What did you do today?

Posted on November 26, 2007


hell yes it’s billable, kind of.So I’ve been asked to talk to a group of students who are thinking about becoming designers, illustrators and digital artists. Essentially its an exposure class that weekly features speakers from different creative professions. Sheesh if I only had something like that…knowing what I would be getting myself into I may have become a shepherd or something a bit more pastoral. But this is where I ended up and really I love what I do. Even though it terrifies, delights, frustrates, pleases and consumes me, next to my family it is my greatest passion, and I do it everyday. In fact without passion you can’t do this job very well. And that’s really something I want to communicate to this audience.

So this talk with the students, is a glimpse into a common “day in the life” of a creative director at a design agency. Problem with that is there is no common day. Seriously. My day changes so much from one day to the next, that calendars really only serve a tracking purpose. And my creative staff’s day is much the same.

There are elements to all of my days that are interchangeable and my days are usually made up of different re-arrangements of those elements. So lets start at this elemental level that makes up the creative process and go from there.

I know most agencies has their 4 step creative process, blah, blah, blah…well…I am a simpleton and like to simplify everything I can, maybe thats why I went into design. However, I have discovered along the way everything can’t be simplified and are just complicated in nature and therefore require complicated yet clarified story telling. Yet I continue to try to simplify whenever possible. Nature can teach us a lot. Its good at simplifying things. I like to use an analogy that I came to from thinking about the lives of cows. This is my process…simplified, idiotized, organic approach. Roam. Graze. Expel.

Roam. Known to most as the discovery phase…this where you search all over for those juicy tidbits of information. turn things over. Ask questions. Lots of them…this is where the real relationship with your client begins. I’ll take A cup of coffee, some rapport and some honesty, over any really long super official meeting, where PM’s are trying to keep things billable. This type of meeting usually will give you far more insight into what the client really wants. In a more 1 on 1 setting you’ll usually find where the client’s passions are and you can show yours. This is where the stuff of ideas is born and usually form the very basis of most creative briefs I write.

Graze. This phase is that part of the process where you get to start really playing with ideas. Designers explore and solidify things. The discovery of possibilities…here we get to ask “what if?” We also start discover the “Eww, that sucks” and the “Oh man, that’s awesome”s. This where the creative strategy really starts to unveil itself and the path to the “right direction” starts to illuminate.

Expel. The final phase is when stuff starts getting made…for real. It here where crystallization occurs and in the hands of the right designers, ideas become directions. It’s where it all gets tangible. This is the show ’em part. “Look what we can do.” “This is what you should be.” And we are only able to do this convincing for our clients if our ideas are executed skillfully and presented well. A lot of this phase comes down to the delivery and presentation of the directions. Presentations, especially the first round type, to clients always go better with a little setting of expectations (set them up, make them responsible for being a particpant in what their about to see…lay some ground rules) and telling the story of the journey has happened up to this point and why we’ve made the stuff we’ve made.

O.K. now that you have that base everyday…everyone of the projects I am on is somewhere in one of those cycles described above. Thats why I wouldn’t be able to take a snapshot of one particular day and say “Here is a typical day”. They range from wildy out of control days where I feel I need a pick axe, an oxygen tank, and air support from large outdated military aircraft wishing they would drop that red stuff and let it rain down on me. There are others where I go home feeling extremely accomplished. Only taking my crown and cape off to greet my kids and wife.

I think that is what I like so much about the business of design is that is is never, boring or the same any day of the week. My work is different all the time. Clients have different requirements and objectives. Hell, the people, their moods, personalities, the things they bring to the table ( and the things they don’t) are different everyday. Even where I work is different everyday…whether my desk is clean or messy, whether I am in Palo Alto, San Francisco or at a clients or partners business. I am still in one of those cycles.

The only real constant is the passion I have for what I do. I learned long ago to keep my soul satisified and and my passion fueled…lets face it not evry job that comes across our desks are sexy. But they are none the less important to the business you are telling the story of. So, I began to find things during those periods that kept me fueled. It could be the way I treated an asterisk, or some mouse type on a data sheet. I have been an avid cyclist for a long time and design cycling kits (very graphic lycra uniforms) is something I love to do on the side. Something about seeing my design in motion, is and multiplied is very rewarding. I also make a book for each of my boys for everyone of their birthdays. Extremely rewarding. Even when I have great projects at work I am still writing on my blog or updating my portfolio site. I tell my designers they should have passion, they should be hungry to communicate, document and explain. What we do goes way beyond a typical day or a time clock. It’s just what we do.

And I wouldn’t take it any other way.