When you ask a designer what they need to be satisfied while they work, most will respond by saying something like endless amounts of coffee and a 21-inch monitor. But when you rephrase the question and ask what it takes for a designer to be happy, well that’s another question altogether.
So I polled three talented designers from branding and creative agency DayCloud Studios to find out what the magic mix is. As it turns out, it’s different for everyone. Here are some thought-starters, though, on how to stay happy in your role:
Set one: Sleep, change, challenge
Get some sleep
“Sleep is essential and often overlooked as something that keeps designers happy.” – Kelsey Scofield, Designer at DayCloud Studios
She’s right. “Late nights and long hours don’t equate to better work or bigger productivity. ” Pay attention to what your body is saying – get rest, don’t skip meals, and take breaks as needed.
Pick a time by which you want to be in bed every night. Even if you don’t feel tired, get in the habit of being in the same place at the same time before bed. Wind down by dimming all-things digital, such as iPhones, iPads, and eReaders. Then, get ready to doze off by knocking out a few chapters in a fiction book, listening to a podcast, or zoning out to the sound of white noise.
Being open to change is scary. Inviting change into your life is even scarier. But when you work in a creative field, change is inevitable and it also makes you a better, more nimble designer. When you’re able to roll with punches, you may also find that it makes you unexpectedly happier.
Don’t allow yourself to get too attached to any given project, client, or scope of work. Budgets change, as do needs and expectations. When you go into something knowing that many variables are at play, it makes focusing on taking it one day at a time easier and braces you for any impending change.
“Taking on things that are risky is exciting!” says Scofield. Even though less challenging work may lead to fewer bumps in the road, when you tackle something you never knew you were capable of, happiness is the ROI.
Challenges will come naturally in most instances, but you can brush up on your skills by talking to a supervisor about tackling a passion project. Perhaps there’s something the company has been wanting to knock-out but lacked the resources. Stepping up to offer your brainpower is the first step in creating and conquering a challenge.
Set two: Culture, quick inspiration, freedom
Find a company culture that you love
We hear about it everywhere: company culture. It’s one of the main things that attracts and retains employees. Why?
“Because no one wants to work in a crappy, unsupportive or depressing environment,”– Michaela Frost, Michaela Frost, Designer at DayCloud Studios
A company that is willing to invest in creating an authentic culture will no doubt lead to happier designers. Culture is also created by the individuals who comprise a community, so you can do your part by encouraging a strong work-fun balance. Things like bringing in a chef to cook a meal for the team once in awhile, doing a group exercise over lunch, offering the option to bring your pet to work, or encouraging everyone to dress comfortably are all ways to foster a swoon-worthy office environment.
Culture is also created by the individuals who comprise a community, so you can do your part by encouraging a strong work-fun balance. Things like bringing in a chef to cook a meal for the team once in awhile, doing a group exercise over lunch, offering the option to bring your pet to work, or encouraging everyone to dress comfortably are all ways to foster a swoon-worthy office environment.
Keep inspiration close
We live in an age where the world is at our fingertips. Just this morning I signed up for Medium and it allowed me to select my top interests out of a list of about 100 so that my feed would always be customized to show a constant stream of content that excites me. For Frost,
“Submerging myself in things I enjoy gets me pumped to create great things at work.” – Michaela Frost, Michaela Frost, Designer at DayCloud Studios
Aside from doing what I did (signing up for digest sites like Medium), spending a few extra minutes on Pinterest, getting a subscription to Wired, and listening to a new podcast are all ways to gain quick inspiration.
Find the freedom to design
It’s near impossible to create anything with someone staring over your shoulder – literally and figuratively. So when you feel freedom in your role, “You’re able to flourish and figure out who you are as an artist/designer/creator/wizard,” says Frost.
When you grab your laptop and head to another area of the office, or when you put your headphones on, or when you head off-site to knock-out some work, those are all ways of communicating you’re in beast-mode. Aside from colleagues picking up on the nonverbal cues, you can also make an extra effort to contribute in group sessions and then say, “Now I’m going to spend some time on this,” to get the point across.
Set three: The work, the equipment, the people
Work on projects you believe in
“Having a higher purpose or a mission I can really get behind does it for me.” – Liz Hunt, Owner and Creative Director at DayCloud Studios
When you are working on something you believe in, it’s true that you’ll get much more out of the project than just a nice design to throw in your portfolio.
Some creatives are not in a position to choose their clients and the exact scope of work they prefer all of the time. That said, twice a year (or once a quarter, depending on your resources), choose a client or project that excites you and pitch a pro bono campaign to their stakeholders. Not only does this boost your portfolio, but it feeds the creative soul.
Have the right equipment
Having the tools needed to do the job may seem like an obvious one, but not everyone is dialed in when they go to work. For example, if the internet isn’t working or your mouse will only right-click or a file won’t open on a Mac (or vice versa with a PC), it can drive anyone’s happiness down. Quickly.
Make a list of all the tools you need to be successful. If you’re in a position to acquire them all, go for it. If not, rank them in order of necessity. Don’t forget to check places like Craigslist or post on social media if you are looking for a deal or just for something specific. Often times, business or hotels will be purging old equipment. Their loss could be your gain.
Surround yourself with creative people
Finally, being surrounded by people who can bounce around crazy ideas with you without judgment is a key contributor to happiness as a designer.
“There’s nothing better than working with clients and teammates who are super kind and highly motivating.”– Liz Hunt, Owner and Creative Director at DayCloud Studios
Having a good hiring manager who has a keen sense of the company culture is certainly step one. A hiring manager possesses the unique ability to identify candidates through a variety of pre-screening methods and know right away if that person is a good fit. Step two would then be to allow others in the company, not just key stakeholders, to partake in the interview and selection process. Buy-in from colleagues is also a great way to foster a tight company culture.
Just because there is no exact prescription to feeling happy as a designer, it’s interesting to observe that the common theme across all answers is that inspiration is oftentimes synonymous with happiness. What things are important to you to maintain your happiness as a designer?