From Getting in the Sales Trenches to Being You: 99U’s 10 Best Tips for Trusting Your Gut

From Getting in the Sales Trenches to Being You: 99U’s 10 Best Tips for Trusting Your Gut

Confidence, experience, and your own special brand of authenticity all come together to make that intangible authority: the gut check. But trusting your instincts can be hard. Never fear. We’ve collected the best advice from Louise Fili, Adam J. Kurtz, and other 99U thinkers on how to have confidence in your decisions.

 1. Know how to manage your own clients.

For an up-and-coming illustrator or designer, it may seem like getting an agent is the surest ticket to stardom. But the shrewder move may be to start out by going it alone. Learn the ropes of the business side —from negotiating fees to sorting out licenses—so you know what an agent should be doing for you. “There’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from handling it all myself,” admits Laura Callaghan, an Irish illustrator working in London who’s been freelance and agent-free for the past seven years and counts Adidas and Nike as clients. “I enjoy dealing directly with clients and getting a sense of who they are and what they need.

2. Study the numbers, but trust your instincts.

Data can give us a lot of the answers. But it doesn’t possess every answer because the insight we get from our mysterious subconscious is its own kind of data. “Our guts have a wealth of past experiences and rational decisions that we can combine with digital data to make amazing experiences for our customers,” says Adam Morgan, author of the upcoming book, Sorry Spock, Emotions Drive Business: Proving the Value of Creative Ideas with Science.

Designer Jessica Hische photographed in the Bay Area by Jennifer Michelson.

Jessica Hische photographed in the Bay Area by Jennifer Michelson.

3. Redefine success.

Designer Jessica Hische, author of Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave, has aimed for enough pie in the sky projects to know that the thing to fear when making big plans is your own sense of confidence. To that end, she’s re-jiggered her own metrics for success: “Achieving is great, but the real accomplishment is pushing through the initial fear to actually start doing something,” says Hische.

4. Try a crazy career move.

Sometimes, the fear of scaring big-name clients can lead to safe but lackluster proposals and atrophied creative muscles. That might be the sign it’s time to try a crazy career move. Matt Wegerer, more afraid of another year of risk-averse creative work than of failure, left his cushy agency role to found Whiskey Design. Now, he leads his team with the motto: no mediocre excuses for mediocre work.

Louise Fili photographed sittingon a floral couch in her New York City studio. Photography by Franck Bohbot.

Louise Fili in her New York City studio. Photography by Franck Bohbot.

5. Pursue personal projects to experiment with new skills.

Build spaces outside of work, where your main goal is to develop not only a portfolio you’re passionate about, but also a point of view that is uniquely yours. “I feel very strongly that every designer has to have his or her own personal projects,” says designer Louise Fili. “Because it’s the only way that you really grow and find your design voice.”

Photographer Scott Rinckenberger captures snowy mountain scenes in Washington.

Photographer Scott Rinckenberger captures snowy mountain scenes in Washington.

6. Venture off the beaten track.

Find ways to bridge the great passions of your life with your hunger for creative growth. For instance, adventure photographer Scott Rinckenberger used to practice the high adrenaline sports that he now photographs. The former semi-pro skier bridged his lifelong passion with photography when he felt himself wanting to try something different. “I needed a new creative stimulus to keep my mind sharp and engaged,” he says. “I needed some new input and photography offered that.”

7. Prepare ahead so you can live in the moment.

As a travel photographer for the New York Times, Susan Wright often has only a few scant hours on location to shoot her images. That means there’s no time to ask questions or second guess. To get herself in the right state of mind, Wright visualizes the shoot ahead of time, so she can trust her gut in the moment. “Get in a meditative state and think about a location. Feel it. You get visions in your mind: the image that would be truly beautiful to capture…I give myself a shot list and then time to live in the moment.”

8. Be you.

At the end of the day, a successful career isn’t about talent, connections, or fancy tech capabilities. In the inimitable words of the artist Adam J. Kurtz, “We all have the tools and skills. Being yourself is the difference.”

Big Spaceship CEO Mike Lebowitz and illustrator Ping Zhu talking at an AIGA NY event. Photo by Tony Tailor for AIGA/NY.

Big Spaceship CEO Mike Lebowitz and illustrator Ping Zhu talking at an AIGA NY event. Photo by Tony Tailor for AIGA/NY.

9. You have more options than you think you do.

There are bound to be moments in your career when you feel like there are no good options. Those are the moments to remember you have the greatest power in the world: the power to walk away. Yes, there are real and important responsibilities, like families or employees, that may impact your ultimate choice. But even in the moments when you feel like the least powerful person in the room, remember, you always have the power to say no.

