Two months ago, a student group from Central Washington University visited smashLAB and a few other Vancouver design firms, in order to gain a better knowledge of the industry. I suspect it was also a tremendous opportunity to visit a nice city on a very sunny day.
The meeting was certainly pleasant. I must say that the group was very affable, particularly given that they all were held hostage in our elevator for nearly a quarter hour. Once they made their escape, we had a chance to discuss how smashLAB functions, and shared some thoughts on how some small design shops work.
Upon nearing the end of our discussion, Emily, the organizer of the tour, asked if I had any suggestions for young designers entering the industry. It was an odd moment. I still feel a little too young to impart any wisdom; however, I think I managed to come up with something at least partially intelligible.
Over the next days, I wondered how some of the designers I admire would respond to such a question. Often when I look at the work of these individuals, the design seems so polished as to imply that they never had doubts, questions, or made any wrong turns. So, I decided to ask.
The question to the designers of note was: “If you were to do it all again, what would you do differently?”
This was quite fun for me, as I was afforded the opportunity to get in touch with a number of individuals I admire. It was equally nice to have so many of them respond.
And here we go…
Rick Valicenti, Thirst
I would have behaved like a self-indulgent rock star…and stopped trying to please everyone.
Michael Bierut, Pentagram
If I could do it over, I would have gotten a BA from a good liberal arts college before getting a degree in design.
As it is I started my first job a week after I graduated and haven’t taken a breath since.
Erik Spiekermann, United Designers
Apart from my metal type and presses burning down (which wasn’t my doing, not even by negligence, but it did change the rest of my professional career), i made one bad decision by giving equal shares to partners who i didn’t know enough about. I was too lazy to think about it, didn’t listen to friends who warned me and never read any paperwork that one of those partners drew up. In the end, after 10 years together, they cheated me out of MetaDesign, the company i had started in 1979. I now take better advice in legal matters and i don’t shy away from questions of power and hierarchy.
All this has nothing to do with design, but with business. But as design is a business, we designers have to learn those rules as well, even if it is against our nature. Business people know that and they exploit it. Don’t pretend business will take care of itself if only you care enough about design. The people who make the most money in design are the mediocre designers. The best ones have more fun though. I won’t die starving, but i will never be rich either. But i’ve worked with some great people and i continue to be respected by other designers. If that’s important to you, forget about making millions, but don’t pretend that other people think likewise.
David Carson, David Carson Design, Inc.
yikes. not much.
things have gone pretty good.
maybe stay out of newspaper classified
and DO NOT TURN DOWN ANY MUSIC VIDEO DIRECTING, regardless what you think of the music, or any free jobs that will get your work actually printed or produced so you dont end up with only student assignments in your portfolio.
-i turned down directing the first bush single, thinking it /they didnt have a chance….
would have put me into more directing much sooner!!
Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister Inc.
I do not have many regrets, so I am not the ideal person to answer this question. I would take on that Zadie Smith on Beauty book cover, that I declined. Turned out to be my favorite book from last year.
Bill Cahan, Cahan & Associates
I don’t have a short answer on this—but I will give some thought to it—I made the mistake of starting out on my own without having worked at another agency—so I invented all the processes and business practices I have, in a vaccum–I would also suggest partnering with a business development person and strategist—I had to do both—and it spread me too thin.
I would also not have named my company after myself—I was told to do that by my sister and friends who said that’s what advertising agencies do—so I had my friends torturing me for the first year asking to talk to my associates (who didn’t exist)–
Moreover—when I got into a buyout a few years ago—the valuation of my company was contingent on me—meaning if I left they thought the company would fail—which in my opinion isn’t true—I have great people working for me—so that was a mistake…
To be honest—I’ve made so many mistakes I am not sure where to begin!
Carlos Segura, Segura Inc.
“I’d do it earlier”. …I had a pretty lucky run. All by accident, since I had no clue when I was 19 that there was a real difference between “advertising” and “design”, primarily because I have no formal training at all. So, I got into the biz very early vie the “ad agency” route. I was very fortunate to get into the very best agencies around (for a variety of reasons, but I’ll keep this short as requested).
When you do this (especially during the 80s) you get real conformable with the money, and perks. I always said at the end of each year to myself, “Man, I should have gone off on my own last year.”
In hind sight, I really can’t complain though, because I am doing quite well, and have achieved everything I wanted to, so I suppose, it really wasn’t a “mistake”. I just wondered how much farther I could have gone sometimes.
So, there you are. All of the aforementioned designers have rather remarkable careers and respectable bodies of work. As designers, our paths are often less clear than some other professions. It’s nice to know that we’ve all been through similar challenges though. Hopefully some of the thoughts presented remind us all of that.
BTW: The only answer I had for Emily’s question was to “maintain humility”.