I'm one of the newbie designers here at ZURB. It's an exciting place to be and I'm so grateful to have joined this powerhouse team. But even with all the joy of coming to work everyday, there are still some growing pains every new designer experiences here. That's because ZURB is a very special place and we do things quite different here. More than anything else, the pains come from getting up to speed on ZURB's unique approach to design and breaking some of the (bad?) habits we've picked up along the way in our careers up til now.
We Want to Prove Ourselves
As a new addition to the team, there's a lot of pressure to make yourself of value and validate being added to ZURB's awesome team. (Honestly, the pressure is just in our heads, not brought on by the team.) We desperately want to be 'worth it,' which means that mistakes are really hard to get over. Even a small mistake can feel like a huge letdown — a failure.
But failure is a really big deal here at ZURB. In fact, we have a special word for it — opportunity. That's because every half-baked idea and every inept solution is our chance to find out something new about the product we're working on. We always throw out a ton of ideas to our customers, knowing fully-well that some of them are too out-there and a few are just plain wrong. But there are three good reasons we still do it:
- To get bad ideas out of our system
- To make sure no creative stone is unturned
- And, occasionally, to gauge the customer's wild side
We Want Our Work to Speak for Itself
When new designers, such as myself, join ZURB, we use our experience, judgement and best practices to present solutions that we can recommend with confidence. We just want the customer to look at our work and instinctively fall in love with it, without further explanation, of course — after all, it's all in the layout, right? The trouble comes when the customer starts asking questions and challenging our recommendations.
The truth is that work doesn't sell itself. A great concept can be easily scrapped by the customer who isn't going to read your mind about its merits, while a mediocre idea can be a wild success when positioned correctly.
We often work on very complex products, which require sophisticated solutions. And that means our customers expect us to have the answers on all of their hows and whys (and rightly so!). Which is where I found myself recently — stumbling to explain an elaborate interface and defend even the simplest element, all because I didn't think through the justification ahead of time. Having a clear point of view is valued greatly at ZURB, but learning how to articulate that point of view is as important, if not more.
We Want the Big Ta-Da!
When most agencies get projects, they hole up in their offices for a few weeks to do research, put together strategies and comp up layouts. Next, they assemble an impressive presentation and have 'the big reveal' meeting with a customer. There the customer-agency relationship is simple: customer provides a project, agency provides a solution. And it's really the only process designers know before joining ZURB.
Things are really different here. We don't do big reveals. Our process is not mysterious. We're very transparent about how ideas turn into concepts, which turn into solutions. We present one small idea at a time, which our customers can easily grasp and believe in. We then combine several small ideas, and they magically become solutions that customers feel invested in and fully appreciate. It's one small 'aha moment' after another, that in the end amount to a big 'wow factor.'
Trying to present a solution right from the start can actually backfire! Recently, I worked on a project where I tried to bite off too much too fast. I presented too many new ideas in one little neat layout, which just left the customer confused — we could actually hear their eyes glaze over on the phone. But had I showed all those pieces individually, the customer would have been open to them and felt like they were part of the creative process.
What's more interesting is that, after working with ZURB, customers often adopt these methods of creative exploration and iteration within their organizations. We love hearing that marketing directors are picking up Sharpies and shopping around sketches to their team. That's actually one of our schemes for world domination.
It's been an exciting and challenging couple months. I can only imagine how much I have yet to learn!