10 Lessons Learned From 10(ish) Years of Running My Own Design Firm

10 Lessons Learned From 10(ish) Years of Running My Own Design Firm

There are entrepreneurs and there are accidental entrepreneurs. I’m part of the latter.

When I graduated college, I was a pretty terrible designer who made a pretty terrible decision to move to San Francisco in the wake of the dotcom bust. While struggling to find full-time work, I was able to get a contract job doing Flash production. One contract led to another, and before long I was working on several big-name design projects. When I didn’t know how to do something I would find a way to get it done, and I couldn’t solve a problem with brute force I would begrudgingly hire someone to help — usually a friend of a friend or someone from a message board. Slowly but surely, I found myself with part-time employees, then full-time employees, and without ever really planning for it, I had suddenly become a full-fledged business owner. Today, Metajive has 11 employees and counting. My wife April is Metajive’s COO.

Because I never set out to build a business, I made nearly every mistake along the way. Fortunately, I started young and had plenty of time to learn on the job. Here are 10 of the most important lessons.

Play the long game, emotionally and financially.

In the early days of running my company, my self-esteem and my ego were tied to the success of the business: if we had a great day, I had a great day; if we lost a job, I’d be ruined. It was a really unhealthy way of existing.

There was no specific moment where this changed for me. With time, I just began to acknowledge it and take control. In pro golf, they say that if they don’t celebrate, they don’t lose. It’s similar in business — you just have to keep going and not get too swept up in the highs or lows.

It also helps to set some boundaries at home. My wife April is COO of the company and she and I have gone through periods of time where we either talk about work too much or not enough. We’re in a very healthy spot now. The problem, when you don’t talk about work, is that you’re holding it in, which actually makes you think about it more. So now we’ll say things like, “Sorry, I know this isn’t the time, but I need to say this” so that it’s out. And then, we’ll just move forward from there.

Financially speaking, you need to decide on a salary and pay yourself every month. I would advise against doing a percentage-based sort of thing — set an actual salary. It should be something you can live off. I find that there are a lot of people who say, “Yeah. We’re profitable this year, but I paid myself like nothing.” And you’re like, “Whoa. You weren’t profitable.” Your profit comes after you pay yourself a market salary.

No fancy sh*t.

Let’s all say this together: “You can run a design studio without designer furniture!” As creatives, we would all love to have a studio that looks like Wieden & Kennedy, but that’s just not a reality for most of us. Case in point — our last office, a temporary office, was not a place I wanted to work from an aesthetic perspective. But we put out great, great work in that space. All you need is good people, fast internet, and your space will feel like home. If you invest in things you don’t need, you’re headed down a bad financial path. Our desks, to this day, are literally desks a big agency was getting rid of when they were downsizing their furniture.

Keep your pricing easy.

Pricing is one of the most important parts of running a business. While there are many pricing models ranging from “grab as much money as possible” to “just get the job in the door,” we have only found one that works for us: we ask ourselves how much time will it take to do a good job, then multiply that by our hourly rate (cost + desired margin) and add in a 5-10% buffer for unexpected events. We use this principle no matter if the client is a 20-person company or a 2,000-person company.

It’s tempting to price things based on what others are charging, but that doesn’t work. We’ve screwed ourselves on being both high and low on jobs where we’re like, “Oh, I know everyone else charges $30,000 for this thing that we charge $3,000 for. So we’re going to charge $30,000, too.” And then clients say, “$30,000?! You’re crazy! That’s not in line with anything else you’re talking about.” And we’d lose the job.

Create a process based on what has/hasn’t worked.

We creatives have a million reasons why we don’t want to be chained to one way of working, but having processes in place, and making micro-adjustments along the way, ensures things run well and efficiently.

For example, we start each project defining every task that needs to be completed and all the roles on the job. We assign hours to each task per role. We use Excel to tally up the hours and rates and then we are off to the races. If we need to reduce anything to meet a stated budget after the fact we can, but knowing exactly what needs to be done helps us get things out the door. By tracking what has/hasn’t worked, we’re able to make small tweaks along the way. This way of working helps prevent against us common errors, like failing to build in the time associated with multiple rounds of client edits.

Set up a system of safety nets so you can fail.

It seems every design and business presentation talks about how failure is the path to success. While failing is inevitable in parts of your business or a project, you want to make sure you never have a big fail — i.e. going out of business, laying off half of your staff, or letting one of your clients down. You usually can’t recover from a big fail in a small business.

That’s why it’s important to identify risk points right up front and the potential costs and consequences. You want to look at the path in front of you and say “Oh, I could fail here, I could fail there.” Push boundaries, but have a strategy — say to yourself, I know I’m going to push it here, but if this doesn’t work, I have plan B already ready.” That’s where that 5-10 percent buffer comes in.

Focus on the problem, not on making it pretty.

As designers and design agencies we often judge ourselves by how great our work looks. While we are all striving for excellence in every part of the business we must recognize that the beauty of our design solutions are only one part of why our clients hire us. In order to provide great value we must be looking at a broader picture than pure aesthetics. As a business owner, remember that your main goal is to be a problem solver for your client. Aesthetics can be part of it, but implementing the right solution is the main goal.

Cheer the competition.

I’m guilty as anyone of looking at another studio and saying “How did they grow so fast/win X award/get that great client?” This isn’t a productive way of thinking. Remember, from the outside we don’t know if they got lucky, cut their price far below market or had an uncle who was the CMO of the company. Frankly it’s just like looking back at high school, what everyone else is doing didn’t actually matter. It’s up to you to make the decisions that are right for you and your circumstances. There’s plenty of work to go around.

It’s also important to remember that, as business owners, we’re sort of all in it together. I actually look forward all year to seeing competing agency owners at the Society of Digital Agencies global member meetings, or running into heads of other studios at award shows and conferences. The conversations I have with competitors, who are going through a lot of the same struggles and growing pains, help inform my decisions. And so far, I have never been sorry for any advice I have given someone from another agency.

