Finding the right time/space for innovation

Ever since the Lee's carpet project, I've been dying for design problems beyond the school setting, team work, and multi-disciplinary peers. Luckily, I've had the chance to experience one of the most renowned design firms that does exactly that—innovation through collaboration. During my brief time at IDEO, I've had the chance to talk to several peers about how they have adjusted/reacted to such a collaborative environment.

When you're in studio (outside of class), you're totally immersed in your own work, but available for group play. Sometimes in class, we find ourselves brainstorming together, it is rare that a large collaborative effort happens after hours. Knowing this, what is it about the environment that aids your collaboration? I also remember how frustrating it was to try and get work done during class hours. It never was easy.

My question is this: What environment is best for you to totally dive into your work? When can you reach the "ah ha" moment? Is it 3 am in a lonely library? Is it in a warm bath? Is it always changing?

Also, how much time do you need collaborating/brainstorming with others opposed to time alone to contemplate the problem?

I've noticed the way that I work has changed dramatically, partly due to my new environment. For those of you who have had "real world experience," did you find the same?

posted by Mia Blume on August 29, 2005 | comments: 12 | post a comment

i agree with you, mia. working at The Republik has changed my process a whole lot. this partially due to the necessity of teamwork in such high-pace environments. also of course as larger projects call for a 'division of labor,' which in turn welcomes collaborative efforts.

There is a difference for me, still, when considering collaboration within the studio environment. I love the idea. And am currently pursuing it. But it feels slightly different. Maybe because the roles are not as well-defined?

Brainstorming still needs to happen in an isolated, quiet bubble, though once that first step is over with, input from peers is invaluable. It's happened multiple times that a thread has been taken way further by an 'outside'/ inside studio perspective.

And then to your question about the best diving-into-work environment: Headphones with music blasting. A good view outside or warm light. Some tea. And time.

Posted by carolin on August 29, 2005 10:55 PM

I have a straightforward question, and kindly pardon me in advance for asking me this, but for those who are already in the "real world" right now still writing, questioning about experiences instead of just moving on to "grease yourselves up and slide through" in this thread, are you just trying to use this forum to kind of brag about your reknowned design companies and how you were able to get in them?

I apologize if I sound crass, but a design job is a design job is a design job.

Posted by Finley Colette on August 30, 2005 03:14 PM

first of all, i think this has nothing to do about bragging or ego. its about sharing experiences, improving ourselves, letting others learn from our mistakes/observations. i appologize in advance if anyone thought it was more than that.

secondly, i will argue that a design job is not ANY design job. trust me. i just came from a 8 person design firm in raleigh to a several hundred multi-discipline design firm with offices around the world. That is not a bragging right, it is a pure fact. A fact that makes a HUGE difference in the way I work, I communicate, I brainstorm, etc. Forget their reputation, but their methodologies ALONE are completely different.

Furthermore, a design opportunity should fit each individual. Therefore, you and I are never going to be fit for the same job (or at least, that is very unlikely). I hope that you don't see every design job the same, because you are completely limiting yourself and your career. And for anyone that has had TBrock, I'm pretty darn sure he's had his spill about loving what you do. So, if each design job was the same, then what is the point in loving what you do? Specialization? Desiring to make a difference?

Again, I appologize if this thread was at all taken as inappropriate.

Posted by mia on August 30, 2005 06:24 PM

you can find me in 318, I'm a senor_ita
not bragging. i think it's more about sharing.


Posted by carolin on August 30, 2005 06:26 PM

In response to Finley Colette,

First off:
Nobody writes "I have a straightforward question, and kindly pardon me in advance for asking me this" or anything of the like without a verbal kick-to-the-teeth likely slated in the agenda, from one party or another. There was no purpose in this post other than to be heard and to strike a blow.

"...for those who are already in the "real world" right now still writing, questioning about experiences instead of just moving on to "grease yourselves up and slide through" in this thread, are you just trying to use this forum to kind of brag about your reknowned design companies and how you were able to get in them?"

If Mia had wanted to say this, she would have come out, honked her own horn and said "Hey, I graduated at the top of my class and my work stood out above all others. I had the AIGA scholarship at NCSU and as soon as I graduated, I left my design position of two years experience and went to work for IDEO, one of the top design studios in the world. IDEO developed the original mouse. Toot Toot."

Instead, I think those alumni of us who post on this message board give a damn about the students in the program and any others who may have questions. Not because we're flaunting, but because we would have respected the same care when we were students. Would you prefer someone who graduated making $20,000/year or with no job at all getting on here and piping about how he/she was making medical pamplets or restaurant ads or something else entirely and that there is no hope for your wasted four years at a design college?