10. Do the worthwhile thing, not just the measurable thing.

“We’ve all been there where there’s a good idea on the table. We know it would improve the experience, but it would be hard to measure. So, it gets killed,” says Lyft Director of Product Design Audrey Liu. Go to the mat for those ideas that you know will have impact beyond the hard numbers. It may be more worthwhile than you ever imagined.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

From Checking Your Ego to Making Meetings Less Scary for Introverts: 99U’s 10 Best Ideas for Leaders

From Checking Your Ego to Making Meetings Less Scary for Introverts: 99U’s 10 Best Ideas for Leaders

Being in charge means having a lot on your plate. Leaders juggle everything from managing bottom lines to overseeing top-tier team culture. We’ve heard it said that it’s lonely at the top, so we sourced some words of wisdom from iconic leaders such as Beth Comstock, Scott Belsky, and Tina Roth Eisenberg to help you out. From how to hire more authentic people to how to host more inclusive meetings, their advice will make you feel like you’re not in this on your own.

"Empathy before passion" is sage advice from Scott Belsky's new book, The Messy Middle. Image courtesy of Belsky.

Wise words from Adobe Chief Product Officer, Scott Belsky. Image courtesy of Belsky.

1. Don’t make decisions out of fear.

We all hit low points in the struggle to get our big idea off the ground. At those times, we’re prone to self-doubt and that is when we start to make knee-jerk decisions. In his recent book, The Messy Middle, Scott Belsky encourages us to put people first by “being empathetic with what the customer is suffering from, and [focus] on doing what’s right for the team.”

Ueno founder Haraldur Thorleifsson smiles at the camera. Image courtesy of Ueno

Ueno founder Haraldur Thorleifsson. Image courtesy of Ueno.

2. Amplify the voices on your team.

The design studio Ueno is vocal about social issues, driven by its diverse team of employees. Rather than fear a business fallout, founder Haraldur Thorleifsson has embraced speaking up on important cultural issues. “I have no idea if it is good or bad for our business,” says Thorleifsson. “But I really don’t think about it that way. If this will be our downfall, then that’s the hill that I am willing to die on.”

3. Build momentum.

Your big, world-changing vision deserves more than a few obligatory head nods from your team. It needs genuine buy-in from everyone working together towards a greater objective. Imagine It Forward author Beth Comstock says that a leader’s goal is to create a movement, not to strong-arm people into saying you’re right. “It can become about my idea versus their idea, and that’s often where things fall down in companies because it gets to be a bit of either turf war, function war, or ego war,” Comstock says.

The creatives at Mighty Oak pose for the camera. Image courtesy of Mighty Oak.

The creatives at Mighty Oak. Image courtesy of Mighty Oak.

4. Check your micromanagement meter.

A series of promotions into management can leave us far from the hands-on work we love. Don’t let that turn you into a micromanager. Mighty Oak Creative Director Emily Collins says, “I fight the inclination to micromanage by highlighting my most important duties for the day—and doing them well—before I consider meddling with someone else’s. If my duties include checking in with people I schedule a couple of check-ins, but I don’t do their jobs for them.”

5. Ask for a joke.

Tina Roth Eisenberg, CEO of CreativeMornings, Tattly, and Creative Guild, looks to hire people who bring their authentic selves to work. How does she find these team members? “When you apply for a job with us, we always ask to include a joke,” says Roth Eisenberg. The joke is the most telling part of the job application. Do people skip it? Drop inappropriate one-liners? Or do they land a stellar punchline demonstrating just the right amount of situational awareness, timing, and tact that will probably make them a great colleague?

6. Educate your clients as well as your team.

In the ever-changing world of work, employee education is important. But training doesn’t stop there. You are your client’s first touchpoint to understanding what is a reasonable request and what is just untenable. Keep your clients up to date on the shifts in your world of work or you’ll be managing a growing disconnect between how you work and what your clients think is going on behind-the-scenes. Pull back the curtain and don’t just explain your deliverables, explain the process that’s going into them.

7. Look for unlikely people creating unlikely value in unlikely places.

Corporate hierarchies don’t tend to surface the secret valuable players who punch above their weight with soft power skills. These are the employees who generate momentum and energy far beyond their scope of work. They’re great at getting to the root of an issue, creating informal connections, and encouraging collaboration. What’s not to love? But, according to the book Talent Wins, their power is being overlooked and underutilized in just about every organization. They’re out there. Go find them. 

Lisa Doberman, the leader of the design firm Doberman, leading a brainstorming session. Photograph by Emil Nordin.

Lisa Doberman, the leader of the design firm Doberman. Photograph by Emil Nordin.