Make time to meet people.

Building a business is hard work, but the relationships you build along the way matter. In my career, I’ve been super fortunate that people have been willing to make time for me. I try to pay it forward when I can: I’ve taken countless cups of coffee with junior designers, producers and developers, even when there was no place for them at Metajive. Ninety percent of the time, the time spent with them led to something positive for both of us. Relationships are the lifeblood of your agency and your career; try to make the time. I literally just won the biggest account we have ever gotten based on a referral from someone I have never worked with but kept in touch with.

Read your face off.  

When your the boss, you create the culture. That’s not always an easy transition for people. I’ve found that books helped–my favorite one is Start With Why by Simon Sinek, It was so impactful to realize why I was doing this.

Business leaders who are great are always learning. I was talking to someone the other day who said they read 65 books a year. And I’m like, “How do you find time?” And he goes, “I make time.” When they’re on a plane, they’re not watching a movie; they’re listening to an audio book or they read. When they’re driving to and from work, they’re listening to an audio book. At the gym, instead of listening to whatever gets them pumped, they’re listening to an audio book. They’re absorbing information, and in that way, surrounding themselves by greatness.

You can view the same thing by following great people online on Twitter. Surround yourself with people who are doing great things.

#elbowgrease fixes almost everything.

From banging my head against the Complete Guide to Action Script (Flash) in the beginning of my career to recent weekends banging out handwritten thank you notes after a week of back-to-back business meetings, nothing has been more consistent than the fact that there is always something extra to do. Late nights, early mornings and weekends are for getting ahead; 9-5 is just keeping up. Extra effort adds up. If you spend 30 minutes a weekday on something extra outside of work, by the end of the year you’d have spent 100 hours. Think in small chunks: in 30 minutes you can send three well-written new business emails. What would 600 new business introductions do for your company by the end of the year? The willingness to go above and beyond for a client pays off in spades. Don’t be afraid of making the effort — you will learn something along the way. While you need to make sure you are not your business Sometimes grinding through is the only way. Roll up your sleeves and get to work!

Bonus tip: Remember, it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.

AC/DC told us the truth: building a worthwhile career or an agency doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to get your bearings, get over countless ego checks, refine your process and build yourself a safety net. So set yourself up to enjoy the ride, reflect when you have a minute and take care of yourself — both mentally and physically. At every milestone you will likely be looking to the next, so take a breath and celebrate the small wins that all add up to something good.

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2JZFICq

A Brief History of the FIFA World Cup Logo

A Brief History of the FIFA World Cup Logo

“Global sports are, somehow, containers of hope,” says Miguel Viana, the Lisbon designer who, while working at Brandia Central, designed the Official Emblem of Russia 2018: a World Cup trophy that swirls upward, in plumed panels of gold, red, blue, and black. Four-pointed stars twinkle in rounded blue portions of the trophy, symbolizing Russia’s achievements in space exploration. Other pieces reference the Red Square’s Saint Basil’s Cathedral. This can all be seen plainly in the logo, which isn’t a subtle piece of work. It can also be read about in the press release FIFA issued in 2014, after unveiling the logo with a light projection splashed across the entire facade of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

However, Viana can’t talk about any of it, beyond acknowledging that, yes, he was the creative director. “It’s part of the contract we have with FIFA,” says Viana, who has since gone on to found Un—lock branding studio. “It’s not possible to talk.” FIFA representatives also declined to talk, citing a tight schedule. In lieu of that, the international soccer organization offered a 10-page media background document on the brand elements, pointing out ways the “magic ball” of the emblem “unites magic and dreams.”

The Official Look, an illustrated tableau with folk figurines and symbols for the 11 Russian host cities, and the posters for each of those cities, are in the document as well. As is a single page about the physical, gold-plated trophy that World Cup winners compete for: “The FIFA World Cup Trophy has become the most sought-after and recognised sports prize in the world and can be seen as a truly unique universal icon,” it reads. At the end: “As with all of FIFA’s event brand assets, the image of the FIFA World Cup Trophy is also subject to extensive intellectual property protection.”

And of course it is: FIFA earns most of its revenue from broadcast deals. In 2014, FIFA pulled in $4.8 billion in revenue; projections for the 2018 event hover around $5.6 billion. With each broadcast and ticket sale, the logo appears. The brand is an expensive one.

Before 2002, the World Cup carried practically no traces of the FIFA brand.

Tight-lipped creative directors and non-disclosure agreements abound in the design and branding world, but as recently as the mid-1990s, that wasn’t the case. Before 2002, the World Cup carried practically no traces of the FIFA brand. The quadrennial event came with posters and a tag with the year and the host country’s name. Usually, a slightly abstracted soccer ball graphic would run along with that text. Some of these rose to icon status: mid-century graphic designer Lance Wyman’s striped op art-like type work for Mexico 1970 remains a classic. The catch is that he didn’t create it for FIFA or the World Cup; the logomark riffs on Wyman’s brand for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, contorting the same typography into a fraternal twin of a logo.

“There was no overt FIFA branding in those identities and the logos,” says Andy Mulligan, who at that time worked at Interbrand in London. “For many reasons at the time, that didn’t particularly matter.” Then forces shifted: first, sportswear companies like Nike and Adidas — or perhaps almost exclusively Nike and Adidas — grew into corporate powerhouses. Through massive sponsorships, they dressed entire teams and their logos decorated stadiums. Mulligan says many viewers at the time assumed that Nike or Adidas, or both, had an official hand in throwing the World Cup.

The second force was Michael Jordan. (Technically, it was American basketball as a whole. But from a branding perspective, can one really separate the two?) “By the mid-’90s the NBA had become a pretty well known global brand,” Mulligan says. “And football” — soccer — “and basketball are possibly the only two sports that can be truly international, because they’re incredibly easy to play anywhere.” With the NBA gaining global recognition, fueled by the megawatt star power of Jordan and his contemporaries, soccer risked losing presence. “FIFA wanted to make sure that football remained the great world sport,” Mulligan says.

