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Defining Success as a Designer and a Business Owner

When I think back to my college years, and what my expectation would be of my career, I always thought it would be defined by working for a hot studio, winning awards, and having my work published in Communication Arts. Maybe even judging a design annual for said publication. Participating in panel discussions at the local museum.

Perhaps I’ve gotten more cynical about my profession as I’ve moved through my career. There was a time when my liberal arts education (and also the Bauhausian roots of my design faculty) led me to believe that good culture came from good design. As a designer, I had a mandate to create work that contributed to the social good in a meaningful way.

I guess it should come as no surprise that, like people shift from liberal ideals of their youth, to more pragmatic conservatism acquired through age and wisdom, so it is with design.

In my younger years, realizing that many things I would design would only end up in a landfill, I thought it was important that if I’m going to contribute to the detritus, that I should at least put it on a nice recycled paper stock. Now I learn that the amount of energy and associated pollution required to produce recycled papers can be worse than many virgin materials.

And likewise, I’ve become more practical when it comes to what is defined as ‘successful’ for a designer. I’ve realized that one can create a work of art and win awards, but fail to meet the business objectives for a client. One can create a beautifully produced piece, but blow the printing budget.

I think how I’ve found success (and I define that as having a profitable design studio that is producing great work for great clients) is that although I may never reach certain design ideals and solve the world’s problems with my work, my designers and myself are solving problems for our clients. We’re communicating clearly, and eloquently for our clients. We’re cognizant of our responsibility to the environment and culture at large, always looking for how we can do things better.

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