8. Manage by trust.

Lisa Doberman, co-founder of design firm Doberman, invites all of her employees to join management committee meetings and make decisions that impact the future of the company. Doberman sees rich results from the participatory-steering mechanism. “What I get in return is people’s engagement,” she says. “I get their passion. I get lots of ideas. I get their sense of responsibility.”

9. Don’t respond to customer needs, anticipate them.

“The days of just showing data are over; it’s too static,” says Mailchimp VP of Design, Gene Lee. The new goal for leaders, according to Lee, is to combine the tools of AI and data to anticipate what a user needs before they know it themselves.

10. Get the buzzer away from the big talkers.

Todd Yellin noticed that his meetings at Netflix were being dominated by a few bombastic folks, waiting with their hand over the proverbial buzzer for others to finish speaking so they could go next. Yellin, VP of Product, set about rebalancing the power of meetings away from ‘me-first’ talkers. The team experimented first with hand raising, and then went deeper, circulating shared documents before a meeting so introverts could add their comments in writing ahead of time

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design Ethics

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design Ethics

It’s hard to imagine a time when creatives had more tools and resources at their fingertips. Today, a website can be built in days, an audio file edited in minutes, an image socialized in seconds. But just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should. That’s the basis of design ethics, a subject that is becoming even more important at a time when technology continues to rapidly open new avenues for creatives.

99U recently sat down with Courtney George, Adobe’s Experience Design Manager, and Phil Clevenger, Adobe’s Senior Director of Experience Design, to learn more about the process of addressing design ethics and how maintaining design standards makes designers good societal stewards.

When we talk about design ethics, what exactly are we talking about?

CG: It’s really about the means that we use to achieve an end that we deem to be good. It needs to be something that is complementary to our own values, or our company values if we’re working at a company. It’s not like legal, which is a lot more black and white: You do something and it is legal, or you do something and it is illegal. Ethics is inherently more gray and flexible.

When we think about design ethics, especially in tech, it’s about slowing down and being more conscientious and intentional about what we are creating and what we’re putting out into the world. It’s thinking about what the impact might be on the people that we’re serving, people that our customers are serving, their well-being, their relationships, society in general, and the environment. It’s never-ending, and in some ways that can be overwhelming, but it’s also extremely important in this day and age.

Why is this such a big focus for companies right now?

PC: These conversations have been around for a very long time, but what makes them immediately relevant are these three issues: scale, velocity, and access. Right now we have the ability for people to push a button and create whatever they want in an instant at virtually no cost, whatever their intention may be, whether they’re selling tacos or they’re introducing viruses, or they’re engaging in political speech. Our actions are immediately impactful at a huge scale, at zero cost, and they’re potentially very, very hard to roll back.

Where do design ethics come into play? Is there a recent example that comes to mind?

PC: A perfect example is a project that Adobe unveiled at the 2016 Adobe MAX conference. It was a technology that enables users to quickly edit recorded speech using only a text editor and, given a large enough sample of the subject’s speech, create strings of speech that hadn’t previously existed.

Do we even own our own voice?

While the narrative that we presented at MAX was entertaining, it became clear that the technology could be used by bad actors. You could imagine the ramifications of something like that especially in the current political climate. There was a considerable amount of blowback, and rightfully so, from the audience and from the community at large.

So Adobe has taken several steps back to examine it. We’ve been looking very closely at important questions: the cases we want to serve, the guardrails we want to put in, the high bars we want to set. What are rights issues around it? Do we even own our own voice? Do we have a remedy available if someone misuses our voice or our speech to harm people? And what if new solutions introduce new problems?

We’ve seen plenty of instances where even products created with the best intentions get used in ways we never imagined. When that happens, do we, as creators, ever have the ability to ever return it to what we thought it was, or is it a lost cause?

CG: You could have the best intentions and do everything right and there are still going to be unintended consequences. They’re  “unintended” for a reason. What is important is to be able to course correct, take accountability, and be mindful of the impact that it has had on people or on society. I think we do a decent job of that in the tech industry. It’s not like what you put out there is final and you never have to touch it again.

We must be respectful of our users’ time, intentions, privacy, and intelligence.

We’re good at iterating and optimizing, and I think that this is an important step, to constantly examine what’s out in the market, examine what you put out there, and keep your eye out for those consequences, so you can course correct in a timely manner.

Adobe Design is putting a lot of effort into getting the whole organization to abide by certain design ethics. What are some of the main principles?

PC: Well, this is a work in progress, but one solid principle is that we should recognize bias, knowing that bias is inherently neither good nor bad, and that bias is omnipresent. Where there are people, there is bias. The trick is to recognize the bias, understand its impact on your efforts, and to mitigate it as needed.