From 2002, all World Cup logos would be tagged as a FIFA property, represented by a stylized twist on the shape of the physical gold trophy.

So ahead of the 2002 World Cup, which Japan and South Korea co-hosted, FIFA threw its weight into becoming a globally recognized brand. The association hired Interbrand to build what Chris Lightfoot, currently the CEO of Whitestone International, calls the “the ‘FIFA World Cup Trophy’ strategy.” Onward from then, all World Cup logos would be tagged as a FIFA property, represented by a stylized twist on the shape of the physical gold trophy.

“The pivotal event in 2002…had to reflect and satisfy both co-hosts, and simultaneously engage two non-traditional football audiences,” says Lightfoot of the Asian host countries, neither of which were previously as involved in soccer or the World cup as European countries. For that logo, Lightfoot and his design team at Interbrand created an abstract swooping figure, postured like he’s doing a throw-in, inside a circle. The zeros in “2002” are an infinity sign. “The circle has been part of the Asian culture for many centuries, having symbolized the universe, the sun, the world and even life itself,” Lightfoot says. “A sector of the outer circle was deliberately left open to symbolize the route to the trophy.”

All of this, within the silhouette of the trophy. “With the Olympics you have a recognizable logo. You can’t just use those five rings — you’ve got to pay to use it. FIFA didn’t have that,” says Mulligan, who has since gone on to launch his own branding agency, The Caffeine Partnership. But after 2002 it did, in the form of a protectable icon that could be reinterpreted to show off characteristics of new host countries while still retaining its shape as a copyright asset.

There’s a certain amount of in-your-face potency to it. It’s not maximalism; it’s obvious-ism.”

This approach has continued in the years since: Under Whitestone, Lightfoot and his team created the branding for 2006 World Cup in Germany, with an exceedingly goofy design: the same swooping figure from 2002, topped by three bubbling proto-Emoji cartoon faces. (Lightfoot says Franz Beckenbauer, the soccer legend and German coach at the time, wanted something radical.)

For the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Switch branding agency created a brushstroke-like figure gearing up for a bicycle kick. Shards of orange, red, green, and black, loosely forming the shape of the African continent, are behind him. The little swooped man doing a throw-in appears again, in the corner. In an email, Switch creative director Gaby de Abreu said that a contract with FIFA prevents him from talking about the design process, but that he drew by hand all the type, “in a rock engraved style to give it an African personality.” With the overhead kick, “which is the most difficult kick to execute, and the most talked about kick if you can score a goal,” he wanted to revel in Africa’s panache on the field. After all, he points out, “the best and most skillful players from the continent play in Europe.”

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil marks a slight turning point. Like this year’s Russia mark, the logo more clearly looks like the trophy, formed from yellow and green hands reaching together to cradle, well, the trophy. The design criticism site Under Consideration links to a since-deleted FIFA press release that says the hands are an homage to an “iconic photograph.” Created by design agency Africa, the Brazil logo feels like a misfire: the hands look almost comically alien, and few markers of national pride shine through, as they did with the South Africa World Cup logo.

In this way, FIFA’s commissions from the past several years echo the design work used by the International Olympic Committee. The classic five rings aside, the Olympics these days are branded with loud, cartoonish icons. Everything feels like a play off Keith Haring. Same goes for the colorful, comic-strip-like World Cup designs. “There’s a certain amount of in-your-face potency to it,” says Mark Willis, founder of design shop Clean Sheet Co. “It’s not maximalism; it’s obvious-ism.” Willis, a soccer enthusiast, is part of what he calls an ecosystem of designers who create their own third-party posters and jerseys for the games — the kind you might buy in the parking lot. But he watches closely what FIFA presents every four years.

“A lot of the World Cup is about bringing cultures together, especially ones that have not been at the forefront of modern conversation about branding trends.”

“FIFA has become an absolute marketing beast,” he says. Unselfconscious logos are part of that tightly coordinated branding effort. “They want to encourage the idea of whimsy or approachability, and they don’t want to seen as a cool brand as much as a fun or celebratory brand,” Willis says. Plus: “A lot of the World Cup is about bringing cultures together, especially ones that have not been at the forefront of modern conversation about branding trends.”

“If you look at the history of FIFA World Cup logos,” Lightfoot says. “They demonstrate a clear and distinctive sense of the times for which they were created.” Lightfoot said that in reference to the poster used for the 1930s World Cup was distinctly optimistic, and much-needed for the difficult time between World Wars and the Great Depression. It feels true today, too. A loudly nationalistic design that comes with a set of opaque bullet points explaining what the brand “means,” that’s the status quo from big organizations these days. There’s simply too much money at stake — and for FIFA, an organization still working through a massive corruption case, there’s simply too much scrutiny to fear.

Speaking generally, Viana says that working on identities for sporting events means emitting a positive message. These identities, he says, “represent a lot of messages of peace, of tolerance. They try to resonate on a global level, but at the same time can promote and identify the location.” Which is as good a reminder as any that when a kid in Egypt sees the World Cup Emblem flash up on a television screen before a game, a grandmother in Nigeria, or a group of friends in Mexico, will also see it, at the same time.

For a few very exciting weeks, everyone will be watching the same thing — brought to you by FIFA.

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2teY2R2

Bleak Time, Bold Moves: The State of the Digital Nation 2020

Bleak Time, Bold Moves: The State of the Digital Nation 2020

Jules Ehrhardt made waves in 2016 when he published State of the Digital Nation, a raw and honest look at the major forces threatening the digital consultancy industry. Two years later, the seasoned digital exec has done it again with State of the Digital Nation 2020, painting a bleak picture of the agency landscape, pointing out flaws in the model, and urging creatives to consider their options.

The new publication coincides with change in his own life. After leaving his post as co-owner of ustwo, the digital product studio behind the wildly popular mobile game Monument Valley, Ehrhardt launched FCTRY in May. A “creative capital studio,” the company acts as an advisory for early-stage technology companies in return for equity.

