A Career Self-Examination
Steve Jobs once told a group of college graduates that "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward."
After being in the advertising & design field for a while now, I looked back at my dots.
I don't know. Maybe they don't. Maybe they just sit there staring at each other. I wanted to understand if there was any explanation for my story or if I was just a design mutt with a mish-mash of experiences that don't go together.
So I began to look at all of the jobs I had and see if the dots connect:
My first stop after college was at a traditional advertising agency. They had one client with a very big brand footprint. It felt like a natural extension of what I learned in college, so the transition into the real world was nice and soft for me.
Brand advertising is all about building an audience over time and creating a relationship with them. Once that relationship is established, you can tell your story with fewer words. Because the audience already knows the plot.
This allowed me to create powerful pieces of communication with just a visual and a logo. There is something very satisfying about distilling an ad into its simplest form without the need for lots of copy and added complexity. It's design minimalism at its best.
You can't get further from Brand Advertising than working on intranets and enterprise portals. As I started to work more in the interactive space, I wanted to find a place where technology had a starring role.
At a management consultancy, many considerations go into the final product. Creative is just one of them, and often not the most important one. After all, in an enterprise application the goal is to help the user get work done and make their job easier. In this case, the technology will be the engine of the solution while user experience helps define the outlines of it.
This is where I learned that sometimes creative isn't at the center of the universe. Sometimes it can work best as part of a supporting cast. It can help soften a hard-edged portal interface. Or use subtle design to effectively lead users through a process, using brand to create familiarity and breathe life into the application. Making a site feel like home.
After a long spell in technology, I yearned to get back to advertising. This time I chose a different flavor of it — pharma advertising. This unique niche is full of super-talented individuals who tend to have moved in these circles for many years. I was an outlier, but they gave me a shot.
And it was here that I discovered so many little details to remember. There were many idiosyncrasies to learn and it all felt very unintuitive at first. But in time I picked up the nomenclature and began to understand the choreography of this design process. With that ease came the ability to design more fearlessly, knowing I had the basics down.
Learning and understanding these specializations reinforced the notion that there was always something new to learn. New things that'll make you smarter. It's an opportunity to grow — take it!
When you're in an in-house design team, the client never changes. Ever. It's what you work on from the very first day you start until the day you leave. Sound suffocating? It's not!
I was able to spend a considerable amount of time studying the communication & design problems. This time allowed me to have a very deep & broad understanding of the company's offerings. It allowed me to take some design chances. I could try different things, look at the results and refine those solutions further.
It saw the problems from many different angles and it led to unexpected solutions that would not have been possible on a 6-month or even 1-year stint with a client. I was able to be creative in ways I hadn't imagined and go down paths I'd never considered. The result was real design growth and maturity.
So in the end, the dots do connect after all. And, I also consider myself a design mutt. All those experiences are mixed together in a flavorful design gumbo.
As I move ahead, I will continue to collect new experiences that will build on the previous ones. And when I look back again in 15 years, I hope these new dots connect in a meaningful way.
I have a feeling they will... it's just how things work out for us mutts.