Another example is that we must be respectful of our users’ time, intentions, privacy, and intelligence. This is obvious enough that it shouldn’t have to be said, but important enough that it should be hanging from each of our desktops all the time. We want to make sure that we’re building tools and setting examples for our customers that ensure that we’re enabling them to be respectful of their end users across all those dimensions. If you’re popping up advertisements that get between your users’ intentions and their results, then you’re not being respectful of their time.

What are the questions that designers should be asking themselves?

PG: We are starting by asking designers to be mindful of what they’re doing, and to take stock of what they’re being asked to do. As seen through the principles we just mentioned, are you being asked to design something that perpetuates a negative bias? Are you being asked to do something that’s not respectful of your users’ time and intentions?

We’re here to try to make the world a better place for the people who consume the products we design.

Remember, we are user experience designers. We’re here to try to make the world a better place for the people who consume the products we design. And where those things aren’t happening or where your company’s values are in conflict with your own personal values  – you have to be mindful of all these dynamics. Take some time to articulate an opinion and make that opinion count. Have uncomfortable conversations, if you have to, with the people that you’re working with and the people that you’re working around. If you have to hand the work off, and if you’re uncomfortable with where it’s going, create an artifact to represent your opinion that can travel with the work. Stand up and have a voice.

It’s often said that good ethics is good business. Do you think companies will make this a bigger focus going forward, whether through setting up ethics departments, ethics programs, or something else?

CG: Yeah, I think we’re already seeing that happen, especially in the tech industry. You’re seeing it with Salesforce, which recently hired an ethics officer. You’re seeing it at many large companies, and Adobe is definitely one of them.

Regardless of what our respective companies are doing about this, we are challenging the design community overall to be thought leaders here: make sure you and your teams are stopping and asking these questions, and sharing the findings clearly at every step. Help your teams, your stakeholders, and your employers all develop best practices and principles in any way you can. It’s a huge challenge, and design can surely lead the way.

Interview edited for clarity and length.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Design Debate: Should You Work In-House or Freelance?

Design Debate: Should You Work In-House or Freelance?

In our newest design debate, Gordon Reid, Melissa Deckert, and Mike Kruzeniski weigh in on the pros and cons of designing in-house versus as a freelancer. Ready, set, debate.

“Being my own boss, if I want to do something, I can make it happen.”

Gordon Reid, Art Director and Founder, Middle Boop

I love being my own boss at the studio I run, Middle Boop. I still have bosses, but they are clients. What I don’t have is that extra level of massive red tape that you get if you’re working in an agency or in-house.

As my own boss, whether an idea manifests into something or stays in the back of my head is all up to me. Coming from a long advertising background, one of my main frustrations was that I wasn’t being allowed enough creative input into ideas. At Middle Boop, it is just me and the clients. We’ll come up with a strategy ourselves, and we’ll collaborate. I always feel like I’ve made a difference to a client’s business at the end of a project. When you’re not your own boss, there are many layers of people to try to convince before anything takes off. Great ideas get lost. Probably 70 to 80 percent of the work I’ve done at agencies never saw the light of day.

At the end of the day, freelancing is worth the hassle, struggles, and worries because I get to properly put my own stamp on my work.

While working in an agency context, I would often look at the work and think, No one is going to know that I had any involvement. Except for maybe me pointing to a bus poster while I’m with a friend saying, “Oh, I did some of that.” At the end of the day, freelancing is worth the hassle, struggles, and worries because I get to properly put my own stamp on my work.

This summer, I took two months off to do a self-initiated projected called Weird World Cup. My intern Callum and I commissioned 20 illustrators and designers to create beer mats based around the artists’ favorite weird or humorous moment from a World Cup—then all the money went to charity and we got global press. You can’t do this kind of thing when you’re in a full-time job.

I occasionally take time to freelance as a consultant in agencies or in-house. Right now, I’m in-house at a large tech company, and it’s definitely a breath of fresh air. There are many perks—free food, free gym. The other day, my partner asked me, if the company offered me a full-time job, whether I would take it. I said no. The lifestyle of running your own business is just too good. I couldn’t work for someone else’s vision for a long time. I would get bored and feel like my time was being wasted.

“In-house experience was essential for starting my own studio.”

Melissa Deckert, Designer and Co-Founder, Party of One

I started working at Etsy almost right out of college. During my time there, the company grew considerably. As the brand grew so did our team—my experience scaled from small internal projects to large international campaigns. I became comfortable pitching and presenting work in front of a lot of people. I was able to travel extensively, not necessarily something I would have been able to do at that age. Working in-house was an important part of my growth as a designer and a huge learning experience. Ironically, it fueled my confidence in starting my own studio.