In the interview below, Ehrhardt shares his views on why now is the time for new thinking in digital. So are we all doomed? Nah. Amid change, there is always opportunity.

What led you to write a new State of the Digital Nation?

I wrote the first State of the Digital Nation in 2016. It was a point in which I was reflecting deeply on what I’d seen over the previous four years and where I saw things going. It was an expression about the journey to try to evolve the typical consultancy model, or try to build the future phase of the studio.

In 2017, I was closing a chapter in my life and starting a new chapter. I had the freedom to do what I wanted. The fundamental question that came to me was, “If you could start again, completely fresh without serving any legacy, what would you do?” State of the Digital Nation 2020 is basically me ripping apart my journey, closing a chapter and beginning a new chapter and trying to organize all the thinking and inputs and outputs that would lead me to decide to build a new type of studio. So, that’s in a nutshell why I wrote it.

You say that the “death of the agency” drum is beating louder and louder. What went wrong and what’s happening now?

We’ve all been watching the epic battle between the consultancies and the ad holding groups. That’s led to a few issues. One is that design is being homogenized. If you look at how so many independent studios are being acquired and brought in to consultancies, you’re seeing what I think is a fundamental problem with how the ecosystem is designed. To use a metaphor, if you mix all the vibrant colors of the rainbow together, you get a chromatic neutral. And that’s a concern to me. What does that trend do for our ecosystem?

Another issue is that, as more work goes in-house, and fewer agencies are fighting over the remainder of the work, they’re beginning to underbid and trying to reduce their cost to secure the work. Many agencies have moved to offshoring, and what you’re seeing is the agency ecosystem begin to cannibalize itself.

For me, that’s pushing everything to a quite logical conclusion that, for an agency, what was once double-digit profit is now going to be single-digit profit, or a sea of red.

Until the last decade or so, it made a lot of sense to open an agency. It was profitable, and you could do good work. What we’d see was big brands nurturing a wider ecosystem than would provide healthy grounds and a system for new talent to emerge. But what you’re seeing, I think, is this kind of ecosystem collapse: there’s such a pressure on pricing and a procurement-department mindset that, actually, this ecosystem in which the next generation of talent should develop isn’t being sustained.

The fundamental challenge faced by the creative class is being paid for time. And that’s what’s leading to the consolidation, that’s what’s leading to the downward pricing, that’s what’s leading to the degraded environment in which we do our work.

Bleak. If that’s the case, what needs to happen?

The only way for us to escape and build a new prosperous place, a new happy place, is to basically break that model, break that bond which I call a form of “prison island” that we built ourselves decades ago—the “paid for time” client service model.

You say being paid for hourly work is at the core of the industry’s problems. Tell us more.

I believe that actual human creative output is limited to five hours a day, therefore keeping people late is creating unhealthy working conditions and is counterproductive. I recently went to a conference with some very high-level design leaders in the tech space. I asked everyone “Look, how many hours of creativity do you think a human has in a day?” I counted down the hours from 10. No one put their hands up. When I got down to six and five that’s when the majority of the hands went up. Of course this is definitely not applicable to rote tasks like outputting a hundred variations of an image. But the real creativity tops out at five hours. I believe in building a working environment around that.

So what would you recommend? How can there be a better pay model, not necessarily related to hourly work?

As it’s happening is it’s going to get harder and harder to have an agency with healthy profits. I still think that there are studios that are great, that do really good work, and they’re going to prosper. Those people usually have a good process—they agree on high-level requirements based on ‘Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have’ (or “MoSCoW”) rather than fixed cost and scope arrangements. They’re focused on product rather than marketing.

But for the agency structure—the only way we’re going to escape that is for the creative class to begin to define new models—new vessels within which we can do our work and prosper.

In your case, you decided that the best next step for you was to do venture-only work?

Yes, I guess the point is for me it doesn’t really matter what model you choose. For me, the path I chose was to explore venture where the model is funded. Funded models allow us to do the work we want to do. It doesn’t mean there’s no pressure. It just means it’s a different dynamic.

You say the talent drain is already well under way. Where are people going?

Agencies—and very good ones—are increasingly losing people to Google, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify. I think that trend is going to grow. It’s almost impossible for agencies to match a tech company’s packages and benefits. If you were working at an agency doing 70 hours a week on a campaign or for a bleach brand at 30 percent or 40 percent less salary than you’d get paid at Google or Facebook, then why on earth wouldn’t you leave? I’m not saying it’s easy working in a tech company, but to work fewer hours and have a better work-life balance and be working with a bit more purpose, at significantly better benefits? It’s something to think about.

You’ve put together a big proposal and shared it out in the open. Have you received comments from anybody who’s like “I completely disagree with this and here’s where I think you’re missing the mark?”

In the week since it went out, I’ve had overwhelmingly positive comments. I’ve also had people pull me aside and go, “I’ve tried this. It doesn’t work.” And that’s fine. The point for me is I don’t have as much care for the industry as I do for the creative class within it. So if you do read the piece, you’ll see a lot of it comes from a place of care for the creative class. That has always been my mission. If you’re an individual in the creative class, there are some important questions we need to be asking ourselves. I believe that by having a more open-source mentality, by sharing what works and what doesn’t work, publishing contracts and as much information as we can, then we can get everyone to a better place. And a more healthy ecosystem for everyone is what I want. I am completely committed to that philosophy.

I remember starting the piece thinking, “We’re all doomed.” And by the time I got to the end I felt surprisingly positive about everything because you had shared. Did you mean for it to be encouraging in that way?

Yes, the feedback I’ve had, especially from younger people in the industry, is that they’re really excited after the reading the piece. I was trying to give a systematic exploration of what I see, what’s wrong with it and what the new avenues are for the creative class. The beauty is you can really have an opinion and be forthright about it. I think the problem in our industry as a whole is that that the emperor has been naked for the last five to eight years. That’s how we got here. 

