Working with designers when you aren’t one

Working with designers when you aren’t one

Mandy Mowers's Layout avatar

Ok. It’s time to come clean.

I am not a designer.

I’m here, writing for this blog that’s aimed at designers, and I’m not one. I’m not fully proficient in Illustrator. I struggle to remember the difference between “kerning” and “leading.” And I’m not even good at sketching out ideas I have.

My point is: We can still work together to do some great things!

What I’m here to talk to you about today is what it’s like to work with you when I’m not one of you, and to maybe give you some tips about working with us outsiders.

Let your non-designing co-workers in on the fun stuff

At Oxide Design, I’m the creative coordinator, which means I do a lot of the admin stuff that — hopefully — lets my designing co-workers focus on design.

If I’m honest, I struggled a lot when I first started, and sometimes I struggle still. I want to contribute to my team. I believe that, as human beings, we all have a desire to contribute and feel valuable.

In my head, I know that taking care of the email logistics on a project lets Josh over there have space to design. And we’re a design studio, so that’s kind of important. So, really, I’m making a huge contribution.

The thing is, admin isn’t sexy. Design is. Especially since it’s what we (at Oxide) do.

Oxide got to work on this spectacular project with Mula Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria. We had a great partner in Michael Sanchez, Mula’s owner, because he valued design and let us collaborate not just on branding, but on implementation of that brand. So, the design team crafted this awesome logo and then concepted on the interior décor, creating murals and consulting on light fixtures and paint colors. They designed menus and signage and bathroom wallpaper that looks like old Mexican currency. Adam and Josh even went over and installed this giant mural of a mule that we’d had printed on a mosaic of canvas bags. All in all, it was a super fun project for our team.

Using a historic map, Oxide created a custom mural for Mula. Using a historic map, Oxide created a custom mural for Mula.

One night shortly after Mula opened, I ran into an acquaintance who works at an ad agency in town. She knew that Oxide was the restaurant’s design partner, and she asked excitedly, “So did you get to work on this?!”

And I sort of blushed and said, “Well, I’m not a designer. So I didn’t really do a lot of the cool stuff.” And I felt bad. Bad about myself and my lack of sexy contribution. And bad that I killed the enthusiasm in my friend’s face. So I said, “Well, I did help distress these menus!”

I had truly been delighted to help fold and wrinkle the menus and soak them in tea. I’m incredibly grateful when my designy co-workers let me in on a fun project like that. It helps me take ownership and feel pride in the work we’re doing as a team (even though my role is usually more behind the scenes).

Mula's menus were distressed to look more like what a street-style restaurant might have, as well as hand-stamped with the logo. Mula’s menus were distressed to look more like what a street-style restaurant might have, as well as hand-stamped with the logo.

Find out what your co-worker is good at

It’s kind of flattering when people trust your design expertise, right? Well, it’s likely that your non-designing co-worker is also good at something, and they’d love to offer their skill or expertise into the mix.

I’m a writer. I studied it in school and have a dozen years’ experience. Our clients don’t always need writing, but when they do, I feel exhilarated and alive because I’m making a contribution from my wheelhouse. I also like writing proposals. WHAT. Who likes that? Apparently me.

My point is, there are things your teammate is good at that you might not be. So use those skills, and everyone will be happier!

Ask our interpretation of things

 

Oxide printed this image on a collection of canvas bags and then hung, mosaic-style, on a wall inside Mula. Oxide printed this image on a collection of canvas bags and then hung, mosaic-style, on a wall inside Mula.

I’m a layperson when it comes to design. I am an outside perspective. I think it’s brilliant when Drew or Adam shows me something they’ve been cooking up and let me react to it. I’m happy to give my novice feedback if it’s helpful information. (And they’re very gracious with the uneducated input I’m giving.)

Most clients and end users are laypeople, too. We may not know why this thing is pretty or functional. But we can tell you when something is not working for us. And maybe we laypeople will bring up questions the client would ask, so you can begin developing your answers.

Explain your thinking

This probably depends on who your co-worker is. But I, for one, love to learn. I wasn’t trained in design beyond a simple layout class for my journalism major. So when Adam pulls me over and shows me why something is really well (or poorly) designed, I love it. Or he explains what his goal was with a design and asks if I think he’s achieved it. And he’s doing all of this kindly — not talking down to me, but using the opportunity to open our communication at a deeper level.

Oxide created the identity for Mula, a modern Mexican restaurant. The logo captures the double meaning of the restaurant's name, "Mula" being the Spanish word for mule and a play on the slang term for money ("moolah"). Oxide created the identity for Mula, a modern Mexican restaurant. The logo captures the double meaning of the restaurant’s name, “Mula” being the Spanish word for mule and a play on the slang term for money (“moolah”).

I love getting a better understanding of what it is that makes you designers tick, what sets your heart aflutter, or what gets your goat. It helps me understand the projects we’re working on and helps me to better communicate in the future, both with you and with clients.

Show appreciation for what your co-workers do

This is a universal truth: People like to feel appreciated. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about someone who does design, code development, writing, admin, or circus ring-mastery. Recognition of their work goes a long, long way.

So I encourage you to remember to say thanks for the things that your admin person does. Or compliment a fellow designer’s creative solutions. Or thank your developer when your web designs turn into something beautiful and functional.

Photo credit to Oxide Design Co.

Comments (1 )

  1. Rosie

    March 26, 2015

    As creative project manager at Sterling Communications (an integrated communications agency in Silicon Valley), I can definitely relate to this blog post! I would add just one more tip though, Mandy — it's important to celebrate the wins with your designers (and creatives) as a team. You contribute just as much to making Josh's designs come to life, and you take part in providing valuable feedback to the idea, from brainstorming to completion. Don't forget that!

    Like I tell my team, we're all here to make cool shit, have fun, and (hopefully) get enough sleep. :)

    • Mandy Mowers

      March 31, 2015

      Thanks, Rosie! That's a great point. We definitely celebrate together often. And the designers often let me know that I'm a valued member of the team. I'm grateful to work with these people. :)

      • Rosie

        April 2, 2015

        Good, I'm glad! :)

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