After some time at Etsy, it seemed the only way to grow at the company was by taking on a role in management, which I wasn’t interested in. I wanted to expand my practical skills, as well as experiment with my own style, which was at odds with in-house work.

When you’re working independently, your livelihood is deeply tied to what you produce, which places a heavier association between your work and your self worth.

Eventually, I decided to go freelance, which opened up a whole new world of adjustments. When you’re working independently, your livelihood is deeply tied to what you produce, which places a heavier association between your work and your self worth. There is also the constant fear of never getting another job. At the start of my freelance career, I worked from home which lent me certain freedoms, but ultimately felt isolating and devoid of community. I quickly realized that I thrived from having other people to bounce ideas off and craved creative kinship.

I began collaborating with my friend Nicole Licht, who had hired me at Etsy. She started freelancing around the same time as me, and, while I was leaning towards traditional design with an interest in things like lettering, Nicole was leaning towards illustration and paper craft.

After two years of regular collaborations we decided to form Party of One. By combining our skills, we now have the opportunity to do many kinds of work with a wider variety of clients. Together, we also keep one another from spiraling into thoughts of “I’m never going to get work again” and “I don’t know how much to price for this.” It was valuable to work in a big team in-house—to garner skills and learn what we liked—but, on our own, it is hugely satisfying to have our name behind what we create.

“To do really big, ambitious work takes time and direct connection with a company.”

Mike Kruzeniski, Design & Research lead, Twitter

The entirety of my career has been in-house, except for a short time freelancing. From that brief experience, I found I got to work on a lot of projects, but it never felt like I could get into them in a deep way. I was attracted to the idea of getting very close to products and the companies that make them.

For a handful of years, I was a Principal Design Lead at Microsoft. Since 2012, I’ve been at Twitter, growing with the company over the last six and a half years. To do big, ambitious work takes time. By being in-house, you can get all the foundational information of what a company is trying to achieve and build on that in a multi-year way. You’re directly connected to the people that are building the products with you. If there is something I need to achieve, I can talk directly to our data scientists or to the marketing or engineering teams. I can work with them on projects over long periods of time. This is more difficult to do as a consultant.

You learn leadership and communication skills, organizational management—skills that you might not learn if you’re only working with other designers.

In-house, you learn skills from other people in other departments, too. A lot of time over your career, the things that you learn aren’t always just specific to your discipline. You learn leadership and communication skills, organizational management—skills that you might not learn if you’re only working with other designers. You can learn a broader set of skills by working with a more diverse group of people and disciplines.

One of the myths around in-house work is that there is no variety. In reality though, variety appears in different ways. Quite literally while at Microsoft, I would go from product to product. At Twitter, we also have a range of different products that people work on. We’ll have designers that will spend time on one of those, and then jump to another. Within the product itself, we put so much intense focus into all the different features that people will can move from designing video experiences, to conversations, to profiles, and those will feel like very different projects. Then of course we have products like Periscope and our advertiser products. So there are a lot of different areas to put your energy into.

As well as the product variety, there is also a variety in terms of roles. People will try on different types of roles during an in-house career. We’ve had designers pick up project management skills and then even gravitate over to the product management team. Similarly, we’ve had engineers that join the design team. There is not just a skills exchange, but also a sense of career fluidity. At Twitter, a designer might also help the company design a long-term strategy in a way that’s not typically considered design work—there’s no mock-ups for example. There is a role shift that can happen here, which is very interesting for a long-term career.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

How Do You Know When It’s Done?

How Do You Know When It’s Done?

To an outsider, they appeared done. The goal was to produce monotypes of people wading in water, and here they were: black, white, and lonely, as intended.

But to Clara Lieu, the artist who made them, they were incomplete. “This is a strange thing to say, but I felt like I didn’t think about them enough,” she says. “I want my pieces to go through a cycle of thought and consideration, and with this, it was almost like the work got made faster than I was ready for it to get made.” Her feelings speak to an age-old dilemma artists and creatives face: the ability to determine when a piece of work is truly done.

Sometimes, the decision is driven by external factors: a deadline, the evaporation of funds, the death of the artist. Artist Alice Neel decided her 1965 portrait of a soldier headed to Vietnam was finished when the subject didn’t come back for a second sitting.

It comes down to a feeling: Either it’s done or it’s not.

But in the absence of external circumstance, the decision to put down the brush (or pen or chisel) has everything to do with the mind-set of the artist. When Rembrandt was asked why so many of his works look unfinished, he famously replied, “A work of art is complete when in it the artist has realized his intention.”

It comes down to a feeling: Either it’s done or it’s not. Lieu, who teaches as an adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, says it’s a sense that develops as you mature as an artist. She often advises her students to overwork at least one piece, just so they can better develop their personal litmus test. “I tell them, ‘You have to do one drawing that you just murder – that you just destroy and totally overwork.’ Once you’ve gone too far, it becomes easier to say to yourself, ‘Okay, that was overboard.’”