If somebody is at an earlier point in their career and they haven’t committed to a path yet, what advice would you give to them in terms of the path they might consider?

I’m not really in the advice-giving game, but I think I’d definitely be weighing up which industries have longevity, which areas in the industry have too many people with a certain age and mindset who are more vested in the status quo than not. The way I like to phrase it at the moment is this: you’re either revolutionary, or you’re not. And I think that’s the moment we have to be in now. We have to be revolutionary because if we don’t know how to build these opportunities then we’ll go down with the ship.

For more, check out Ehrhardt’s full 60-minute read: State of the Digital Nation 2020.

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2JAQliZ

The First Five Years: Early Creative Career Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

The First Five Years: Early Creative Career Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

Getting started in your creative career is tough. You’ve got boatloads of ambition and energy, but you lack experience, the kind of knowledge that feels like you can see into the future because you’ve been there before. So we’re introducing a new column that will allow you to get the benefit of hindsight before you’ve actually gone through the experience. Welcome to “The First Five Years” where Mitch Goldstein, a professor of design at Rochester Institute of Technology, will answer reader questions related to the unchartered waters of beginning a career. To kick things off, Mitch takes on a personal question. 

“What mistakes did you make starting out in your career? And how can I avoid them?”

My design partner (and now wife) Anne Jordan and I started our design studio in June of 2007. I had graduated with my BFA the year before, and Anne had just finished school that month. We had no business plan, no income or growth projections, no marketing strategy, and no experience. What we did each have were several freelance clients, so clearly the smart move was to start a business together even though we had no idea what we were doing. We actually said to ourselves “How hard could it be? We’ll learn along the way.”

And learn along the way we did. We had some success, and many failures. One of our first mistakes was not finding the right people to help us run the business side of the studio. We immediately hired an accountant, and the first thing he did was make us spend money we did not have to incorporate the business, so we would be able to grow rapidly (even though we did not plan on hiring anyone else — but just in case, we were ready!). We spent lots of extra money on incorporation fees and business taxes, and spent lots of time on paperwork and filling out forms that we did not need.

Had we done more research or gotten a second opinion, we could have structured our business in a much simpler way. Money is challenging, so having an accountant is critically important, and something any freelancer or small business owner should do — but make sure you find someone you trust, and who understands what you really need. This person was a great accountant for a multi-million dollar company, but not so great for a couple of naive graduates trying to make next month’s rent.

Initially, we priced most work by project instead of by hour. As new designers, we didn’t really know how long it would take to complete most of our early projects. Our biggest screw up in the first year was a bid for the design of an enormous electrical and lighting parts catalog. We did some calculating about how long we thought it would take to design each page, multiplied by the number of pages, added a little time for surprises, and sent out the bid. The client immediately approved our proposal and fee.

Fortunately, we are friends with many more experienced designers, one of whom looked at the project, looked at our fee, and told us we were off by an order of magnitude. She told us that we had bid about 1/10th as much as we should have, and from experience she knew that the project would take far, far longer than we thought — the design fee the client accepted would have completely bankrupted us. One incredibly awkward client phone call later, we were out of the project and had learned a valuable lesson.

It was not all mistakes, though. Something that we did well was having a few experienced designer friends we could talk to with questions about how to run a design studio. In addition to leaning on each other, we were able to get advice from people who had made the same mistakes we were about to make. This is incredibly important: no matter where you go to school, you will never learn everything you need to know about running a design business.

Some of it you will have to figure out as you go along (like remembering to put an invoice number on invoices — yes, that was embarrassing.) Having people we could talk to made this much easier, and avoided a few major disasters. This is where design organizations like the AIGA and events like Creative Mornings can be so valuable — they are places to meet people who know all the stuff you don’t. Design is way more fun when you don’t try to do it alone.

Got a question for Mitch? Tweet it to us @99U and we’ll pose them to him in the coming months.


from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2HIWjsq

The Story Behind the Rainbow Flag

The Story Behind the Rainbow Flag

From Provincetown to San Francisco, and throughout much of the world, the rainbow flag has come to symbolize the power and inclusiveness of queer culture. Less than a half-a-century old, it was created with love and purpose by one man, Gilbert Baker, who through art and design helped to spearhead a movement of enduring pride and acceptance. Baker, a thriving artist and activist until his death last year from cardiovascular disease, is credited with helping to “define the modern LGBT movement” by former California state senator Scott Weiner. Today, the Museum of Modern Art considers his creation to be as recognizable and culturally significant as the ubiquitous recycling symbol. But who was the man behind the flag?

Baker was drawn to art and fashion from an early age. Born in Chanute, Kansas in 1951, he joined the U.S. Army to escape the stifling limitations of his small, conservative town, and was sent, serendipitously, to San Francisco just at the height of the gay rights movement. Here, he quickly threw himself into local culture and activist causes, working on the first-ever marijuana legalization initiative, California Proposition 19, and turning to sewing and graphics as a unique way to resist and protest. During this period, he created banners for gay-rights and anti-war protests, becoming a close friend of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk.

Spurred on by his community, Baker began to search for a symbol that could be used in the gay rights movement. The existing emblem, the pink triangle emblazoned on prison uniforms in Nazi Germany, was seen as too dark. “Artie Bresson, the filmmaker who created GAY USA, pushed Gilbert to come up with a symbol. He came upon the idea of a flag,” said Charley Beal, a longtime friend of Baker who currently oversees his estate. Beal explains that the 1976 bicentennial’s use of the American Flag was an important inspiration. “Soon after, Gilbert was dancing at the Cow Palace with Cleve Jones and, amidst the swirl of colored lights, he was overwhelmed with the diversity of people out dancing and came up with the idea of the rainbow flag. I believe there was LSD involved.”

“He had a very deep understanding of history and politics, and had quite an intellect to go along with the drama and glitter.”

