The Design Question

Two weeks ago I was able to attend an event called The Design Question, organised by the Northern Ireland Design Alliance. I have previously written about a realisation I came to during the event. This post is the intended follow up. If you’ve not read it yet, it might be worth your while.

In my previous article, I spoke about my take on what went through my head about the style of the event. Today I’ll be going over what happened at the event as well as my thoughts on the questions that were asked, along with some of the things I wish I had said.

The Theme of the Talk

Before I dive straight into the event, and the questions, I thought it might be useful to recap what the event was actually about. Unless you looked at the event listing, or attended, you’re unlikely to know after all. The event dealt with the asking, and answering, of three questions:

  1. “How the hell do I get a job in the design business?” - Peter Strain
  2. “‘Design Effectiveness’: Fluff or Fundamental?” - Stephen McGowan
  3. “How can design affect our risk-averse, conservative culture in NI?” - Stephen McGilloway

I’ll be taking a look at each of these in turn, and talking a little about what I thought about them. Whilst there was some brilliant input by people such as Chris Murphy, I’ll be focusing on what I should have been saying rather than the words of others.

The Actual Talk

The talk itself was, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, great. It wasn’t a large event, and as a result it had a much more personal feel to it. I felt that I was a part of something, which is a rare feeling at events most of the time.

The whole approach to the event, and the level of participation, built upon this. Rather than being focused on a single person, or group of people, talking it was instead focused on asking and answering questions. These were posed by specific speakers and answered by everyone in attendance.

To an extent I found this personal approach a little overwhelming but, even with that, I thought it was a great event. I feel that my unease is a result of my realisation that I need to be more social with others than I currently am. Speaking to people after the event itself reaffirmed this thought.

“How the hell do I get a job in the design business?”

This is a question that I believe I have a decent amount of experience with. I recently graduated from the Interactive Multimedia Design course, and walked straight into a job with Fresh Made Media along with my good friend Simon Fraser. I know a few other people had similar luck too.

I didn’t really chip in with answering the question, something I regret in looking back. Some of what I feel helps with finding a job has been covered in my advice to IMD students. It forms a good starting point for one approach to helping find a job.

Share Your Thoughts

Ironically one of my points is being social, something I struggle with at these kinds of events. I put a lot of myself out online. I use the twitters and I try to share my thoughts either on there or here, on my journal. People can see not just what I think, but how I think.

Doing so has found me work, both as a freelance designer as well as with finding employment at Fresh Made Media. I was also approached about freelance work by other studios, but my workload was overwhelming and I wasn’t able to take on any additional work.

I attribute this to the fact that I show what I do, and I show that I care. Clients have told me that by talking about what I do, it helped them decide to work with me over much larger design studios. You can’t do this without talking.

Be Approachable

But posting stuff online is only a one-directional medium. That isn’t enough. To be offered work you need to be approachable. If people can’t get in touch, then how do they offer you work? You also need to ensure that people want to approach you.

The phrase “Don’t Be A Dick” is appropriate here, something I mentioned to IMD Students and something that Jessica Hische mentioned in a post of advice for getting freelance work. If people don’t like you, they won’t contact you. Don’t help people dislike you.

Being approachable isn’t just about letting people offer you jobs though. It’s about allowing for people to talk with you too. This could be via twitter, email or comments, or any other medium. Let people get to know you. Unless you are a dick, it isn’t going to hurt you.

It’s Not Easy Getting Work

Of course, this doesn’t mean you will find work. These are things that have helped me find work. They will probably help others too, but some people might choose to take a different approach. Not everyone travels the same way. The same is true with getting employment.

“‘Design Effectiveness’: Fluff or Fundamental?”

The second question of the night was a lot harder to answer. To me it was harder to answer because the effectiveness of design can be difficult to measure. Even if we can agree that a design is effective, how do we measure the effectiveness of it as a whole? The effectiveness of it’s parts?

It was also difficult for me to think of an answer due to my inexperience in this field. Whilst I have done a not insignificant amount of design work, tracking how effective a project is has fallen to others to measure.

Design is Difficult

Difficult to measure that is. Was it the facelift given to the site that improved things? The content? Did more people just happen to find the site at the same time it was designed? There’s a lot of variables and, as people on the night said, quite often clients assume the cause.

To me it seems obvious that design is fundamental to a product, be it a site or something physical. Would the iPhone have done as well if it had looked like a BlackBerry? Probably not, just look at how phone design has shifted. Design can change things.

Design serves a purpose. It can make a great product greater. It can make a good product better. A great product doesn’t necessarily need to be designed, but it would be greater for going through the design process. Design can lift something higher than it would otherwise be.

“How can design affect our risk-averse, conservative culture in NI?”

On the night, I seem to recall the question being “How can we avoid risk?”. I remember thinking that it was something of a stupid question to ask. Avoiding risk means, to me, that you avoid reward. Maybe I misheard the question, but I feel that the question on the event page is better worded.

The reason I find the “How can we avoid risk?” question stupid is because risk is easy to avoid. Take the safe path. Don’t try new things. I think that it would be foolish to take the safe path all of the time however. By avoiding risk you avoid doing new things. You stagnate.

Answering the Original Question

Combatting a risk-averse culture isn’t an easy thing. Yet, at the same time, sometimes it is so very easy. Showing a confidence in something helps to calm those around you. Showing confidence can help others to feel the same confidence that you do. It’s not easy though.

Keep in touch with those you work with or for. This helps you to ensure that people do have faith in what is going on. It lets them know that they are a part of what is going on. And if they suddenly go quiet, it’s an indicator that people are worried about something. Talk with them about it.

As designers we seem to be continually adding to the list of things we undertake. I don’t see this as a bad thing though. Being able to talk with others, with your clients, is an important skill to have. And guess what? It might help you find a job.

Wrapping Up

I’m really glad that I was able to attend this event. I didn’t really contribute much at the time, but it got me thinking. As you can see above, it’s gotten me writing again too. It was interesting to see a new format of event as well, something that felt more personal. I hope they do more similar events.

It was also nice to see so many different facets of design come together to discuss these questions. It’s all too easy to get tied up in being a web designer, or print designer. By talking as designers, be it from web, print, or an educator of designers, we all benefit. And that’s a good thing for everyone.