September 2008. Villa Adelina. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I officially entered the realm of web design. After years working in print, and many others studying graphic design at the University of Buenos Aires. The name of the company is Web360, the place where SEO, front-end development, and marketing strategies allowed clients to create successful business stories.
That means that on top of having people requesting the design of their first website to me, they also have no clue on how to get the right marketing approach to sell their product. Of course, at this point I’m aware that a product is more than just a website: it requires a combined effort of multiple disciplines to develop a minimal notion of branding.
Life is not a solo act. It’s a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strifeTim Gunn
Even at the early ages of my work life, I already know no one can be a jack of all trades. Dealing with design, coding, business analysis and the creation of an actionable plan requires not only expertise but also time. That’s the most valuable currency in this kind of projects.
The university was full of friends and colleagues. Graphic designers but also industrial and audiovisual. There is a developer at the company I’m working. And they are all in the same situation as me, getting freelance projects in the after hours to gain expertise and of course, the extra buck.
After talks and planning, we make a major decision: we need to create a company.
We believe that creating a multi-disciplinary team of designers for small business owners will achieve a comprehensive branding solution and experience. We will know this is true when we see that our proposed branding strategies bring measurable revenue for them.
The team is formed by a graphic designer, a developer, an industrial designer and an audiovisual artist.
The benefits of being under the same umbrella are multiple. And that’s not only because you become legally part of an LLC. There is this more elevated thought of being part of a bigger thing than yourself. You can tackle projects from many angles, having at the same time someone covering your back.
Recruiting friends to become part of this initiative is a double edged sword. Despite their talent, the line of respect and collaboration becomes thinner when you know each other from before. Trust is the number one thing you need to have in a company, but an excess of it can result in pushing the timelines to the limit or in conversation about who is supposed to do what. Fortunately, all these issues can be solved with professionalism, even when you are junior.
People skills are something acquired with time and practice, and they can be hard to find in early years. Always having in mind our values and ways of working is a must if you want to keep cohesion in a group of people.
It is the evolution of getting to know each other that helps you define the roles. And in my case, dealing with clients and working on their budgets and schedules feels very comfortable. So I moved from this early stage of being a graphic designer to a product manager. The projects require consultancy from multiple disciplines, but the clients seemed comfortable with the one on one approach.
The number one rule of a business is scalability. More money, more people, in less time. But here’s a problem: full-time jobs and university on top of the freelance. The result is a rollercoaster of tight schedules, sleep deprivation, and grumpy faces.
That is such a great way of learning.
Time constraints and budgets are two things you are unlikely to learn in a classroom in which the limit is the sky. Theoretically, anything can happen, and you are the master of your design world. But as soon as you start interacting with people is when constraints appear.
Narrowing down the possibilities makes you resourceful, and that is a great ability in business. Working with a small number of clients let you build personal relationships. And that’s when you understand that less is better, and the secret of good design is getting to know the stories of the people so well that when you diagram a communication strategy, you are informed and with a total mastery of knowledge.
Together we worked on 12 projects for clients total. Plus many others just for ourselves. And on a personal note, this made me grow up more of a product owner rather than just a designer.
For the first time, we were entirely responsible for dealing with real clients to understand their user needs. I had to negotiate budgets, schedule delivery dates and keep the team on track.
I’d recommend not only having the experience of getting out of your comfort zone and being able to deal with the several faces of a project. But also grabbing a good team when you’re planning on going “solo.” There is no jack of all trades. And you can learn so much from interacting with professionals who cover other issues that are not yours.