Truth In Design Agencies

What shapes your ethical work standards?

To understand this, you need to look deeply inward at how your code-of-conduct was formulated at a very young age and how it was enabled or deterred as it evolved over time to form your current ethical work standards that you practice daily. However, being a designer complicates this internal self-analysis. We have to consider the inclusion of spontaneous emotions – both negative and positive – that fire unpredictably from our synaptic clefts as we consciously and subconsciously react to what is going on around us as we strive to create. Not known to most people, designers have an always-present and often-debilitating pressure to sustain a very high level of energy and focus in a never-ending quest to visually, strategically and functionally articulate new ideas. It can be very complicated and burdensome to have to stay the course of your ethical work standards while having to constantly deal with the heroin-addiction-level compulsion to create and design new things day after day – no matter how much you actually feel to the contrary. It is after all a job. When was the last time you heard a heart surgeon cancel an operation because she was in a bad mood, distracted by personal matters or just not “feeling it”? Would she cut a corner or sacrifice her standards to get by? Would you want to be the one on the operating table while this is going on?

In the design industry, this pressure and temptation can cause our actions to be less than pure, unoriginal, and far less puritanical than you either want people to know or even realize yourself. So, is your code-of-conduct beyond reproach? Are you original in your design work? Enter the darkened and quiet design confessional and answer this question – do you earnestly work hard for it, do you do just enough to squeak by, or do you steal for it? Which best defines you?

Just like individual designers, small local design agencies, large corporate design departments and global design-related mega-conglomerates are all under the same performance and results-at-all-costs stress. All of us need to satisfy shareholders, private equity investors or owners. All of us are accountable to bosses, managers, and colleagues. We are all held up to the whims and uncertainties of consumers and must continuously deliver cutting-edge and market-preferred results. Whether your focus is packaging design, industrial design, brand identity, or some other design discipline, agencies of all sizes need to maintain common business practices. There needs to be a steady cash flow to make payroll, keep the lights on and perpetuate continual marketplace involvement. All design organizations experience a high-level of unpredictability and uncertainty in this endeavor. Of course we think of this as a contemporary phenomenon, but the truth is there is little difference between the rudimentary requirements of running a business and prehistoric humans hunting for food. The human condition is the same. The fear of uncertainty over required results are the same whether you are a businessperson stepping out of your headquarters or a cave-person stepping out of your cave. The inability to think, act and react quickly and definitively can be detrimental, catastrophic or even lethal for you and others around you.

How do you react to the fear of the unknown? Do you say or do anything necessary to escape it? Are you accountable or dodgy? Do you face it head on or passively let others step up? Do you passively relinquish your standards?

Does the design agency you work within exude the same work ethical standards you profess and practice?

Now, here’s the really big question – Does the DNA of the design organization where you practice your life’s work share the same genetic code as you in regards to work ethic, integrity and originality? Is the organization truthful, forthright and original? Does the design agency you are connected to change their vision, mission, and values more than a runway model changes his outfits during a fashion show? If so, this gives you every reason under the sun to pause and contemplate the implications.

The culture of an organization enables you to peak at its soul. Whether you are the most senior leader, the newest junior member or somewhere in between, how would you rate your design organization as it relates to really working hard for its success and growth? Does your design organization really care and sweat the details or does it merely go through the motions and spit out essentially the same old thing time after time? Does your design organization lift design and strategy ideas from other organizations and put forth into the world a hollow regurgitation? Do they steal? You haven’t left the design confessional yet, so, between you and your maker, what’s the scoop?

Design organizations that have earnestly worked hard and harnessed truth and talent and have found their sweet spot in history and the present time are poised for tremendous success. Fostering a culture of innovation, accepting feedback, self-evaluating and evolving will position you for success in the future. Being original is both profitable and cause for industry celebration! Organizations that subscribe to imitate those around them will sooner or later hit a piece of floating reality and sink. As a person and as a designer, it’s crucial to make sure that you do not marginalize your work ethic standards. It is imperative that your standards align with your organization’s standards. Working hard to build a foundation of truth and design innovation will enable you to build strong and high and flourish.

What do you think? Have you or are you working in a design agency that does not share the same standards of integrity as you? The truth will set you free.

About The Author

Jim F. WarnerJim F. Warner
Global Managing Design Director, Kaleidoscope Chicago

Leader of 2D & 3D Co-Creative Design, masterfully integrating Iterative Design Thinking, Rapid Ideation, and Iterative Prototyping with downstream technical, manufacturing and operational implementation. With over 25 years of experience, he has touched almost all categories and industries globally. He’s fearless.