Sunday, June 24, 2007

No post this weekend.

Hello, Everybody! I regret to inform you that other priorities got in the way of my writing this weekend. It seems that I've gotten busier and busier. I am trying my best to keep my blog up.
See you around.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Positive feedback

As most people, I was never very good at recognizing people’s efforts or saying a kind word whenever they showed some progress. In time I realized I had to leave my comfort zone in order to obtain better results.

I think that most people have trouble giving positive feedback. I know I do. However when you’re leading a team of people, be it a design team, your family or people working with you in any other endeavor, you really need to learn to acknowledge even the smallest efforts for improvement.


Well, who doesn’t want to be acknowledged and not taken for granted? Don’t you want to be? Don’t you get a little spring in your step when someone says something positive about you?

Would you agree with me if I said that positive feedback can largely increase your team’s productivity?

Well, that’s old news, yet I see too many professionals and managers who avoid it.

But what is positive feedback?

It is the action of telling somebody effectively that what they’re doing is acknowledged and recognized.

That’s pretty simple, isn’t it?

Not quite. You see, saying “good job” to someone doesn’t bear the same connotation to actually stating what it was they did well and its impact.

So how to go about it?

There are many resources on the Web about this subject and several ways to use it. Here’s my take on it:

When you spot something that someone has done, when you catch yourself thinking “hey, that’s pretty good”, every single time, even if it’s something small, follow the next steps:

Step 1: State the time.
The specific time in which the person did something well. The phrase should start with their name, followed by an expression of time.

E.g. “Hey, John, this morning…”
John, yesterday during the meeting with customer x…”.
Be as precise as possible.

Step 2: State the action.
The actual thing they did. The fact.

E.g. “Hey, John, this morning when you delivered the sketches on time…”
John, yesterday during the meeting with customer x you supported the concept we were presenting with the items you brought…”.

Step 3: State the impact.
On the operation, how what they did affects the results positively and how it makes you feel.

E.g. “Hey, John, this morning when you delivered the sketches on time, it proved to me that I can trust you with deadlines, that you’re a professional and that you care about what you do”.

John, yesterday during the meeting with customer x you supported the concept we were presenting with the items you brought, which allowed the customer to visualize the project more effectively and made me feel very proud that you’re on our team”.

See, if you’re this specific when giving feedback it has a bigger impact on the person and encourages them to keep striving to be better.

I still struggle a bit with it, it doesn’t come as natural as I’d like, but I’ve found that giving positive feedback builds up relationships and contributes to a more effective and productive work environment.

Care to try this at home, as well?

All the best!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Paradigm shifts and design

I started at my new job this week. I haven’t been exposed to the specific tasks of the position, yet I’ve learned a few lessons…

It is a big company, so there were these introductory activities that are meant to give the newbie an idea of what the company is, where it’s going…

As a designer and professional I look for new challenges, I look to acquire new knowledge. Which may in the beginning be interpreted as challenges related to the technical aspects of design, form, color, sketching, specifications…

And then sometimes you find your challenges somewhere else and related to other things different than design.

This week I met this guy, 25-year-old. At first glance one of those yuppie guys that work in the commercial field, remembers everybody’s name, always smiling… you know the type, right? Your typical sales manager in the making.

In one of the activities we were all asked “what is something that few people know about you?” and his answer was “overcoming a back injury in a taekwondo match”.

I later on asked him about it and he told me about being in bed for two years because he’d broken his back, he wasn’t able to walk and he was told that if he were to walk again, he’d be “walking strange”.

I can tell you something, six years later, he’s not walking strange. Not only that, the guy jogs every day and at 25 he has a clear picture of where he’s going, what he wants; he’s building his life.

So this knowledge took me from seeing him as the yuppie careless kid, to admiring his vision and persistence and even feeling jealous of him because when I was his age I had no idea of where I was going.

Oh, but there was more for me to learn this week…

Another one of the people in the activities was this girl… She got there late, for starters. I immediately made the judgment that a person that would arrive late wasn’t very committed or maybe she just didn’t care.

During the day it became obvious that she was loud, bossy and obnoxious. I was thinking “thank the Lord she’s not in my area, I don’t have to work with her”.

And as luck would have it, at the end of the day I learned that she and I will actually be working really close together.

How ironic, huh?

I also learned that this twenty-something woman has a child and a husband, goes to college and works full time. Her day starts at 4am to study for her finals and then get her son ready for school at 5:30.

How about that? Suddenly my perception turned 180°, I could see her struggles and enthusiasm.

But what does all this have to do with design, you ask?

Not much, I guess.

But I wanted to bring this experience up to illustrate how we can get so immersed in our misconceptions that it takes a shift in our paradigms to understand, to be able to see further.