In an attic of a San Francisco gay community center, Baker began to work with a band of volunteers and friends to dye and sew the first rainbow flags, the originals including eight colors representing different aspects of the community: sex, life, healing, sunlight, nature, magic/art, serenity, and spirit. Later, Baker removed pink (sex) and turquoise (magic/art)  because those fabrics were harder to come by, leaving behind panels of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple to act as a universal beacon of pride for the LGBTQ community.

“Cleve Jones helped get the money from the parade committee for the flags,” continued Beal. “Fairy Argyle was the ‘queen of tie-dye’ who instructed him on proper dying techniques.” Others helped with the endless ironing. On June 25th, 1978 Baker and his community hoisted their banners in United Nations Plaza to fete that year’s San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.

“We needed something beautiful, something from us,” Baker later said. “The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag—it’s from the sky!”

“He was very delighted and excited that he had achieved his vision,” explained Cleve Jones, one of Baker’s closest friends and the mastermind behind AIDS Memorial Quilt project. “Rainbows have been used as long as people have been creating art. But it was Gilbert, and Gilbert alone, who imagined the rainbow flag as the symbol of the people now called the LGBTQ. It was his sole mission on this planet to spread that sort of symbol around the world.”

Over the decades, nothing brought Baker greater joy than seeing photographs of his flags in “unexpected” cities, from Moscow to Beijing and Havana. Gilbert, as friends described him, could be “quite difficult, quite challenging, often opinionated and quite imperious,” but with a gentle, caring side. “He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known,” Jones told us. “He had a very deep understanding of history and politics, and had quite an intellect to go along with the drama and glitter.”

After the success of the rainbow flag, Baker began working for the Paramount Flag Company, his work catching the eye of then-mayor Dianne Feinstein, who later commissioned him to design flags, banners, and materials for her inaugural ceremony. Afterwards, Gilbert went on to create flags for the presidents of France, Venezuela, and the Philippines, the King of Spain, and numerous Gay Pride events across the country. But one of his proudest moments was when he designed flags for the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

In 1994, Baker moved to New York City where he crafted what, at the time, was the world’s largest flag, a mile in length, which was later carried by 5,000 people in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In 2003, to celebrate the Rainbow Flag’s 25th anniversary, Baker outdid his own record, crafting a gigantic flag for Key West Pride that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and was later cut into sections and distributed across more than 100 cities around the world.

“I think Gilbert’s lasting importance is that he created a symbol of hope and inclusion for an oppressed minority at a time when their efforts at liberation were new,” said Beal. “He then worked tirelessly for almost 40 years to ensure that this symbol would be recognized and understood worldwide.”

“At that time, and in that location, it was an act of courage to display this symbol.”

“The rainbow flag has become such a potent and immediate symbol of pride and solidarity with the LGBTQ community,” says Tim O’Brien, Assistant Director of Exhibitions at the SFO Museum
, which currently has up an exhibit of Baker’s work. “Many of us here in the San Francisco Bay Area take it for granted, as if the symbol has always been with us and has always been easily displayed. When I was growing up in a smaller town outside the immediate Bay Area, the flag made a tremendous impact. Just seeing it flying in front of a home or as a car’s bumper sticker immediately indicated that this person was a member of a tribe of sorts. At that time, and in that location, it was an act of courage to display this symbol.”

Baker’s flag has also left an impression on younger members of the LGBTQ community. Jordan Eagles, 41, is an artist whose work highlights the plight of gay men who pursue blood donation. In the United States, gay men must remain celibate for a full year before being eligible to donate, which most members of the community see as discrimination, given advanced screening processes. Like Baker, Eagle uses art and design to combat oppression and celebrate queer culture. “I don’t remember the first time I saw a pride flag. I feel like it has been in my consciousness forever. I haven’t always found it to be visually appealing, yet I have always understood that it stands for something good, and that is the most important. Gilbert Baker’s flag is iconic and a symbol of gay pride and probably will be forever.”

Mike Devlin, manager of the Blood Equality, a pro bono campaign by FCB Health, is a fellow artist who’s been working with Eagle to fight the blood ban, both legally and ideologically. “Our message is, if we’re serious about LGBTQ rights, it’s time to get serious about Blood Equality. And selectively choosing some rights to support, while ignoring others, does not equate to actual support.” So far, Devlin and Eagles’ work has garnered praise and press and, more importantly, brought the government to the table to discuss and advance policy. “We’re in the midst of hopefully executing research and studies that will spark the conservative (i.e. slow) decision makers to action, providing the evidence they say they need to lift the ban.”

While Devlin is pleased with the campaign’s successes, he realized that he needed an easily recognizable signifier to serve as an icon for this struggle. Inspired by Baker, he has helped to conceptualize and create BLOOD FLAGS, a series of all-red banners to be unfurled at this year’s Blood Donor Day. “The pride flag was the centerpiece of our team’s inspiration: the colors meant to symbolize and unify, yet the colors of the national flags in which LGBTQ men remain stigmatized sits in sharp contrast to the strength of the pride flag below. All in the context of the one color – red – the color of all of our blood. We are the same, one in our blood, yet our blood is not seen as equal.”

Today, a full range of identity-driven flags exist, from those celebrating the leather community to asexuality, to a modification of the rainbow flag itself with additional black and brown stripes added to protest discrimination against people of color in Philadelphia gay bars.

Ultimately, Baker was a street activist who saw the use of protest banners and flags as a political tool. “Gilbert worked his entire adult life to make this happen,” says O’Brien. “I’m sure if he were here today, he’d take understandable pride in this achievement. But I’m guessing he’d read the news about someone somewhere being harassed, abused, evicted, etc. for displaying the rainbow flag, and he’d remind us all that the work remains unfinished.”

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2JAdbXh

From the Drawing Board to the Board Room

From the Drawing Board to the Board Room

When Lisa Lindstrom and her co-founders were first starting design firm Doberman in 1998, the world was a very different place: Adobe Flash was hot, Google was not, and the iPhone was still nearly a decade away from existence.

