Let’s talk about Collaboration. Regardless of how talented you are working on solo projects, collaborating is going to throw you some curve balls, being able to deal with these is a necessary skill in the workplace. You’re going to have situations where team mates don’t see eye to eye. There’s going to be times where initial plans don’t work out. But, the resulting work’s beauty can surprise and invoke great emotion, which is surely the point in creating the art that is design.
I recently had such an opportunity. It wasn’t the first time I’ve worked in a group – my experience as a chef taught me very early in my working career the necessity of working in groups, listening, learning, and producing something (in this case food) that’s entire quality was based on the team work leading to that point. This time was particularly difficult and so i feel my earning experience deserves a post.
This was a one day project where I found myself in a team of three incredibly talented illustrators. I took on the role of director as they openly admitted lay out wasn’t their thing. Our end goal was to produce a newspaper/magazine cover that summed up the best and worst of 2016/17. This opportunity was easily the most difficult scenario I’ve found myself in to date, but it also created a situation so out of my norm that it pushed me to be a better designer and a better person.
I lead a brief brainstorming session in which we decided to go with a heavily illustrated piece, playing on our strengths. This is where the first hurdle came, two of my group were selectively mute, exceptionally talented illustrators and very intelligent as well, but discussion was difficult. Additionally, they were shy – this required me to calm down, a lot – normally I ‘attack’ projects with as much energy as I can summon, especially when in a leader type role as I want to create an energetic atmosphere, where all ideas are welcome. Having to rely on the occasional head nod or having to keep an eye out for one of them to grab a pad a scribble out an answer slowed things down a little.
No problem, although I’m a big advocate of large discussions, ideas bouncing around the room, mass scribbling and sketching, I’m well aware that sometimes a slow methodical approach is better.
The next hurdle came in the illustrators style, we had a very aggressive and anarchistic style – reminiscent of punk posters from the 80’s, and two children’s book illustrators – very cutesy woodland critters, some humanised with clothing. I love contrast, but i began to flounder. I began to get wrapped up in what i thought a newspaper front page should look like that i couldn’t see how the four of us could produce a single piece of work.
We decided to break for lunch, but I didn’t stop. I needed a sounding board, someone who could help me get my head in the right place after having such a hurdle filled morning. I’d managed to trap myself in my own little mental bubble – Until this point, my impression of newspapers and magazines were that they were heavily typographic, not so much in the art form of typography but in the layout – columns of text, Headers, sub-headers and solid grid layout.
How could I work with two such conflicting styles? let alone trying to jam my own in there swell. I mean, is it still a newspaper if there’s no text? I had 3 hours left of the day and all I’ve got is pictures of squirrels holding phones!
Bouncing ideas around my tutors, which at my age feel less like teachers and more like mentors & friends. We quickly moved onto other conversation, about me, about them and previous work I’ve done. Geniuses – by talking me out of my bubble I was able to look at this project in a whole new light, turns out – lunch breaks, socialising with friends and being able to just change pace for a few minutes is useful (who knew?!) from this, I researched niche zines (http://artmatters.ca/wp/2008/08/what-is-a-zine/). This gave me the fuel I needed to carry on.
I explained my new vision to the team as soon as they arrived, talked through how I felt it best exhibited their talents whilst producing an interesting contrast, talked through the typography with my punk doodler (his words, not mine) and what I wanted from him and got to work piecing together the page. I hindsight, i barely contributed anything, except for guiding their work onto the page – not what i thought my day would entail but with the decline drawing near there was no need to complicate things by being adamant that i had to have something on the page.
In truth, as we exhibited our work on faux newspaper stands, similar to the kind I imagine walking down a high-street in New York and stopping at the newspaper stand (if this isn’t correct, blame T.V and films and feel free to pay for a weekend break to NY to better educate me.. Please?). Everyone had a vote, you simply walked around the display and signed the back of the page that you liked.
I wasn’t confident. The work was so different to my usual productions and i felt like i had so little physical input into it that i couldn’t tell if it was any good.
But, here’s the thing: At the end of the day, walking around the rest of the exhibit, I realized that I enjoyed myself – genuinely enjoyed myself. Yes it was difficult, but where else was I going to get the opportunity to work with such different styles? Where else was I going to learn that my approach to a project might need altering in an environment where there was no downside? Sure, in the workplace I would probably run into such problems, but working on live projects gives no room for mistakes. I discovered that i can get so invested in projects like these that I get wrapped up in little ‘hurdle bubbles’ of my own making – but I also learned how to recognise this and what i needed to solve it.
I had my first taste of Project Management / Art Directing and I wouldn’t change a thing. It would be interesting to talk to my team and see how they saw it. (mental note: make contact with them again)
So i guess what i’m saying is one of the cheesiest pieces of advice out there, but i think i evidence it well. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, Don’t be afraid to jump in head first and sort out the consequences later, but DO pay attention, keep your head up and eyes open and remember to ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention. Our page got the second most votes, I think two signatures behind the top. Happy with that.