Sometimes, the decision that a piece is finished comes from a fear of ruining it.

For many creatives, knowing when a piece is done is almost never dictated by a feeling of overwhelming joy or gratification. New York City–based animator Yuri Fain says it feels more like the completion of a household chore. “I never step back and go, ‘Yuri, oh my gosh; that’s amazing!’ Until it’s done, I’m annoyed. And when it’s done, I’m, like, slightly less annoyed,” he says with a laugh.

Sometimes, the decision that a piece is finished comes from a fear of ruining it. Other times, the decision to end a work comes from just being sick of it. Artists and creatives often speak about how they start off being excited about a project and then lose interest or start to hate the idea along the way. “I’ve done so many things where I’m into the idea and it’s going to be so cool. Then the minutes and hours go by, and I feel more frustrated with it than when I started,” says Fain.

While emotion is a huge part of the process, there are also practical steps an artist can take in determining whether or not a piece is finished. Artist Nicholas Wilton, who runs creativity workshops and online courses through his company Art2Life, will sometimes snap a picture of a painting and save it on his computer to see what it looks like in thumbnail form. Doing this helps him get a bird’s-eye view of the piece, which helps him decide whether it’s complete. “There’s the close-up view and the 30,000-foot view. To make something really strong, I believe both of those views have to be satisfying and really powerful,” he says.

Mike Perry has one of the most fluid views of his work, sometimes adding new details or entirely painting over pieces he first painted years ago.

Other strategies are more obvious. Many artists find value in committing to a deadline, the way they would for any paid work. Many also find value in putting the work away for a period of time. Whether it’s two days, two weeks, or two months, an artist is bound to come back to it with fresh eyes. There’s no right or wrong answer; visual artist and designer Mike Perry has one of the most fluid views of his work, sometimes adding new details or entirely painting over pieces he first painted years ago.

External feedback may also be valuable. After Lieu created her unsatisfying monotypes of people wading in water, her husband happened to see the plexiglass plates she had used to print them and mentioned he liked them more than he liked the art itself. “As an artist, you don’t want to hear that the plates look better than the finished product,” she laughs. “But then I thought about it and realized he was onto something.” The plates, which had been sanded down and thus had a frosted, translucent quality, inspired Lieu to sand sheets of plastic and draw on them. Those became her finished product.

As an artist, the risk you take by giving others too much power over your work is that you end up with something that doesn’t feel like it’s your own.

Of course, outside feedback has its limits. As an artist, the risk you take by giving others too much power over your work is that you end up with something that doesn’t feel like it’s your own. Wilton says it’s ultimately about fulfilling your own vision. “I’m a human being and I like people to favor my work, but it is not at all the driving force. The driving force is what is a ‘yes’ for you.”

There’s beauty in the mystery of that choice. Two years ago, the Met Breuer museum in New York City hosted an exhibition called “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.” It contained nearly 200 artworks spanning 600 years, all of which were left incomplete for a variety of reasons. One of the gems was Jan van Eyck’s “Saint Barbara,” a 1437 metalpoint drawing that appears to have been intended as an altarpiece painting. The sketch is intricate, but the painting itself is half complete. In its review of the exhibition, The New York Times highlighted the piece, asking, “Is that what it was meant to be, an ultravirtuosic preparatory drawing waiting for paint to be added? Or was it conceived to be from the start what it is now — self-sufficient, done?”

Van Eyck signed and dated the piece. And maybe that’s enough.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Build Solidarity, Tackle Exclusion, and Redefine Success: 10 Ways to Use Design for Good

Build Solidarity, Tackle Exclusion, and Redefine Success: 10 Ways to Use Design for Good

We looked around saw how design had a tremendous positive impact on society this year. From crafting new products aimed at accessibility to bolstering democracy, here are 10 inspiring ways creatives applied their craft to making the world a better place.

1. Don’t expect a user to be satisfied with the status quo.

ELIA is a free font that low vision and blind users can learn in—purportedly—an afternoon. It’s just one of a constellation of products, like text-to-speech technology, aimed to bring more assistive technology than the single option of Braille to the U.S.’s eight million blind people. “We are focused on helping people achieve greater independence and literacy,” says founder Andrew Chepaitis. “It’s been really challenging. But I’ve had faith that this initiative is the most worthwhile I could spend each day.”

Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful. Image courtesy of Fetell Lee.

Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful. Image courtesy of Fetell Lee.