Would changing our paradigms have anything to do with design?

How about making assumptions about a problem? About people?

Could there be other alternatives? What else could it mean?

How else could we approach the issue?

Be open, be generous, be humble.

All the best.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Design leadership and the constant challenges

Early in my career I was faced with the challenge of being in charge of a section of the company I worked for which included having a person reporting to me. I remember feeling completely scared of becoming a bad boss!

At that time I consulted with a colleague of mine who’d had a lot more experience and he gave me a few pointers. In the end, his best advice was “just be yourself”.

So I became G’s boss.

G happened to be very receptive from the start as we were both learning all the technical aspects of the job.

In the beginning it was hard to get him to see the bigger picture, to plan ahead, he couldn’t imagine how he could predict the events and therefore, the actions to be taken for the upcoming weeks.

But during the five plus years that G and I worked together we both grew professionally to a point where we achieved autonomy in ourselves but presented results as a team.

This was an amazing growing experience and led me to want to continue to grow as a leader.

I recently was faced again with another “being the boss” challenge. Two girls reported to me. One fresh-out-of-college designer and another one with a bit more experience.

This posed a bigger test because I had to use different languages to speak to each of them.

Since my experience with G had been so good and we’d grown together at the same pace, I thought I could just use the same method with anybody.


Miss F, the fresh-out-of-college designer needed me to hold her hand a bit more, to walk her through the steps of the different activities, to guide her. And she would usually come back to me with “What do I do now, Carolina?”

And I found myself resisting the urge to give her a straight answer. I had to get her to think, to come up with solutions by herself, to be more independent every day, to ask me less.

In the eight months that we worked together she came a long way and could do most of her work all by herself. I was very proud of myself and her.

The other girl, Miss Q, she had a bit more experience and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Also, she was strong-willed and assertive. This demanded a different approach from me, one where the ideas would mostly come from her, with a little guidance from me.

This also resulted in a great growing experience; the more I demanded from her, the more she would give and the more she came up with new ideas and solutions.

I have a point, I promise…

Sometimes designers end up becoming creative directors or managing a small group of creative people, which may not be something they ever saw themselves doing.

So here are a few tips to be more effective in that arena:

Be yourself, really. As I’ve said in a previous post, it’s not about barking orders or being in a position of power. It’s about getting the best of people and people will give you their best when you are authentic, honest and real.
Be clear about goals and expectations. Communicate them frequently.

Spend some time trying to figure out what the other person is about, what their mental process is, how they handle information, so that you can figure out the best way to get through to them.

It’s not about them adapting to you or following your lead, but quite the opposite. It’s about you stretching yourself to find the most effective way to get the best out of your team and have some fun while doing it!

I am so looking forward to more leadership challenges in the future, as they are the most interesting part of my work!

Mi idea with this post is that designers think outside of the box and start reflecting on the direction their career can go in the future and if they want to be in a leadership position. If so, start preparing.

Read some books about personal leadership, building teams, managing people and resources… Become aware. There’s a lot of information on the web, podcasts and books.

Epilogue: G went on to take my position and is now the design leader there. Miss F and Miss Q continue to work in my previous company, where they are faced with bigger challenges everyday. The both insist that I was a great boss ;-)

All the best!

12 resume writing tips for designers

Looking for a job? Finding a new design position can be a very daunting and stressful experience, especially if you're a fresh-out-of-college designer applying for your first creative job.

In my recruiting experience I've found that most young designers in South America and Colombia would benefit from some guidance with regards to self-promotion.

So if you're fresh out of college, or a senior designer straight out of a long career, here are twelve top tips for designers' resumes that can help you land that all-important interview:

  1. Do some research
    Even if you think you know everything there is to know about designing a document, use your design know-how to effectively present your resume.

    There are tons of websites with information about designing a CV (Curriculum Vitae) like Rita Sue Siegel Resources, for example.

    Now, being a designer, most likely you're expected to show your creative side in your resume (At least I expect that.)

    Nevertheless, this is a document for you to show that you're a professional and therefore, all the right information must be included, even if it means sacrificing that beautiful symbol you want displayed throughout the whole document.

    So your flair for design is there only to enforce the information in your resume. Always remember: style over substance is a big no-no!

  2. Customize your resume to match the position
    Designers can work in different areas of design. I've seen this especially with graphic designers.

    If the position calls for an illustrator, make your resume reflect that in the jobs or projects you want to show.

    If the position calls for a web designer, then include all web work you've done with links (making sure those websites are still active!) If you think something else will add to your value proposition, include it.

    However, don't try to squeeze all your work experience in just one page if some of it has no relevance to the position.

