were offered by two or more instructors. So when it came to selecting electives, my classmates were split into two camps. There was the majority who deliberately signed up for the easiest instructors. This was an attractive option for those of us who were dependent on keeping a high GPA in order to be eligible to compete and maintain scholarships. But I found myself in the other camp. I was one of the individuals in the masochistic group that sought after the most difficult and demanding instructors. As luck would have it, I managed to score the royal flush of tough. Even my advisor tried to persuade me to get out of this situation, calling it a suicide mission. As we rolled into the new semester, I though she was right. I had my drawings ripped off the wall; I was criticized for poor craftsmanship; and once I was publicly reprimanded for being twelve minutes late to a group critique. I was late because someone had told me that the other instructors had canceled class due to a blizzard. Not my instructor…his philosophy was if you could tunnel your way to the studio, then it was game on! I was convinced that all of these tough instructors were bastards. They were uncompromising and completely unsympathetic to the litany of crafted excuses. Although each teacher had their own teaching style, they held a common philosophy - perform well or die! This spooked many students into dropping courses early, only to be re-assigned to the easier instructors. Again, I was tempted to drop out, but I hung in, persevered and I actually passed.

Yes, my GPA dropped a few points causing me to lose scholarship opportunities. As a result, I had to work an extra job to make up for this, but I lived to tell the tale. More importantly, the lessons I learned are still paying dividends today. More surprising is that the other survivors all have meaningful jobs with big companies today. Eighteen years later we still greet one another like old war buddies. We can recall every one of those S.O.B instructors by name. They are the only instructors we remember at all. Some have passed on, and when they did, it hit me harder than I thought possible, like loosing a family member. They squeezed out our very best in each of us. As you said before, you will be rewarded for taking on new challenges that force you to learn and grow. Just don’t expect an instant pay-back. Look, we’re all living in the world of instant gratification, so it’s harder than ever to make long-term investments in yourself, but it’s really worth it!

As a professional, I’m still a seeker of the road less traveled. Although I must admit that I share a deep concern that the more comfortable we become as a culture, the more difficult it is to fully commit to being your best. When I graduated, I feared that my portfolio would be ‘out-gunned’ by some hotdog coming out of Pasadena or Detroit. In a flat world, today’s grads are now competing against students in India and Asia. The majority of whom never grew up with 300 television stations and a video game console, in their homes or in their hands, to keep them passively entertained at every waking moment. Often, whatever our friends on the other side of the world lack in context, skill or training, they make up for in pure determination and a deep-rooted hunger to survive in this world.

I sincerely hope this drives the sprit of excellence in every nation turning out design students and let’s never forget that design is a competitive business. The path of least resistance isn’t likely the path to an enjoyable or lucrative career. So take your pain early, dig deep, study hard, never stop learning and always remember to zoom out once and a while and take in the world view. Whether you’re a student or a professional, the design community is a hell of a lot larger than your closest competitor.

Lastly, I always like to remind myself that the human body is electric. We’re genetically wired to take the path of least resistance; we’re inclined to short-out, go to ground and take the easy path. So start challenging yourself in small ways. Put down the game controller and pick up a book, mentor another person, make a healthy meal for yourself and invite someone you love to share in that experience. Give something of value to someone you don’t know and don’t make a big deal out of it. Lastly, LET GO OF YOUR EGO. The products you’re killing yourself over today are going to be laughable to you in ten years. If you’re lucky or really skilled, someone important will call something of yours timeless - but you’ll hate it anyway. The only timeless things you can freely enjoy are the precious memories that come along with the process.

Frank Tyneski / Executive Director of the IDSA

Thanks for that post Frank! I related to it from top to bottom. I can push myself really hard but often fail on the small things that are really important. Finding that balance is the hardest thing of all.