2. Fill overlooked spaces with joy.

IDEO’s Ingrid Fetell Lee believes the aesthetics of our surroundings—like bright, happy colors—are a powerful tool to enliven a community. She’s developed a syllabus of joyful design that she hopes will be a resource that brings aesthetic delight to overlooked spaces like nursing homes, public housing, and schools in underserved neighborhoods. “I’d like to see the places that house the people who are most vulnerable designed with as much aesthetic sensitivity as the places that house the people who have tons of resources,” says Lee.

3. Volunteer to redesign your government.

The Center for Civic Design brings the elegant solutions of design to the complex needs of voting. Simple gestures like directions that say ‘turn ballot over’ or text that works for assistive apps can have a profound impact on our democracy. “The potential role of design in government is to change how government works,” says Civic Design’s co-founder Dana Chisnell. She suggests designers bring their much needed skills to the table. Get started by volunteering as a poll worker in your next local election to see the kinds of challenges and questions voters have.

Carmen Herrera photographed in her New York studio. Image courtesy of Herrera.

Carmen Herrera in her New York studio. Image courtesy of Herrera.

4. Prioritize long-term fulfillment.

The world whispers ‘money’. Your clients demand your creativity and hard work. But you, and only you, are the one who makes room for fulfillment. That means developing muscles around taking a step back and applying a healthy dash of perspective. According to lifelong designers who have been around the block a few times, one secret to a fulfilling career is seeing the big picture—thinking in systems, not pixels; in decades, not deliverables. Or, as abstract artist Carmen Herrera, who got her first Whitney Museum retrospective at age 101, says: “Patience, darling, patience.”

Image of the iconic Rainbow Flag. Photo by Ink Drop.

The iconic Rainbow Flag. Photo by Ink Drop.

5. Make a banner for people to gather around.

The history of identity-driven banners got a colorful new chapter when Gilbert Baker developed his iconic Rainbow Flag, which celebrates LGTBQ culture. Baker “created a symbol of hope and inclusion for an oppressed minority at a time when their efforts at liberation were new,” recalls Baker’s estate overseer, Charley Beal. Create community and impact with symbols that help people trumpet their identity and their solidarity.

6. If you’re in the room where it happens, influence what happens for good.

Naresh Ramchandani and the Pentagram team at Do the Green Thing believe creatives can have a powerful positive influence on their corporate clients. Use the access of being in the room to expand a corporation’s idea of what success means. “Too often, commercial creativity is self-serving for a corporation and their P&L,” says Ramchandani. “Put something good into the world.”

Designer Marie van Driessche presenting on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.

Designer Marie van Driessche presenting on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.

7. Provide choice.

Not everyone thinks or functions like the person designing a product. People take in information in all sorts of different ways—whether due to preference or ability. One choice can’t suit everyone’s needs. To design for all, inclusive designer Marie van Driessche advises colleagues to make sure their products include multiple options for how to engage.

8. To tackle exclusion, find a place outside your comfort zone.

Automattic Head of Inclusion, John Maeda, went all the way to Appalachia to break out of the comfortable grooves of his usual mindset. The goal? Find how people were being excluded from Automattic’s product, and then design for them. “How do we find exclusion?” Maeda asks. “It’s by being in environments unlike the ones we’re used to.”  

9. Create space for joy at home in order to bring joy to work.

Your company’s culture, not just its work, should reflect its mission. Jason Mayden, founder of healthy play startup Super Heroic, makes sure that the spirit of prioritizing imaginative play for children extends beyond the office doors. “We have an open, healthy dialogue that’s focused on promoting work/life balance,” says Mayden. “We have to play with and enjoy our families in order to embed joy in the work that we do. It’s imperative that we live what we speak.”

Indhira Rojas is the founder of Anxy, a magazine about creatives' inner worlds. Image courtesy of Rojas.

Indhira Rojas is the founder of Anxy, a magazine about creatives’ inner worlds. Image courtesy of Rojas.

10. Remember, you’re human.

There are times where you’ve hit the sweet spot. The world is onboard with your passion. The planet is throwing opportunity your way. Care for yourself as thoughtfully during the boom seasons as the low times. Don’t let opportunity get the better of your health. “When you want to create impact, it feels like the sacrifice and the hard hours are all worthwhile,” says Anxy founder Indhira Rojas. “And then you faint in the subway and you remember that you’re human.”

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What Digital Creative Agencies Can Expect in 2019

What Digital Creative Agencies Can Expect in 2019

Digital creative agencies are traditionally known for being disruptors. But they’re the ones now being disrupted.

Today, agencies are striving to succeed in a highly-complex, tech-driven ecosystem comprised of consultancies, product design studios, venture labs, and in-house teams, according to the findings of the latest annual SoDA Digital Outlook Report released by the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA). In this increasingly challenging environment, the report suggests that companies and business leaders embrace collaboration, agility, transparency, speed, and a deep commitment to customer experience.

