Sunday, March 25, 2007

Designers beware: Travels.

I come from what is called a “third world country”, from a middle class family always struggling to make ends meet and I used to think that my world was so small…

And then I decided I wanted to become a designer, a non-profitable profession in the eyes not only of my parents, but of many people. During my years in college I saw how design had changed history, how it impacted our culture and our reality. Still, I couldn’t fit in my head the idea of being able to see more, to expand my own space. It seemed like something unreachable.

It was when I started working for a multinational company that my world slowly began to grow, my vision expanded and I wanted to see more. I was being exposed to people from every corner of the Earth. I became ever more curious and I suddenly realized that I had been limiting myself for all those years, always thinking that money or background were an issue.

The company started sending me on trips to Perú, Mexico and the US and I jumped at the opportunity to stay a few days longer on each trip, to experience the culture and see the art and history of the places I visited.

My world was becoming larger and larger…

In one of my trips to Perú I visited Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It was amazing. As a designer I was very interested in seeing the architecture, art, the aesthetics, the formal solutions.

Did you know that the Incas built their houses without any substance holding the bricks (if you can call them that) together? The “bricks” were designed to fit together… mere geometrics and mathematical calculations, and guess what, those walls are still standing today, hundreds of years after they were built.

Plus, the energy of the place, the history, the culture, it will wash all over you. If you can, go. It’s rather cheap and it’ll be a wonderful experience.

I also visited Mexico which I found so interesting. Mexicans have such a rich and ancient culture. It was incredible to see the Aztec ruins visible through the modern buildings. To understand how this culture has mixed their native influences with the modern currents to create something unique.

I was particularly amazed to see the works of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and many other Mexican artists that paved the way to today’s Latin American art. You can see their influence in many art manifestations like architecture and fashion.

Last year I was fortunate enough to go to New York. I mean, it doesn’t get any more global than that, right? Visiting places like the Met and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, all the different cultures of the world gathered in one place. All their aesthetic solutions to the same problems, their vision of the world, of their past and their future.

By now you must be wondering where I’m going with all this…

Well, here are some points I think young designers need to ponder:

1. If you think money is an issue, it’s not. I got loans, I saved, I found a way. Now I don’t see any destination as impossible.

2. Wherever you are, there’s still so much for you to see. Whatever you’ve been told, or you’ve believed, there’s a whole big giganting world out there for you to experience. Go seek knowledge!

3. Creativity is like a well… in order to draw from it, you need to fill it first. Find things that move you, that touch all your senses, experience, feed your own visual culture, taste new flavors, listen to new languages, live like other people do. It’s only going to make your work that much better and your life much more fulfilled.

You’re young, do it now. Don’t wait any longer, today is your chance! Such beauty waiting for you to discover it! And if you’re not so young, it’s never too late. I’ve now made it a priority to travel at least once a year. I’ve visited Ecuador, Perú, Brazil, Mexico and several cities in the US. What’s next? Who knows? Europe, the Far East… I haven’t decided what my destination will be this year, but I’m sure it’s going to blow my mind!

All the best!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Designers beware: Setting clear goals and expectations.

Lately I’ve found myself having differences of opinion with people about my ideas on how to lead a design team. I want to present a situation to the community and get some feedback on whether or not I am completely off my rocker.

Let’s say you own a small design studio or you lead an in-house team. Let’s say you hire a new designer. A young bright designer. Let’s say that this new designer is assigned a group of tasks that involve learning a new software or mastering a technology which he hasn’t been exposed to before. He’s expressed this openly to you during the selection process.

The standards or final goals are clear in your head. You know exactly what you expect from the designer.

The question is: How do you get this new designer from not knowing quite how to do the work to getting the job done as you want it?

Some might argue that if this designer is as bright as he seems, he should figure it all out on his own. Now, from my point of view, there are three things/issues he should figure out:

- One, how to work the software/new technology.
- Two, the standards the job needs to meet.
- Three, how much time he’s allowed to take to get to the expected level of performance.

Do you agree with me so far?

New set of questions: What would happen if you (the manager) fail to give information to this young designer on one of the three issues. In fact, what would happen if you refuse to provide information on all of them? What would be the odds of this designer meeting your criteria? Would you still expect him to?

Believe it or not, I’ve encountered such a situation recently.

So here’s what I think:

Issue one, yes, software and new technology usually come with manuals, and yes, there are forums on the web where a person can post his questions and get some guidance. Would this be enough?

Would it be reasonable to ask one of the designers on the team (one that knows how to work the technology) to help the young bright designer? Would it be reasonable for you to spend some time with the designer, explaining the basics of the technology? Would this help him reach the performance level quicker? I would say so, wouldn’t you?

Issue two, could the new designer guess what you expect? Let’s say he’s so brave, he went straight to you and asked about it and you ignored him because you thought explaining that would just take too much time. Would you still expect him to know how the job needs to be presented?

