The Benefits Of A Buddy
For The Solo Designer
By Janet Bertucci and Julianne Nardone
For many designers, operating a home-based studio can be a work dream come true. Rewards include flexible hours, project control and varied responsibilities. Occasionally, though, soloists may wish they had a close colleague to provide moral support, professional advice or even a sympathetic ear. To alleviate feelings of isolation, we recommend finding a design buddy. Design buddies can help each other stay focused and push the design, while fostering a sense of camaraderie. And in the event a large project comes along, an existing buddy relationship immediately doubles the resources of both design studios.
Finding a buddy
How you find a colleague will depend on where you live and work, and how connected you already are to the design community. We suggest that if you are taking a design class or networking through a professional group such as the Graphic Artists Guild (www.gag.org) or the American Institute of Graphic Arts (www.aiga.org), you ask others if they would like to start an informal critique group. You'll soon gain a sense of whose work ethic and personality might make a good fit.
Potential design buddies can also be found at business expos, in the yellow pages, at local chambers of commerce, or on the web. Be persistent and use any existing contacts you may have.
What to look for in a buddy
Criteria for the right design buddy will vary from designer to designer, but in order to develop a trusting relationship, buddies should admire each other's work and be able to give positive and constructive feedback. The buddy partnership needs to be reciprocal, or else one buddy may end up feeling like she is only giving and not receiving.
Additionally, it's important to make sure that:
- you feel you can learn something from your buddy as well as teach her something.
- your buddy has a similar working schedule so you'll generally be available to each other during your work hours, whatever they may be.
- your buddy is comfortable talking honestly with you about your work and isn't defensive when hearing truthful criticism of her own.
As in all successful relationships, design buddies need to be positive and encouraging with each other. Stay in contact at least once a week by phone or email and, if possible, meet in person once a month.
The benefits of a buddy
You and your design buddy will share a benefit normally reserved for the group office environment: collegiality. Buddies can:
Act as sounding boards - Working alone, we can get caught in one way of thinking or paralyzed by a seemingly impossible decision. Bouncing ideas or situations off another design professional can help us jump-start our creative juices.
Offer design critiques - Another set of eyes allows us to "see" our work from a different perspective and become stronger designers. Pool resources - Solo starters tend to reinvent the wheel as they develop day-to-day systems for running their businesses. Buddies can pool their knowledge and materials, and build their businesses faster and more efficiently as a result. Challenge comfort levels - Sometimes we need a "tough design love" approach. We want someone to pull us out of our design ruts, remind us when we're doing that same old layout again and talk us out of undercharging yet another client.
A buddy can also become a friend. If you are in need of human contact, pick up the phone and give her a call. She may be feeling the same way.
Working harmoniously with your buddyPeople often feel vulnerable having others critique their designs, or talking frankly about the status of their business. A few guidelines for working with your buddy can keep lines of communication open and effective. Start with these and create more as your partnership develops:
- When critiquing a design piece, first share what you like about it. From there, address the aspects that you feel could use more development or attention.
- When discussing a design or an aspect of your buddy's business, keep advice in the first or third person. For example: "If I were in your shoes, I might" or "I wonder if moving this over to the left would change the balance" rather than "You should definitely crop this."
And, most important, please tell your buddy when the feedback she gives you is well received by the client. Buddies want to know that their design suggestions, although not always used in their entirety, have been helpful.
Janet and Julianne
Janet Bertucci is the creative director of Folia Graphic Design, and Julianne Nardone is the creative director of Designing Words They have been design buddies for ten months.