Two young designers visited me. They wanted to discuss their futures with me. This was their question: ‘We want to design great concepts, independent of the type of design. How to realise that?’

I love that. Talking about futures of creatives. And after two years of building DESIGNLADDER I know a thing or two about designer careers ;-).

They wanted to design everything. Not just the product, not just the website, not just the leaflet. No, the whole thing. And, preferably just the concept. Somebody else would have to do the execution. Their first question was: “How would you call this, in the marketplace?”.

My direct answer was… “design-heaven”. How awesome would it be to be able to come up with great concepts, independent of the type of design and not needing to dive into nitty-gritty details? But straight after my answer, I added: “Sorry guys, but design-heaven doesn’t exist…”

 In the old days a designer did everything. Think Paul Rand, designing everything at IBM. Today, a designer is more and more specialised. In large corporation you have specialised designers for every touch point. Obviously there are some overseeing these touch points, but the actual design jobs are siloed as never before. So, this idea of ‘doing it all’ is not common sense at all – certainly not in larger corporations.

Then, regarding their wish of making concepts only… Well, there are some large agencies doing exactly that. But at the same time there are many groups of individual professionals doing concepting. And they deliver fast. Extremely fast and cheap. So, doing ‘concepts only’ is possible but potentially becoming a commodity.

 After some initial disappointment, they continued with a second question. “OK, but how to make this work anyway?”. I love these questions.
‘If it doesn’t exist, let’s invent it.’
‘If it doesn’t work that way, make it work.’
So, we got into invention mode.

Going the business route would require fast and cheap delivery, serving the clients wish. This didn’t feel very ‘autonomous’ for them. And that turned out to be their deepest intrinsic motivation: ‘creating things autonomously’. So, we discussed the artistic route. Making concepts yourself for things that truly arouse you. Initiating them yourself, autonomously. And offer them to organisations. Or show them to the world. And gain recognition as a designer duo that design great concepts.

I asked them what their vision was for all of this. When would they be that famous design duo rocking the world with kick-ass concepts? It turned out that that vision was basically what they wanted to do tomorrow. I told them to be more aspirational and realistic at the same time. Dare to express that ultimate dream: how could that look like, if you dream? And than – at the same time – be realistic about it: it would likely take multiple years to get there. I told them to ‘slice the elephant’. You can’t swallow one at once ;-).So, what would be needed to do first? In the year ahead? Or even just tomorrow? This conversation helped them to turn a big question into a draft plan.

Although the conversation – with me and amongst themselves – was not always easy, they loved the fact that they had some grip on their big idea.  The receipt for this conversation with your self about your career ideas is as follows:

  • Have an idea.
  • Know your intrinsic motivation.
  • Sketch the vision you want to reach.
  • Then divide the road ahead in smaller sizeable chunks.
  • And get into action.

Hey, this remarkably resembles what you can do with the DESIGNLADDER app ;-).

Try it out yourself…


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