  3. Make it a one-page resume
    Yes, all necessary information can fit in one page, as weird as it sounds.

    You have to think that the person receiving your resume is receiving a lot more and she probably is printing them out to read at her leisure (i.e.: when she has the time.)

    Make her job easier by including all pertinent information in a single page; you will earn some extra points for that.

    Now, you're a designer, play with typography, space, color… it's also very important to make sure the information is presented in an organized, clear, easy-to-read way and have some fun! Make your personality and style show through.

  4. Proofread your resume
    Don't forget to double – better yet, make that triple – check your document for typos and grammar errors. Nothing says “unprofessional” like a sloppy resume.

    Set time side and get someone else to read your resume through for you. Maybe your mom, your dad, a friend maybe – anyone, so long as your resume is proofread.

  5. Highlight your name and contact information
    Your name and your contact details are the most important part of your resume!

    Make them stand out by placing them where they will be easier to read for the recruiter: most likely the right top corner of the page, or top centered.

    Do include all your contact information, telephone numbers (cell included) where you can be reached for sure.

    If your email is something like “” it's better to get a new one, just your name and last name, something that identifies who you are.

    I personally think that it's not necessary to include your photo, though I've seen some pretty cool ways to add a picture of yourself as an illustration or an unusual treatment in Adobe Photoshop.

    If you're applying for a job as an illustrator, this could be a good way to highlight your resume and maybe stand out from the rest.

  6. State your profile
    Include a brief paragraph expressing what your profile as a designer is, or what your major, or preferred areas of expertise are and what short-term goals you have.

    This helps the recruiter see quickly if your profile matches what they're looking for.

    Additionally, try not to talk about the long-term in a way that sounds like you're just using your prospective employer as a stepping-stone in your design career.

  7. Add the professional experience information
    Include your work experience, listing jobs in reverse chronological order. For each job include:

    • The time period (the date when you started and when you finished) for that job, including year and month.

    • The responsibilities of your design position.

    • The achievements of the position, and how they translated into either an increase in sales or the reduction of costs for the firm. Add some numeric information, when possible.

    If you've worked as a web designer, or have links to your work on the Internet, make sure they work properly and contain all updated information.

  8. Add the academic information
    Include the qualifications you have and filter them to be pertinent to the position you're applying to.

    Also list your qualifications in reverse chronological order, too.

    Be sure to include the year in which you graduated and the title you received.

  9. Make sure you send the right file
    When sending your resume file through email, take into consideration:

    • Check that your file is complete. Yes, I've received resumes that only list the jobs, with no name or contact info, because the person forgot to include the previous pages!

    • Here's another chance to stand out by naming your file with your name, e.g.: “carolina_ayerbe_CV.pdf”; make the work of the recruiter simpler and make your design resume easy to find among all the files she's downloaded that are called “CV.doc”, “resume.pdf” and every other file name that doesn't provide any information as to what it contains.

    • Include your name, title and the position you're applying for in the subject line of the email.

      It makes it easier to find you in the long list of emails the recruiter receives every day.

    • Write a short, warm and assertive email message to go with your attachment. This will effectively act as your covering letter.

    Don't just send the attachment alone; some people might take this gesture to be rude. Say hello, at least. Be polite!

    Don't underestimate the value of a well-crafted message selling the benefits the company will get by hiring you.

    If necessary, go back to the Tip 1 and do some research on how to write a proper resume covering letter.

  10. Don't lie
    Most recruiters can see through a liar. Show your work in a dignified way, talk about your accomplishments, but don't try to sell things as more than they really are.

    I once received a CV from a designer who'd presented himself as a “brand creator”. Hmm, interesting, I thought.

    When I interviewed him and asked him how he went about creating a brand, it became obvious the guy had no idea what he was talking about. We both wasted our time.

    Be honest about what you've achieved as a designer. It's much more effective.

  11. Combine your resume with your portfolio
    I really like it when the resume includes some examples of the work the designer has done.

    All contact, work and academic information should be in the first page.

    From the second page on, it's a good idea to include three or four examples of your best work. This will be the entrée for the recruiter to ask for a more complete portfolio from the designer.

    Don't send twelve pages, though. Still keep it short, two or three pages maximum.

  12. Be professional
    Most young designers aspire to rise to the level of a professional. Design is a business; it's not just about the perfect decoration in the pretty resume. I'll say it again: style over substance is a big no-no!

    It has to convey a message of professionalism, that you can actually do the job and that you know how to speak the design language inside a business setting.

I hope these tips help out a few designers out there.

For more resources visit:

I look forward to receiving some comments.

All the best!

This article is a revision on a first version I posted a while ago. Thanks to Wayne Smallman, technology blogger and fellow designer for revising the english version of the original article.