Again, would it be reasonable to enlist the help of another designer on the team or to perhaps spend some of your time explaining the standards that need to be met? Would this help the designer present the job according to the expectations? I would say so, wouldn’t you?

Issue three, would the designer be able to guess how long would be a reasonable time to reach the expected level of performance? Would anybody in this situation be? Would it help to inform him clearly when you expect to see results? Would it help him if you gave him a schedule of steps or small goals he needs to reach and their timeframe? I would say so, wouldn’t you?

So by now I’m guessing you’ve gotten my point. You cannot expect someone who’s new on a job to guess how things need to be done. Especially if this young bright designer is also fresh-out-of-college.

You need to give this person the tools, all the tools available, for him to learn as soon as possible. You need to inform the standards that the job has to meet and you need to be clear on deadlines, schedules and expectations. Period.

Let’s avoid the “quick-fix” mentality and let’s start building a real design team. Let’s spend time training our people so that they can be more productive now and in the long run and so that we can deliver better work.

If our schedule is so tight, let’s delegate! Other designers would be more than willing to guide the new guy! Don’t you agree? Wouldn’t you go as far as calling the attitude of the manager I’ve described as “negligent”?

I’d love to receive some comments and know what other people think. Are there people out there who can “guess” how a job needs to be done? Would they be successful if they put more “effort” into it? Am I missing something here?

All the best!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Designers beware: Being the interviewer.

As a design manager you’re sometimes faced with the task of interviewing new designers for your organization; this can make some designers a bit nervous. Here are a few tips to be effective when interviewing other creative professionals.

Before the interview

Define the position: Before you even make the process public, you need to be clear on the responsibilities of the position. Ask yourself questions like:

- What will this person do?
- If a followed him around all day, what would I catch this person doing or saying?
- Who do you want this person to be like, on the team and why?
- Who do you want this person not to be like, on the team and why?
- What are the deliverables of the position?
- What are the behaviors the new person has to exhibit to be successful in this position?

Reply to candidates: If you can manage it, take a few seconds to let each candidate know you received their information. I do. I receive most resumes by email, so I reply immediately. I have a template response email, so I just change the name of the person. If you can’t manage it, you can do it in bulk, when you have some resumes stacked up. Not many people do this and I think it speaks well of you and your company.

Review each resume in advance: Decide the key points you’re looking for beforehand, so that you can pick those up quickly. Circle a couple of accomplishments or projects in the portfolio that catch your eye, so that you can ask the candidate about them during the interview.

Device a tracking table: Unless you’re in a big company where HR is directing the search, I’d recommend creating an Excel tracking chart for your candidates. Especially is there’s a lot of them. I don’t enter every single candidate in it, but I do keep track of those candidates that I will be interviewing based on their resume and portfolio. I include relevant information, like age, academic degree, email, date of the interview. I also color code them and leave a field open to write my impression of the interview.

During the interview

General interview tips:
- Don’t read the resume in front of the candidate.
- Ask about parts of the resume, not all of it.
- Have the questions written down.
- I like to ask them to tell me briefly about their portfolio. I actually picked this from another designer I was doing a selection process with.

Ask the right questions: As I pointed out in an earlier post, I like to ask questions that will help me to decide if the person is a good match for the position and for my team. Here are some sample questions I ask:
- How did you hear about us?
- Why did you become a designer?
- What did you expect to achieve as a designer then?
- What do you expect to achieve as a designer now?
- In what type of atmosphere/environment do
you feel most comfortable working in and do you do best working in groups or by yourself?
- What are your skills?
- What are your flaws?
- What’s your creative process?
- How does your expertise relate to our company?
- How do you think you’ll help us increase sales?
- What are your salary expectations?

You can also ask about the couple of accomplishments you circled in their resume.
Ask about a time when they did x. How did they do it and what were the results? This may be extracted from a situation that happened to you recently so that you can compare the two instances.

Evaluate the answers in a structured way: According to Manager Tools, here’s a good way of structuring your perceptions: Divide them in four categories, interpersonal, cultural, skills and technical, and for each of them write down the behaviors that led you to draw your conclusion.

Evaluate body language: I'd covered this before, but my friend Fernando Pacheco from reminded me that it was important to cover this here again and I agree! I look for confidence, candidness, energy and professionalism. Signs of excessive nervousness, clues on lack of confidence or inappropriate/unprofessional behavior also show through.

After the interview

Decide, right then and there: I like to make quick decisions. In this case it’s either yes, no or maybe. Decide immediately after the interview and record it in the Excel table. Avoid deciding on “maybe” too much, otherwise you’ll be stuck having to decide yes or no, later.

Inform the outcome: Again, take the time to inform the outcome of the selection process to each candidate. It can be a personalized email or a phone call if the candidate made it to the final steps.

I look forward to receiving some comments or additional tips!

All the best!