Do the right thing.
When I first started working in the creative industry 18 years ago, all I wanted to do is create great design. I wanted to see it on the internet and maybe have my work shared on K10K, Surfstation or NewsToday. I did Photoshop-Battles with colleagues and friends, created random design explorations and wallpapers all night long. I could never understand why the first Art Director I worked with never unpacked her Mac after she moved to Berlin because she didn’t want to design after work.
The first two years I was lucky to experience two very different agencies and work on big and small projects with great people. I designed websites, clothing, album covers — pretty much all I ever wanted. I never planned a career or anything. I just did what was right for me at that time.
2003 when the dot-com crash hit I got laid off and struggled to find a new job. I wasn't really great at what I did, and tried my best sending out applications but didn’t want to leave Berlin. My best friend died of cancer and I struggled to make ends meet while trying to freelance and work at a call center part time. 100 people sitting in one room, all babbling at the same time. 6 hours on the phone were more stressful than 12 hours in an agency. The worst job I ever had. It was the exact opposite of “doing the right thing”. It was making sure I could pay the rent and buy the cheapest food available.
2005 I agreed to do an internship at the interactive department of a great advertising company and I worked my ass off to get back on track. I made my way into another agency after that, worked even harder, had an amazing team around me and learned a lot while working on some really big and complex platform projects. Still, I wasn’t really trying to build a career or knew who or what I wanted to be. I just wanted to do good work.
Frankly, I never cared too much about the projects, as long as I did things that were somehow meaningful to me. I loved it when people got the information they were looking for quicker and easier. I’ve never been into awards, I never wanted to create a photo app or be in charge of some international ad campaign for the next yogurt or car or whatever.
I was in it for the people. I hated the time when I freelanced and did stuff on my own. I always wanted a team of like-minded, passionate individuals around me. I wanted to be with people that inspired me, who trusted me, who I trusted and could inspire. I never wanted to work next to people. I always wanted to work with people.
Even tough I liked a lot of the people that surrounded me at that place, I felt it was time to move on. After a good 6 years, I felt that the fire in people’s eyes was dying. They were getting comfortable, lazy and they didn’t want to change. My idea of doing the right thing and theirs was becoming very different.
Beuys once said: “Freiheit statt Freizeit” which roughly translates to “freedom instead of free time”. I could not agree more. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with people I love. I love vacations, barbecues and being lazy as much as anyone, but I need to work on things, where I feel like I am free to do the right thing and have an impact at the same time.
In the last 6 years, I have been fortunate enough to work as a Creative Director at places where I could pretty much do just that. I was very fortunate to work with some very smart and determined people with whom I could bring organizations to the next level and do some great work for some really amazing clients. I was able to focus on working with people even more than on projects and the older I get the less and less I am interested in a particular project if I can’t do with the right people.
Nicholas Negroponte, Founder, and Chairman Emeritus at MIT Labs said, that he feels very lucky for people of this generation because we figured out that we can do something meaningful during our career and not only be very successful and do something meaningful after we finished our career.
If you are ambitious and passionate about what you do, you sometimes forget that things take a lot of time to develop. Projects, ideas, strategies, and: people. A lot more time than you thought it would take. And with that time, your own perception of doing the right thing changes, too. It might develop from “designing” to “doing meaningful design” to “enabling people to do meaningful design” and finally to “enabling people to realize what is important to them”.
For me, the time has come to follow my own advice and look for the next level in my professional and personal development, so I still will be able to do the right thing. So this spring I've decided to go freelance and do as much teaching as possible. If what I am writing that resonates with you and you're looking to work with someone, who can have a major impact on your organization, we should talk.
Thank you for your time,