But while technology has transformed design over the last few years, the fundamentals of Lindstrom’s business philosophy have remained the same. At the top is the notion that employees should have a say on how the company is managed, not only for their own sense of wellbeing and engagement, but for the firm’s overall success.

That’s why Doberman allows all 100 of its employees in Stockholm and New York City the chance to be part of the company’s management committee. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a designer, a developer or an office assistant — for 12 to 16 weeks, you’re asked to make important business decisions alongside the CFO, managing director and other top execs.

We caught up with Lindstrom, 44, to talk about this unique strategy and why she as CEO feels the rewards far outweigh the risks.

You allow all of your employees to rotate into the management committee. How does this work, in practical terms?

We have two rolling seats in our office in Stockholm and one in our office in New York. We have people sit in those roles for 12 to 16 weeks in addition to their regular job. Each committee does it differently — in Stockholm the committee meets every third week and also communicates in Slack. In NY, which is a smaller office, they meet every week. We’re a fast-moving company, so within that time a person will have gone through lots of interesting decisions. (Employees aren’t required to participate, though most do.)

You’ve been doing this since the earliest days of your company. Where’d you get the idea?

We were seven founders when we started the company, and we were focused on how to avoid the hierarchy and really co-create the company. It was one of the other founders who said, “I think it would be so good if we include people on the management team.”

What is the thinking behind it?

When we started off 20 years ago, we hadn’t gone to management school; we had gone to design school. And we felt that the business world was kind of awkward, fitting people into roles but not really recognizing the capacity that talent has. So we said to ourselves what if real quality comes out of investing in your people? We set up this triangle idea — we wanted to balance quality with profitability and wellbeing. The core thing is that wellbeing comes out of feeling included, feeling that you have a say, knowing that people listen to you and that you can be a person within a company, not just a role. How to execute on this has been a constant exploration. There are no books on this type of management. It’s just trying things out and seeing what works.

Why does it work?

Some people mistake this as some sort of consensus culture where everyone decides everything. That’s not what we mean. It’s also not about deciding what coffee to have or what colors we should use on the floor. The core thing is to include in your employees in the really tricky, important and difficult decisions. To get people there, I always ask myself: In what way can I be explaining the complexity of an issue to make sure that everyone understands that issue, and will be able to contribute to that issue?”

For example, 15 years ago I wanted everyone including designers to contribute to the budget strategy…when I asked them to join the discussions, you can guess what they said. (Laughs.) What I did was I translated our budget into Legos. I showed them, in different colors, the costs we have today and how it all fits together with our income. And I said to them, if you want to change something, show me in Legos how the whole equation goes together so it’s not just me getting this wishlist that I can never deliver on. What they were able to come up with was so clever. They had great insights and contributions just from seeing what was at stake.

From a business leader’s perspective, it seems you’re giving up a lot of control by letting employees have a say on major decisions. How do you manage against that risk?

I actually think it’s a larger risk that you delegate all decisions to the CEO. I don’t think that any CEO in the world is smarter than their employees. For this to work, you have to make people understand the full complexity of an issue. If you only give halfway — if you only tell people on the surface that they can contribute — it’s a bigger risk because they’re acting without full information.

I don’t think control is a good steering mechanism at all; I actually think trust is a better steering mechanism. Because what I get in return is people’s engagement, I get their passion, I get lots of ideas, I get their sense of responsibility. So I would call this management by trust. When you see management by control, you get fear, you get anxiety, you get people who just deliver exactly what they were asked to do but not more because they were only asked for that… that is more a risky scenario than the one I’m exploring.

Has it ever backfired?

I have to tell you — I’ve been doing this 20 years and no one has ever misused the trust they have in the management team. Sometimes we have pretty important decisions and tricky things — no one has let us down. Each time it brings new perspectives.

What’s one example of something your employees came up with?

Opening an office in New York! A few times a year we close down the office and we all go away for a couple of days. We call these “exploration days” and we use it to talk about really important things. On one of these days, we had discussion with 60 of our employees about what we should be doing as a company; they said we should open up an office in New York. If it was my call as CEO, I would have said no. I thought it was a bad idea, a very difficult market. Instead I said “OK, how should we do this?” We delegated to the people who were ready to move – asked them to give us a business plan – and they came back and said here’s how should we do this. Today, we have a fully functioning, super quality, super profitable studio in New York. Just imagine if we had trusted my gut feeling?

What advice do you have another company wanting to employ a similar strategy?

My advice would be to start first by creating a more transparent culture. The only way for a CEO or a managing director to ask for an organization to be more open is to start being more open themselves. You cannot ask employees, “Can you be more open, please? Can you be more trusting, please?” The way to start digging into this culture is for the top person to show some vulnerability, ask for help. When you do so, you’ll get paid back with trust. You can’t be the executive who knows everything — you need to pay attention, show some realness.

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2L6D7qJ

Jon Hirschtick Aims to Upend a Market Dominated by the Company He Founded

Jon Hirschtick Aims to Upend a Market Dominated by the Company He Founded

Entering Tannen’s Magic Store, a New York City landmark of the prestige scene, feels like walking into a 1990s VHS rental store to grab a movie on a Friday night. The man behind the counter sports a half-zipped sweatshirt, a ponytail, and a skull ring. He pulls decks of cards and boxed tricks off the shelves, demoing them for tourists and fellow magicians looking for a new taa daa moment. He shrinks a penny to half its size and illuminates a lightbulb off of a lamp like a cigarette.

“I used to demonstrate a similar version of that trick,” Jon Hirschtick muses as he watches a quarter spin in mid-air to gasps from the store patrons.

Hirschtick may be the founder of two product manufacturing system companies, but he cut his teeth on smoke and mirrors. In the 1980s, he was both a professional magician and original member of the MIT Blackjack team, which inspired the movie 21. We’ll leave you to separate the fact from fiction in that film, but Hirschtick was able to use $1 million of his winnings to start SolidWorks, a software company which became the industry standard for computer-aided design (CAD). Now, when most executives would have their eye on retirement, Hirschtick is anteing up again. Aiming to disrupt a market dominated by his own company, Hirschtick has launched a new CAD startup: Onshape.