All of that is easier said than done, of course. “Clients are expecting end-to-end solutions, the agencies are fighting the consultancies, and everybody seems to be racing towards the middle,” says Wesley ter Haar, SoDA board member and founder and COO at global creative agency MediaMonks (left in the above photo). “That’s a difficult spot for a lot of people.”

In the interview below, ter Haar shares his views on the state of the industry and where it’s headed.

The SoDA Digital Outlook Report for 2018/2019 is out. Do you feel like it is an accurate reflection of the state of the industry?

Yes, it feels like everybody is racing to the same spot, so it’s getting as compressed and condensed as I think it’s ever been. I think we are seeing that reflected in some of the SoDA numbers, but also in the general turmoil in the network part of our industry. There are a lot of new lines of competition, because of everything that has been blurring over the last few years.

What is happening in the industry that is making 61 percent of agency leaders re-evaluate their business model? Is this healthy?

It is healthy in the sense that your hand is being forced because so much has changed in terms of how clients expect their businesses to be serviced. While it’s not helping people sleep well at night, I do think it is healthy. It’s no longer just about the work we do, but also how our clients expect us to execute that work.

The report says 30 percent of digital agencies are working with voice, AI, and physical experiences. Is this a stretch for shops who built their reputations on websites and apps?

There is definitely growth there. You just need to be hyper-aware this is that decision-making point where you have to decide if you are going to go after something. If so, is that actually going to be a long-term, scalable, commercial opportunity?

Right now innovation is a shiny thing. It’s more about the perception of innovation and getting PR around something rather than it being genuinely innovative.

The Googles, Facebooks, and Amazons of the world are going to solve a lot of the heavy lifting, and we will be working with APIs like we have always done. Anything impacting at scale will not need custom solutions in time.

Why do 70 percent of client-side marketers list “brand differentiation through innovation” as the single most important strategic factor driving success for their business?

Right now innovation is a shiny thing. It’s more about the perception of innovation and getting PR around something rather than it being genuinely innovative. For example, I don’t think it necessarily means that you did a cool AR project, or that you have a chatbot. Real innovation is more about working out the opportunity that these new platforms have and then matching it against our products, services, and business.

“How big can you get before you become bad at what you do?”

Real innovation lies in learning how to start matching your products and services to evolve with user behavior. You have to be aware that, although innovation work doesn’t always return an instant ROI, the most important thing is what you learn from it.

Marketing automation was listed as the top emerging technology for 2019. How are creative-led agencies involved in this?

I think it’s an opportunity more than a risk. Marketing automation used to be stuck with the IT integration side of the business. There was a lot of heavy lifting and, in some cases, it was seen as too far a reach for creative shops. Today, with some of the APIs, a creatively-oriented company can add in what they are great at, which is understanding user behavior and adding a level of empathy to what is possible from an engineering perspective. They can leverage the platforms for more of a user story that actually resonates at a much higher level than the integration partners were able to do.

The sweet spot is the mix between the practicality of being a smaller, digital-first indie shop and knowing how best to use the data.

Marketing automation should be an underlying data set with an ability to target that makes the user experience better. So much marketing automation goes with the lowest common denominator and doesn’t add any actual value. It’s either creepy or underwhelming.

As an industry that differentiates on creativity, why is there this shift towards “strategy, data, and technology” which has traditionally been the backbone of consultants who have entered our market?

There will always be shops that focus on that and there is an interesting conversation around whether you need to be literate when it comes to strategy and data, or a specialist. I do think a lot of the SoDA agencies needed to extend into some of these things so they could have a recognizable conversation with clients. It’s not just the things we do, but also about making those things something people will buy, which means it needs to meet these industry expectations. The sweet spot is the mix between the practicality of being a smaller, digital-first indie shop and knowing how best to use the data.

Your company, MediaMonks, has announced it is combining production with content, data, and media. What is behind this big shift, and are you worried that this is going to change the culture of the company?  

As an industry, there has been so much focus on making everything quicker and cheaper. We are aware of that and trying to get past those issues. More and more it is about the effectiveness of the work and showing that we impacted the bottom line. To do that well, we think there needs to be an extension into media and data because it closes the loop. We can create the work, we can place it, we can measure it. It gives us more ownership. When we get learnings about the impact of a piece of work, we can bring that back into our next projects.

The second part is that our business is talent-driven, and it is always going to be about people doing good work. There is the recurring question we ask ourselves: “How big can you get before you become bad at what you do?” I think adding that element of measurement is going to be interesting for our current and future talent.

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