No, you want someone who is inspirational. I don't think that it is flaunting or bragging at all. Mia knows that she doesn't have to brag. Those who don't brag have others to brag for them. It is called respect and admiration.

"I apologize if I sound crass, but a design job is a design job is a design job".

That's like saying "a person is a person is a person" or "a designer is a designer is a designer". If that were true, then our field wouldn't be a field. It would be the ability to make things just like everybody else.

No design job is the same as another. You can graduate thinking that and make $20,000 a year and design websites for "Bob's Cheap Web Designs" or make flyers for your cousins band and fly them around. Or you can be worth a damn, be recognized for it, sell yourself, and get the good positions out there. No designer wants to settle for less any more than any other professional will settle for any position. You can say "I work for ...." and have people stare blankly at you. You can mention your work and have people stare blankly at you a bit longer. Or you can say "I work for the firm that does all of Audi's marketing", "I work for the firm that does every movie title that you see at the theatre" or you can say "I designed the latest branding for GE." People will go "oh, yeah." Your work gets noticed.

The goal of every designer should first be to enjoy and respect their quality work, respect others quality work, and to respect the designers who are pushing the envelope. One should never sit back and go "Who is Zuzana Licko or Paul Rand?" Designers don't. Because there are the Lickos and Rands of the world. If not, then every designer would be every designer would be every designer.

And standing out would not exist. This field would be defunct.

By the way, I work for McKinney in Durham, NC. We are Audi's advertising firm. And I got hired making my goal salary for the area within 3 months after graduation, where I graduated with a job in hand AT graduation. THAT's bragging. Now, had I made this post instead of Mia, then you could have kicked me in the genepool instead of her.

The purpose for which Tony developed this message post to have outside messaging allowed was to let designers, design students, educators and the likewise-design-interested into the conversation. I also think that message posting should be left by those in the program at NCSU or by someone equally worth speaking, such as having a account instead of making snide posts behind an anonymous yahoo email account.

By the way, you can't just grease yourself up and slide through in this field. It takes some coaxing and maybe some liquor to get you that far around the bases in this competitive career choice.

Posted by M. Courtney on August 30, 2005 07:22 PM

Also, for those of you who haven't had "Real world" experience, let it be known *gasp* that your education at NCSU does not stop. In fact, it is only a small step in preparation for the real world.

You have a professor, maybe a small student team, and then you have 6-10 weeks to work on one project. Get good at iterations, but also keep in mind that you MUST eventually play well with others.

Team projects will always occur. Whether you're working on a website for Biscuitville or an intranet for Bellsouth or any other corporation big or small, you have to work as a team and work consistently with others. Get started early. Demand that your professors get you a chance to work collaboratively. And professors, please work with the students. Granted, there's always that one person who gets paired with the ONE student in the studio that nobody wants to be with. F*** the grade, who cares. What you are going to get from it is knowledge about how you work with others. Everyone has to eventually, so you may as well start now so you don't start your first day at Design Company Whatever and look like a lost puppy.

Also, no matter how savvy you are, generally collaborative projects will be much better than single-designer projects. Simply 2+ heads are better than one. Everyone always has room to grow. And everyone's 2 cents are always worth throwing in. Something can always stem from the one place you didn't think to go. Or dare to go. Sometimes the path less traveled, etc etc.

A repeat on the word to the wise from a previous message post. No employer (no GOOD employer) is going to hire you unless you take advantage, spend $100, and buy a domain name. Get a good email address @ your website (NOT YAHOO OR NCSU.EDU, they look like you don't know what you're doing/you're unprofessional/you're lazy/and because the .NCSU.EDU email accounts EXPIRE!!!)

By October/November, you should have a domain name. Practice using your new email account and sending that out. Phase out your stupid .ncsu account. Use something logical, like "" (HINT ALEX HINT). Don't use That looks like you're an ass, quite frankly, and I won't waste time emailing you. Employers want something serious. Make a serious portfolio site, but make it stand out. Show your best work. Quality at this point, not quantity, no matter what you may see out there.
BY OCTOBER, you should have a rough version of your site up. This one will suck. Do not worry. It should be simple, and for God's sake do NOT let Photoshop cut a single slice.

