Designing within a small group


Whether we like it or not, designers already live inside of a relatively tight community. If we went to art school, our classmates become our contemporaries, our competitors. If we work fulltime, we learn quickly not to burn bridges– because everyone moves around to every place, to work with absolutely everyone and their mother.  No I’m not overgeneralizing or being vague, it’s simply a fact of (ridiculous) agency life!

But when you freelance– or run a small business– you need to be mindful of what goes on beyond the emails, skype calls and basecamp updates. The whole murky underneath known as “THE REST OF LIFE!”. You have no idea who your clients know, who they work with as friends– or as other clients, what groups they are a part of, and who’s seen who’s freshly designed brands.  This is why your ethics as a designer need to be ridiculously spotless, but that’s the topic of another post all together.

This all comes to mind as I am currently working on rebranding two women who run photography studios on their own, while also working together in a joint studio. The women are as close to sisters– maybe even closer than some sisters- and we had our initial consult all together. Normally I like to handle these calls individually, but having one woman tell me something, and the other interject with “truth” was like getting to see a cubist painting in real life: you see all the sides. The aspects they want you to see, and insights they could never tell you because they are too close to themselves to realize it, it was amazing.

Now that I’ve sent off inspiration and some design rounds, the feedback I received was nothing short of an emotional hug to my design abilities (those can happen).

“We were looking at what you sent us, and we were so giddy because you totally understand us together– but you’re giving us designs that work PERFECTLY for who each of us are! WE ARE SO EXCITED!!!!!!!!”

Ooooooooooooh yeah. That is the sweet stuff right there.

Then I realized I had actually done this for quite a few other clients, albeit not as a blatant. The photography community (probably much like most communities) is outrageously small. No matter where you live, you’re going to be interested in a pretty tight circle of associations, awards, message groups, the whole shebang. I know, because I branded 80+ of them, and heard so much wedding jargon you would have thought I lived breathed and died weddings– for 3 years, I did.

The interesting thing to me was how they all knew each other. Sometimes it feels like I branded an entire town.

Ari knew Katie from a message board, loved her watercolors and then I branded both her photography business, and then her line of camera straps.

Lauren and Jessica went to college together, which is adorable and still strangely funny-weird to me.

Jessica, who came by way of Ari, had seen Shyann‘s work in a forum, and was surprised to see how many other people I had branded that she knew (probably one of my favorite ‘how I found you Jenny’ stories)

And Eli  was working here, was showing off what I had done for him, and the owners hired me to rebrand the store.

I’m sure there’s more, but these are the ones I remember, even after all this time. You really never know how you will impact people with your work,  your personality, or even just your time, and the fact that I can work equally as well with an individual as I can within a close-knit team/group makes me feel solidly awesome.  It’s an interesting mix of challenges, and I will say it forever; I do love solving those challenges.  It feels like a happy jungle gym-training my awesome brain muscles to be more flexible, nimble, and entrenched in the amazing nuances that design can make happen.

Bam! Now I’M super excited! Don’t you just love when that happens?


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