Draft a Design Guide

a Priority by Jason Kobs — Posted on Jan 30, 2016

* Arron Draplin in no way endorses this page. He's just a rad mofo that has inspired me.

The world is filled with design books, blogs, and bullshit. Famous mouths pour out billions of words while leaving alot unsaid. There's a disconnect between what designers need to know and they're being taught. We can do better.

The idea behind the design guide.

The idea first occured to me when I started being involved in making hiring decisions. At the exact same time I took on my first teaching position at MIAD. These two events coincided to create the perfect storm to shift my focus from designer to mentor.

I've enjoyed the mentor role in the past, but what made this experience different was the curriculum was designed and developed by me. I was prepared with formal training in software programs from a legendary MAID professor, Bill Kaminski. The rest I learned out of curosity and necessity. Building a career demands a certain level of focus and dedication that students (myself included) just could not comprehend. I knew that I could present the course information, but how could I make it stick? That's when I began considering a personaized curriculum that leveraged a student's interests and passions to drive the work assignments. A room full of students and I went on a bit of a journey that semester.

Design interviews can be difficult. They are the combination of a seminar, show-and-tell, sales pitch, and conversation. The best interviews feel conversational, questions and answers from both sides. Time flies in a great interview. If the prep is done right everyone flows smoothly from topic to topic and it becomes easy to make a decision. Hours of prep, a life time of work and little more than an hour of conversation weigh on all parties.

I was right in the middle of it. A semester with students who would soon be thrown into the interview process within a few months. It begs the question...

How can we level-up designers?

The class was filled with photographers, illustrators, designers, and one very interested interior designer. A collection with a range of starting capabilities and desired outcomes. The lessons that applied to this group can be applied to almost any creative team.

Seeing the needs from the agency, I knew the was an additional opportunity to help level up some of the soft skills that would be a contributing factor to their next step.

FITC 2015 – Toronto, Canada

A keynote presentation filled with students and professionals looking for a way to navigate the industry. Each paid hundreds of dollars to listen to the few who have made it. Sadly, the lucky ones still didn't have the answers.

Particial shot of the main room at FITC in Toronto

Design Guide - More of an Accelerator

Think of a guidebook. A way to navigate the unknowns with lessons from myself and peers who have been there and done it. Less rules and more wayfinders. There has been a lot of luck, mistakes, and great advice from people who have looked out for me since the beginning and still have my back today. Can this be boiled down into a modern book that is quick to comprehend and publish so it can be as relevant as possible? We can try.

I'm still fleshing this part out… but it needs to live here for now… My first position after freelancing was a design gig at a large real estate web-product company. One aspect of this job was learning to develop websites based on large systems filled with templates. The designer's job was to understand the product and platform well enough to design experiences that we were also capable of building. The teams were small and the product was one-of-a-kind. My close proximity to programmers had a profound impact on how I learned. Their way of learning rubbed off on me. I picture this part as a montage… Me asking a ton of questions and getting the smallest bits of info and having to figure it out myself.

It changed the way I learn. That experience has had a ripple effect that I cannot quantify and has daily, if not hourly impacts in my current projects. There are several lessons that can lead to a moment of acceleration. This project is as much about learning as it is about design.

Working Title Option 1:

"Modern Designer:
The first five years of a Web Designer"

Working Title Option 2:

"Making a Web Designer"

The windows on the 5th floor at Layer One Media, Milwaukee's 3rd Ward.

Job or Career

A critical part of a designer's journey is to understand whether this is a job or a career. Jobs are temporary, something to get your bills paid. A career is the longterm game and needs to be built through projects, positions, and networking. Both are ok, and there are strategies to get both. Seth Godin would refer to it as freelancer and entrepreneur.

There is a cultural fiction that tells us not to leave a job too early. And some of us recieved advice from colleagues on staying too long. There is a mix, but it is all contextual to our own experience.

Do you have to stay at a job for at least one year?

Every circumstance is different. Different agencies and professionals have different experiences that have molded their opinions. I hope to record several interviews for reference. Maybe package up some interviews for release as podcasts.

Developing all skills

A general observation for designers: Remember to build your skill sets outside of Photoshop. Eventually, as a professional you'll need to master your tools. To add some context: consider a master level Photoshop talent without the client presentation skills or the design language to present their work? These skills will grow naturally, but the way to accelerate is to focus on the soft skills.

How does one lead a team when they haven't experienced enough to give guidance? An art director and creative director need to be experienced in projects, process, management, presentations, hiring, firing, budgeting, technology, sales, design, typography, etc... the list goes on and on. This cannot be learned in a book.

Some things also come by the way of observation. There are important moments happening in everyroom everyday, you just need to get in the right room. Most people wait to be invited in. When you do get in that room, there are things to pay attention to. These things happen in time. But there are ways to move faster.

Next Steps...

Drafting ideas and creating the outline for chapters and relevant topics lead to written word. I think a few great collaborators could add tremendous value to a project. They can help reveal new experiences that may also be helpful in the climb of the next generation of designers.