By Christmas, you should have an idea of what you want to make it look like by graduation. You should have this one designed and built by February, at the latest. This one will be better. It will still not cut it. 3rd try is always a charm, trust me. I'm on like the 5th version of my site and I COMPLETELY rebuild my site each 6-12 months. Don't be afraid to take down your shittier work for new stuff. Don't feel bad about asking your professor to help get you a project or 2 to shine your senior year. By the senior show/AIGA portfolio review, you DAMN well better have:

YOUR PROFESSIONAL WEBSITE READY. This means, having a domain name. Candace, do NOT put up tigers and shit, no matter HOW much you want to. Hippies, do not make everything look like you just blazed your skull out and you don't care, you just want everything to be colorful and for everyone to get along. Playful/goofoffs, do NOT make your site an entire joke. You are trying to sell yourself. Hillbillies, people of ethnicity, any one with an alternate-sexual lifestyle, do NOT make the intent of your website to showcase that you are "different" and stand out based on these "unique" qualities alone. Your work and your brilliance alone should be what you are selling. Not the fact that you are a vegetarian or mormon or asian or bisexual or whatever. GET THE SITE BUILT. GET THE SITE OUT THERE. GET HIRED. Because THIS is your goal, and you must be professional about it. Nobody is going to hold your hand beyond May, so get ready and prepare early. Work collaboratively. Practice interviewing. Ask questions. Listen to those already in the field. Talk with your professors. Piss your professors off, so long as you are taking care of yourself and teaching yourself the most you can while you can. Because you still have a full life of design education ahead of you. The majority of what you will learn will be beyond May. But let what you get from your design university BE the BASIS of your education and be a good role model for your future education. Push yourself. Because you will be the only one driving you to better yourself, your portfolio, and your career once that freshly printed degree is in your eager hands.


Posted by M. Courtney on August 30, 2005 08:55 PM

hi- i just wanted to say that i really appreciate seniors that are busy and grads who are building new lives coming back here to share info and thoughts. i think most of the people reading this board recognize and appreciate the knowledge that you have to share.

so don't leave! o_O

Posted by lauren broeils on August 31, 2005 08:10 AM

I would just like to say as a 2nd year student, I like hearing that people are coming out of State program with jobs at prestigious firms like IDEO, Mckinney, the Republik. Thats what we go here for... to hear about it actually happening is inspiring. I would actually like to know from Mia or Matt how they got on the road to postitions in such sucessful places!

I say that sharing these experiences expands our community and helps us keep up on what is going on with our classmates and alumni. Not only that, it exposes everyone to an experience that we may or may not get to have. Or spark interest in a particular way to work.

I say congratulations guys. With where you have gotten, you deserve to brag a little. Matt hit it right on the head, "Those who don't brag have others to brag for them. It is called respect and admiration." You got it.

Posted by kyle chalk on August 31, 2005 09:59 AM

Hi Guys.....

I have been reading these posts and was surprised to read about the comments! I won't leave my name as I am currently enrolled in the program and I just wanna play it safe a bit.

I am learning a lot about these posts, and all I can say is that your coments are a good way to forecast possible directions. After being in the program, Im not sure graphic design is still what I want to do. I mean I still love it, but to me it seems a bit of a shallow industry to begin with. No offense meant, but people have different preferences, and that's what makes this post really interesting.

The promise of working in a good design firm with reputable clients can be a dream job for some, while working in-house for a completely different industry can be good for others. Are we being trained here to get the big positions in the big design firms per se? Or do we have our own choices. I feel for the inspirational messages as graduates here at State have moved on to assume actual design positions, but don't you think it can create pressure on current students to keep raising the bar? Given that design is a cut-throat industry, I'm beginning to think it is a chase not worth running for.
Forgive me for saying this, but I went to a graphic design convention last March in Dallas, where David Carson was the speaker. I had the chance to rub elbows with designers who have been in the industry for some time, and all agreed that this industry can be reduced to the phrase: "too much work for the pay". Don't get me wrong though, this phrase was not the driving force of the convention.

So I guess what I'm saying is that we try to eleveate ourselves too much that what we do is something great, and we do ads for automobiles, but what is the greater meaning behind all this? What is the substance? I have come to appreciate the formal aspects of design, but I always fail to see what's beyond the surface of things. Where is the substance in advertising a great machine, and to what extent of greatness can we hold ourselves to by immersing ourselves in the spectacle of commercialism, sheer commercialism?

It's funny how we seem to be fanatics of design, when really, most people in this world who we try to communicate to, try to sell stuff to, try to reach out to couldn't care less about what we do.

Love always.

Posted by NC State student on August 31, 2005 02:09 PM

No, normal people have any idea what we do. And normal people don't have any sort of taste for good design. But they DO have a taste for what is professional and what isn't. They know when they buy something at Target that more design was taken in its packaging than, say, someone who buys the comparable item at a local KMart or Walmart. I don't really think we do great work to be rewarded by them. But in a capitalist society, we have to be "sell outs" as designers. That is, if you don't want to starve. You have to sell images, and thoughts. Graphic design and branding is all about spreading the word that a "company" or "product" is the same entity as all other items marked with the same "brand". You have to sell the image of a good product. Generally, it is about selling a good product. But sometimes, with good enough design, you can sell a not-so-good product and people will still flock like birds to buy it up.

That's the marketing end of this beast.

