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NO WAY! 8 Reasons I won’t work for your design shop

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GUEST ARTICLE by Tyler Travitz –If you would like to write for Millo, contact me.

Thankfully, I’ve been gainfully employed for nearly two years now with an amazing agency. In addition to working on awesome projects for top brands, I have a wonderful employer that provides great benefits, recognizes the life/work balance and is committed to my growth. However, in my search for a great place to work, I have
encountered some design shops that are lacking good traits of an employer. They may be creating terrific work, but they’re doing so at the expense of their talented staff, and in this industry, keeping talent is hard enough as-is. In this article, I’d like to provide feedback to those less-than-stellar employers. Here are my 8 reasons I don’t want to work for your company:

1. You’re way too outdated

If you’re running CS2 on a 2003 iMac, it probably means one of two things:
You can’t keep up. The communications industry moves at the speed of light, and if you can’t keep up, get out of the way because your shop isn’t going to last long.
You aren’t willing to invest in your business. If you’re not willing to invest in the hardware that keeps your business running, you probably aren’t willing to invest in the people that keep your business running either.

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I realize that for small businesses the cost of new technology can be prohibitive. That said, due to the nature of this industry, we are required to be as close to cutting edge as possible in order to provide optimal value to our clients.

2. Time to get paid (I won’t work before I’m hired)

Some shops have a terrible practice of administering “tests” to “see if you can handle the work/pace” as part of their interview process. It typically involves designing or coding something. This is unacceptable. First of all, my portfolio provides you with all of the information that you need to make a hiring decision. Secondly, these “tests” have nothing to do with you wanting/needing to learn more about my work or me, and everything to do with you being short-staffed or under a tight deadline. You’re trying to get work out of me for free. If you want me to do work for you, hire me, and then we’ll get down to business.

3. Silos are for farms (I want diversity!)

I’ve seen more than one company try to hire a designer / developer to work on a single account. They have a number of designers, but one works on Acme Technology and the another works on Acme Beauty. I want to be able to work on multiple accounts. I want to work for a company that inspires creativity and encourages cross-disciplinary pursuits, not one that silos me into one account. Nothing stifles creativity quite like working on the same thing day-in day-out.

4. XBOX in the break room is not a real “benefit”

Don’t get me wrong, I love XBOX (and pool tables, and foosball tables). I also appreciate companies that encourage play at work, as it can be welcomed stress relief and can stimulate creativity; that said, I am a professional. As such, I expect to be compensated like a professional, including real benefits. Minimum benefits include: Paid Time Off / Sick Days, a 401k, and Health Insurance. It wouldn’t hurt to throw in Dental, Eye and a gym membership or maybe flex time, but the basics must be there. If you want to recruit and retain top talent, you have to be competitive in this area. An XBOX is a perk, not a benefit.

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5. Social ME-dia

Let’s be honest, everyone uses social media for self-promotion, and to a certain extent, that’s perfectly acceptable. However, social media is supposed to be… well, social. There needs to be interaction. So, if you’re using social media strictly as a one-way broadcast to promote your awards won or product launches, then you don’t get it. If you don’t get social media, you can’t provide valuable expertise to your clients. We understand, you win awards–Awesome. But what are you adding to the conversation? Instead of focusing on what’s going on with your agency, post a link to another company’s great work. Provide commentary. Participate in a Tweetup. Share an article. Post a case study or a tutorial.

In short, add value.

6. Egomania

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous. It’s great that you have partners/principles that speak at conferences and colleges, win awards and are industry thought-leaders.
I want to work for a company that has those kinds of people because it provides learning and networking opportunities. What’s not great is when their egos get in the way of the creative process or the business’ success. If they micromanage or take a “my way or the highway” approach, they are hindering the team environment, limiting creativity, and hindering the potential of the firm to grow. Instead, they should use their expertise and talent to help employees learn and grow.

7. The assembly line approach

Design is just as much about planning and strategy as it is the actual work of design. I want to be included in the entire creative process, from idea inception to planning to execution. Too many companies have adopted an assembly line approach to design. The concept starts with a creative or an art director. It moves to the info architecture gurus and usability experts, and then the designers finally get a look. Designers should be need to be involved in all parts of the creative process to ensure a better, more-cohesive result. If you’re looking for someone who knows Photoshop and push pixels around a screen, keep looking. I want to contribute to the entire creative process, and I want a company that wants me to contribute.

8. Websore

If the web is your business and you have a terrible website, I do not want to work for you. Design firms are in the business of shaping brand identities and images. If you can’t manage your own brand/image, why would a client trust you with theirs? I sometimes see websites that read “We’re too busy helping clients to work on our site”. I don’t buy it. This goes back to #1; you simply don’t recognize the importance of investing in your business. If you want to attract top talent, you need a well-designed, highly usable website. Plain and simple.

