Could I really work like a Mad (wo)Man?

Since I live with a Mad Men type agency guy (he’s handsome and dresses well too), I can’t help but draw comparisons in our businesses.  I’ve never worked in a big office.  The max I think was 10 people, and it was a pretty typical design studio set up. Everyone does everything. 

At my old firm, I rustled up jobs, did pitches, managed the studio staff and oversaw production, I produced, ordered all the “stuff” we spec’d, invoiced clients, did collections calls and did the dishes.  That’s how it’s done in small design studios.  You’re thrown in head first and you need to learn and wear all hats. 

This seems an obvious observation, but strangely isn’t to most designers; Jack of all trades truly means master of none.  By nature I control.  I take on everything and have real issue letting anything up to others.  Even when I hire and pay others to do jobs, I would somehow prefer to research and do it myself.  That’s very very bad for business. I’m business savvy enough to realize the most successful entrepreneurs hire others, the best at their discipline, to handle each element of a business. 

I often observe the workings of large advertising agencies and wonder how on earth any actual creative takes place with so much paper work and “management” by non-creatives.  How does a creative service go corporate, but maintain a creative edge.  They’re contradictory, no?  Of course they’re doing something right since all the largest and most successful brands hire the largest and most successful ad agencies.  It’s that reality that often has me questioning why the heck interior design firms don’t adopt the agency structure.  Allow the creatives to create, planners plan, developers figure out how to make the esthetic actually work from a practical perspective.

Half my friends are finance guys and gals, mostly equity dudes that think for a living.  They allow others to come up with a creative idea then step in to stream line “corporatize” and help grow that idea into a managed, accountable, controlled machine.  They help good ideas, make money.   They like hanging out with me because I’m a creative, but in the most controlled use of the title.  Typically they buy me dinner and wine, talk about they’re latest acquisitions, and I tell them what I think based on my Twitter feed, observings of creative friends in other disciplines, and my rare perspective of a small town working class girl living in a city in a business that spends money on luxuries. 

It’s no surprise I, for a spell became hooked (4am, blood-shot eyes) on The Sims.  I built a mini society, from town plan, to housing materials and every relationship and emotionally nurturing interaction.  I love, thrive, on controlling moving parts and nurturing a positive outcome.

The job of a designer, this designer anyway, more often than not is mediator.  I watch my trades, my clients, my staff, and must  know what they need vs want.  A client has a budget and a timeline, and my job is to understand how those elements effect each one individually. Project extras of $5000 could be financially devastating for one client, but compromising to save $5000 for another, would see them disappointed in the results.  I have to know how each want me to address these situations with them, and how best to speak with them. Equally important however, is the organic, creative product that if done correctly enriches their lives.  Designing with room for a two person soaker tub could save a marriage,  a single shower, not so much!  It’s my job to guage where these importances lie.

I can take on commercial projects that are highly profitable, but must hire staff that prefer work consistencies like 9-5 hours and standard details, over creative variance.  If I hire really talented creatives, I have to give them juicy projects that feed their needs or they will get restless and unhappy.

Somehow the agency approach where it’s one person’s job to nurture the client, another translates data and yet another creates something beautiful, seems to make more and more sense!  The irony of the entire comparison – The city right now is a wash of lead creatives, all having left big ad agencies, all longing for a little shop or more creative control.  Little shops that will inevitably be run much like the small interior design shops I’m familiar with.  

Adding to my troubled, always analyzing brain is the observation of a TV producer I met last week.  “In LA creatives get to be flighty, troubled, free-spirited, as long as they are creating.  A suit will turn what they do into a business.  For some reason, here we want our creatives to wear a suit and a smock.” 

Well, I like to wear ripped jeans and a well-tailored blazer to work.  I think I’ll stay here and keep masterminding my designer/Mad Men version of The Sims.

If I have any break throughs on my observations I’ll let you know. If you have any names for my Sims characters in mind, you let me know.

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