But I don't think that "the point" is about selling automobiles. It's about selling that style. Design is a facade. If it wasn't, it would be manufacturing or product production or whatever. Our goal is to "sell out". If you're not into persuading people with your designs and thinking of clever ways to sneak in your client or make someone remember the business for whom you work, then you may as well go into art.

Perhaps anyone considering that they do not like the idea of "selling images" should get out of graphic design immediately. It is the visual end of the marketing spectrum. It's all considered "Creative" but graphic design is the visual identifier that people associate with the product, and in this capitalist society, if you want to be a good designer, you can't worry about "oh, I shouldn't make people think that this is the image to buy... that's wrong." Go ahead and join the Salvation Army or be a starving artist or whatever you want to do.

Graphic design IS about selling—selling your client, selling yourself. If you don't want to try hard, then don't. But design school is not cheap, and if you don't mind pissing away your parents money, your own money or simply working a mediocre job and you're going to be satisfied with it, then be my guest.

What my advice was for was to those students who did not come to NC State's College of Design and take up a seat in the school to piss away a chance at greatness.

Design can be a shallow industry. It doesn't have to be. There are plenty of those out there who design for non profit. Seek out Sean Donahue's work at Research Centered Design. His work is very good and completely respectable. But if you want to make lots of money, you may have to try and do work for commercial clients. If you would rather play for 4 years and graduate and not do much of anything but be play and make people happy and not deceive, then maybe you should consider the Art & Design department at state and focus on Art instead of Design.

Posted by M. Courtney on August 31, 2005 03:43 PM

This often happens. How did we get away from Mia's original question?

How and when do people work best? By yourself? Naked covered in feathers and glitter? With music or with the lights dim?

I've found that I work best brainstorming with a group. Sitting for hours on end. Figuring out what we want to do, narrowing it down to a select few, and then going off alone to flesh items out, meeting together at intervals to make sure we're not getting too far off track.

I believe I have a bit of ADD, or it could be that our generation has it. But I've found that if deadlines are extended a bit longer and I'm able to roam freely on the design plains, then I will do my best work after I've gotten into a mood and I can sit and focus, with or without interruptions (and even stopping to goof off ever so often, just to stay sane). Often I work best at the latest hours of the night.

I am not a morning person. You should learn to adjust your student schedule to when you work best. See if your boss will let you take stuff home and make up some time if you seem a bit sluggish at work. Oftentimes I find it difficult to work with people around me, or looking over my shoulders. Rushed design is never good, but you can create amazing ideas in no time if it comes down to it as well. It often depends on the mood, environment.

It's not a science, but you'll figure out the patterns of progress that work and those that do not work so well. Take some time and figure out how you work best. Rarely will you be working at 3am in a real job, but you can possibly boost your idea-generating-skills by meeting with small groups and going over your projects as a collective rather than wasting your time at 3am.

Seven heads are better than one.

Posted by M. Courtney on August 31, 2005 04:04 PM

the issue of collaboration has been on my mind ever since graduation, and i believe that it is the most difficult thing to adjust to in the professional world.

i absolutely don't believe that we should have "group projects" at the undergraduate level unless they are either a). short term b). voluntary and/or c). something like a charette. i know that there have been some successful collaborations in the past, but it shouldn't be forced. inevitably, problems of disproportionate talent and desire come into play and what started as a "group" project ends up being a burden for the few. i can also speak first hand that projects marked as "group" work in your portfolio are taken with a grain of salt. that's not to say that you can't have them, but you just have to be smart about it.

at chopping block and pop and co. (the two places that i work... and no i'm not bragging... grow up), our projects are collaborative by their very nature. i have absolutely no desire to learn ruby on rails, basecamp, asp, php, as2 (at the expert level), xhtml, coldfusion, pearl .... the list goes on and on... that's why we have programmers. similarly, they can't worry about design issues... there just simply isn't enough time. we all have to default to everyone's expertise.

i just finished a game for nick (again, grown up) that had over 50 people touch it. 50! it was really intense. from managers and producers to sound and visual designers, each group has their own process nested within the larger workflow. i know that i ideate best alone. i need time to make form, stalk mia online, read, collect, smell, write, sign tony up for spam*, cut, paste, dance**, etc.

* most notably, the deep roy fan club's newsletter
** while sending spam to tony

despite crazy and rigid schedules, i have to allow intuition to still lead the process, and have developed ways to do these things without compromising the whole.

i can't tell you how amazing collaborative work can be and is... i've learned so much from other designers and have been able to produce work that no one involved could have done by themselves. it's so good to be a part of a like-minded team, and i certainly don't want to undermine that. surrounding yourself with people that you respect can help you grow faster than anything else. it's all about finding the balance.

Posted by will hall on September 5, 2005 06:42 PM