Wrapping it up. Now it’s your turn.

This is my short list of reasons not to work for a design firm. Have I missed something? Are these expectations realistic? Do you agree/disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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About Tyler Travitz

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  1. These are excellent points and translate into all creative offices.

    One of the best articles on work philosophy I ever read was by Brad Bird (Pixar)on fostering innovation: http://gigaom.com/2008/04/17/pixars-brad-bird-on-fostering-innovation/

    He has fantastic ideas for creative work places. Considering Pixar’s success I’d say.. I think he’s onto something 😉

  2. Great article! I am in complete agreement with you. I’m lucky enough to work in a shop that fosters and encourages creativity but the things you mentioned are all to prevalent in this industry.

  3. 9. Your grammar isn’t up to par.

    There is a difference between “Your” and “You Are” / “You’re”

    Point number 1.

    • Thanks for helping us with that small grammar error, Michael. That was my editing error not Tyler’s. Hopefully you were able to look past it and enjoy the rest of the article. Best Regards.

  4. Amazing article. Nearly every one of these points are reasons why I left my last ‘real job’ as a graphic designer. Cookie cutter-slave environments do not work for creative people. That’s also why I chose to freelance.

  5. thank you for the great tips.

  6. excellent article.

    Truly solid reasons every designer should stand by.

  7. A really good article Tyler. Though I never worked directly for design shops as a permanent employee but I used to fetch work and send them online after completing it from my home. They hardly gives you creative freedom and just do run-of-the-mill kind of work. If you make suggestions for a new approach that is hardly welcome. That is why I left them all behind and choose my own path of Freelancing 🙂

  8. To add to number 2 “I won’t work before I’m hired,” don’t just rule out a company when they ask you to do some work before they hire you. Charge them your hourly rate, which is what I did and I got the job!

    • @Jonathan Patterson, thanks for the comment. This is a great idea. If the company is willing to pay you for your time, then by all means don’t close the door on what could be a great opportunity. It’s the companies that aren’t willing to pay for my(your) time that concern me. It degrades the profession to assume that a designer will work for nothing.

  9. Steffen Zeidler says:

    Very nice list, good article. I’m currently reading Seth Godin’s “Linchpin” that preaches your view of future labor-relations.
    Here in germany it’s really hard to find a “labor partner”. Many employers and employees still think they give and take work. But I trust in the future.
    Have a nice weekend!

  10. I loved this article, read it beginning to end, twice!

    We need to stand up for ourselves as designers and make people understand that even though it might be hard to make it in this industry sometimes, we have standards too! We’re not as desperate for a job as people might think.

    I agree with you, Tyler, I’m not for ‘testing’ although I have worked for an employer that does it. They justify the process by saying that they’ve hired people with false/fake portfolios and references. But honestly, how long would this person last in this industry? In regards to your point above, I would have no problem doing a test if I was able to charge my hourly rate for it. That’s basically a free freelance job, haha!

    Anyways, fantastic article, I wish I could forward this to a few people!

  11. Interesting article, i totally agree with all the points you have mentioned.

  12. Excellent post and tips guys, a definite read for all.

  13. Good points,thanks for helping all the newbies to watch out for these landmines.

  14. Point 4 is something that I think is interesting and agree with entirely.

    I see Google fostering this type of atmosphere, where video games and air hockey are available for employees to use during breaks and wonder if it adds to our generation’s poor image. In my opinion, this point hits the mark and we should really worry more about medical benefits, PTO’s and vacation before finding out about the perks of X-Box.

    • @Joe Gillespie, I’ve always wondered if those perks, particularly at places like Google, are traps, designed to keep you in the office working longer. Perhaps, perhaps not. Just a thought.

      To your other point, I think to some extent, older generations look at younger generations with suspicion/disdain at the idea that we’re playing video games at work. It’s my belief that, so long as the extracurricular activities don’t interfere with your ability to get your work done, they’re actually beneficial to the company. Most studies indicate that happy workers are productive workers. I feel that our generation recognizes and appreciates this more fully than previous generations.

      Thanks for the comment.

  15. Well, three cheers for escaping the design slave!

  16. Labor relations should always be good to ensure the success of a company..;.

  17. labor relations with employees and company should always be in good terms to be more productive’;:

  18. When you pick my brain, you pick my pockets. Exposure/visibility nonsense. Pay me. We work for money–not BS promises of future work (drum roll……yah right), coffee cards, or credits. Pay me.
    watch the Harlan Ellison pay the writer chat–watch it 3x–spot on regarding “free work” moochers/pick the brain freebie seekers. When our mortgages, taxes, utilities, education, insurance, car, toileteries, tyres, petrol are gratis–they maybe perhaps might think of “free.” Pay me cheapie. Plumbers do not unclog toilets for free, taxis are not free–pay me.


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