I was recently talking to a designer about different experiences and scenarios regarding working environments, and specifically about the notion of collaboration between designers, creative directors and the work itself. Being a control freak – or, more realistically, lacking the patience and/or tolerance to deal with anyone that does things differently than me – I related that my best experience so far had been at Pentagram with Michael Bierut, where the burden of each project, from concept to completion, was solely on me as the lead designer, with the flexibility of pulling in an intern or asking one of the other designers to pitch in with ideas or certain executions — something I rarely did, again, see above. But besides my “issues” I found this independence and responsibility to be far more efficient and rewarding, specially compared to past experiences where too many designers were working on the same project at the same time.
As a junior designer at marchFIRST, I remember the typical dynamic of getting a project, along with three or four other designers, from the creative director and each of us going to work on our own design directions, to come back a few days later and discuss. This was fine, except when it got competitive. Some would not hesitate to poopoo another’s design and create an environment where everyone had to be on the defensive; in other cases, designers would hide their work from view in the days we all worked on our designs. The cycle would continue so that whomever’s design was chosen would stay as the lead designer while the others did production work, creating a weird sense of subordination and hurt feelings. In future experiences this dynamic played out in different ways, with different results. Another aspect of collaboration is two designers working together on producing a large document like, say, an annual report. I work fast and I work in a specific way and it drove me crazy when someone would not do the same. To be clear, I don’t write this to say that I think I’m better than others, just a way of sharing why it’s hard for me to think of collaboration between designers as a good thing: I am stubborn, thick-headed, and arrogant to a certain degree.
Working in collaboration with illustrators, photographers, programmers and others is no problem, it’s the designer-and-designer relationship that I struggle with. Luckily, no more, as I am now my own creative director, senior designer, junior designer and intern, so I can work and muck at my own discretion and decision. Working with Bryony is a different relationship than those expressed above, as we work separately but together, if that makes any sense. We bounce things off each other all the time, and don’t send out anything out the door that has not been approved by each other, but we typically retreat to our ends of the desk to work our own way. And, man, do we work differently, but with the same goal, ambitions and work ethic in mind. So it might be that my experiences have not been the most representative of collaboration, but I do wonder how others feel.
Do you work better alone or in teams? If you are a junior designer, do you enjoy heavy-handed creative direction, and working with other designers? If you are a senior designer, ditto? And if you are a creative director, how much do you rely on the collaboration between designers? Have I missed out on a great experience?