Leaving the corporate design world behind
It’s not you, It’s me.
One of my favorite things about being a designer is the opportunity to be in a creative gang of people working toward a common goal, like a product launch or a printed piece of communication. I’ve freelanced in my home studio a lot this year, and I’ll admit that having to answer to nobody but your dog is pretty sweet. (So is being able to blast Spotify, wear sweatpants all day and åeat multiple snacks without being judged.) But when you’re playing with others who challenge you to do your best work, like the team at Lumenary, it’s a reminder why you chose this profession in the first place — to change the world through design and grow personally and professionally every day.
Certain aspects of working at a digital consultancy are similar to the editorial world. You collaborate with designers, writers, coders and project managers. There are status meetings, deep-dives, intense design sessions, and lots and lots of coffee. Some things are very different.
InDesign will become a long lost friend, replaced by Keynote (way less sophisticated, but plays well with others). Sketch, Adobe XD, InVision, and Zeplin are a few of the applications you’ll need to master, and since they are still in their infancy, now is the time. Slack, Google Docs, and Dropbox are not something you’ll just use occasionally, but an integral part of your everyday life.
Budgets are different, which is difficult when you are used to hiring photographers, stylists and illustrators to help tell a story and flush out the design. With digital products, at least in their early stages, you’ll most likely produce many of the visual assets yourself and learn to be resourceful in finding ways to make a killer design without resorting to cheesy stock photos or substandard graphics. (Isn’t that why you went to design school in the first place?). The designers at Lumenary have blown me away with their talents, making me realize how spoiled I have been and that good design can be done on any budget. To me, having excellent typography skills is 90% of the battle in UI design, and it’s getting easier every day to find great existing images that feel more like original photography. If you’re stuck using a client’s images that are just, meh, put your Photoshop skills to work.
Also, in the real world there is this whole other species called “clients”. This is by far the biggest adjustment I am struggling with, because in magazines you really only need to make your editor happy. This gives a designer of freedom to do things for the simple reason that “this is how I want to tell the story and I want it to look this way.” Clients have invested a lot of time and money (and a lot of other people’s money) into a product or business idea. It is their baby — they are hiring you to be a trusted partner in designing, building, testing and launching it. Sometimes they need you to help tell their story in an investor pitch deck, and because you are dealing with start-ups or small growing companies, getting it right is crucial. Not to mention all the UX best practices that come into play which are way more important than what can be perceived as ego-driven design decisions. Clients (as opposed to advertisers) pay the bills, which in turn pays your salary. It feels like the stakes are higher, which is both an honor and a burden. Thankfully, Lumenary has a expertise and a history of success at all of these things, making the transition to this world much easier for me.
One last thing. I thought the pace in editorial was crazy but in this world things move even faster. When producing a magazine you really feel the start of the race each month — the build up, the fatigue and the joy when it’s finally printed — kind of like a marathon. At a digital company it feels more like a relay race. Wireframes, prototypes, and hi-fidelity designs are handed back and forth between designers, engineers and developers until they’re ready to be shown to the client. Then you go back and do it again, and again, and again. Both worlds require intense collaboration, but digital products are iterative, (which is a euphemism for “never-ending”). I’m joking — kind of.
One of the hardest challenges I face is learning to embrace this lack of control and to get satisfaction from the process, not just the end result. Because the actual perfect product can be months, sometimes years away. Digital products usually roll out in stages and while they may not be perfect, they must achieve their goal until the next version launches. This is hard for perfectionists like me, but I’m working on it.
In Part Three, I’ll explain how working with Lumenary has made me realize that, even as a hardcore print lover, user-focused interactive products are way more fun and rewarding than I thought.
Fleeing the Coop was originally published in The Spark on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.