Why? The opportunity he has spotted is that CAD tools for designing products haven’t really changed in 25 years, leaving engineers to fight everything from install problems to workflows that not only discourage collaboration, but lock teammates out of the design process.

Hirschtick is betting Onshape can unlock the gridlock – and so is Andreessen Horowitz, which led Onshape’s $105 million series D. That might sound like a lot but it’s a drop in the  $8.7 billion CAD industry ocean that almost no one talks about.

Surrounded by fans of cards, top hats, wands, and the coin trick books he studied as a teenager, Hirschtick discussed why he’s trying to disrupt the same market twice, what it takes to be a great designer, and how to wow your audience every time.

A successful card player might get up from the table after playing a successful hand. After selling SolidWorks to Dassault Systèmes for $318 million, why get back in the game with Onshape? 

All engineers, me included, try to see a better world through some sort of product.  Once seeing that vision of the future, engineers are very driven to realize it. Our job building great CAD was far from over. I felt an obligation; nobody else has shipped a true modern CAD system besides Onshape.

What exactly are you making with Onshape?

CAD are computer software tools that are used by engineers to design things. We’re a meta-designer. Engineers have always had tools. In the age of the pyramids it might have been papyrus, then paper, quill, ink. 50 years ago, it was pencil and paper. Today, most engineers use some form of CAD software. If you’re manufacturing a new product, you build it twice. First you build it in the computer in CAD. You make sure it’s right; the pieces fit together. And then you build it in the real world. A CAD system is like a script or a rehearsal.

Why market need does Onshape address that SolidWorks doesn’t?

I founded SolidWorks 25 years ago with five other people in my home. There’s millions of users who use it. Around five years ago, I’d visit designers and watch people use the system and I could see they had problems. They have problems just installing the stuff. It only runs on Windows. The next set of problems is that the data is stored in files. I don’t mean one file. I mean one file per part. If you’re making a snowmobile with 3,000 pieces, that’s 3,000 files. Everyone needs a copy of the 3,000 files to look at the design. With design the whole goal is speed and creativity. We want to make changes, iterate, and find the best answer.  But the tools say, “Wait a minute, before you make a change, do you have to latest version of, for example, File 1920?” That’s a good way to slow the team down. Things crash, people lose work.

So, those things were a top priority to fix in the launch of Onshape?

We felt we could design something where others could design their stuff faster, have better ideas, and honestly, have more fun. No one ever had any fun typing license codes and overwriting files. We borrowed from Google docs, who inspired us with real time collaboration. You go in and two people are in the document. Now, do that with the 3,000 parts. Those 3,000 parts are now all in one place in the cloud. We can work on it at the same time. We don’t have to lock anything and I don’t have to ask, “Where’s the latest version?” If I change the shape of the front fender of the snowmobile and you’re 1,000 miles away, you see if instantly. We allow concepts of branching and merging. So, I can try five different ideas and I don’t have to worry that I’m overwriting work.

Looking at how the industry has changed since you founded SolidWorks, is an engineer or a designer’s job easier or harder now?

Harder. You have to master many more technologies than you used to. Engineering is a broader subject with fewer clear lines of demarcation. Same with design. As a designer, you still have to know about print, because there’s a lot of a lot of print in the world. But you also have to know all about computing platforms, HTML, mobile devices. It’s an incredible palette of technologies you have to learn.

Where do you think the future of design is headed?

I think more of the world’s GDP is generated and differentiated by design than ever before. I’m not just talking about competitive differentiation. I’m talking about how the number of products is exploding. If you go to the store to buy laundry detergent, when I was a kid there was a ‘big box’ and a ‘small box’. Today, there’s 41 products from Tide: plastic bottles, the Tide Kick you throw in, a special spray. A category that had a few products, now has an enormous amount. There’s so much more choice. The SKU explosion is crazy. You used to go to the store to buy a stapler and it was a bent piece of metal.  Today, there’s three different cool designs in 18 colors. So, I believe the amount of design as a share of GDP is growing.

After 37 years in the CAD business, what advice do you have for designers?

A designer is never executing the status quo. Good designers are always moving forward. Many people have great jobs, but they don’t change the way people do things; they don’t envision a different world. Like, if you run the train system in New York, your job is to keep those trains moving from the 34th Street station to the 14th Street station. Your job is not to move the stations around. Zero designers are just operating the existing world. You have to see something that doesn’t exist. You have to engage in creative hallucination. Visions and hallucinations look the same until you try to build them.

Was your background performing magic tricks useful to you as an entrepreneur?

Magic is where I learned to demo things. When you start a company, you have to demonstrate the product. The demos need to be interesting, clear, exciting, and you want them to work. When I ended up building design projects at MIT, my friends would make elaborate designs that they could never get to function. They didn’t really appreciate what, to me, seemed obvious: the premium on shipping something that worked as opposed to fooling around with big ideas.

With demos, there are a few things to keep in mind. Practice it so it works. Most people don’t practice enough. Part of it is so it’s really reliable, and part is so that you have plenty of mental capacity left to talk. If you’re too dominated by remembering which button to press, then you won’t be able to think about the ‘patter’ of presentation. Practice a lot more than you think and practice from a cold start.

Anything else?

Have a backup plan. A trick I learned from magic is: don’t tell people in advance what you’re going to do. For instance, I can show you a trick with a deck of cards and I might ask you to do something which requires you to make a choice. If you pick one choice, I’m going to do a mind-blowing effect. If you pick the other one, I’ll still do a good magic trick. But you don’t know which I’m going to do. Similarly, I carry a video when I demo Onshape. If my browser crashes, I can bail to that video. You don’t know something’s gone wrong because I never said whether I was going to show you a video or not.

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2IYy1PL