A birdie in the name of Ashwin Birdi tweeted a few weeks back that it would be fun to see ADPlist collaborating with Chris Do – an Emmy award-winning designer, director, CEO and Chief Strategist of Blind and the founder of The Futur and voila, a few weeks later after having a conversation with Chris, this mind-blowing After-hours during which this conversation with Chris Do, happened. It just goes to show how truly a powerful community ADPlist is.
It suffices to say the session bombards you with unprecedented wisdom, from all the years of exciting experience which Chris has had. Not to mention the great set of questions prepared by the ADPlist team, hosted by Tridz Banerjee which brings out various stories and excerpts from Chris’s life that can act as a guiding path for all the designers out there.
ADPList, a.ka, the Amazing Design People list, is a global community, led by designers Felix Lee and James Badur to help designers and the design community as a whole find each other. The ADP community revolves around designers, where the aim is to help budding designers find the right kind of mentorship, to help hone their skills, from renowned practitioners in the field, and land the kind of jobs they are looking for.
Focus of the session:
- What designers go through daily – making a living, earning, having a mentor, applying for jobs, motivating themselves
- Relationships with stakeholders and clients
- Designers in workspaces – working with tough managers, a bad work environment
- Bridging the gap between the creative to analytical side and everything in between – our 50 shades of creativity
- What design leadership truly means according to Chris Do
The entire session was an hour and a half long, which was split into 3 segments. It started off with understanding Chris’s day to day activities in the Covid-19 struck world, his background and views on design and progressed into the various discrepancies that we find in the huge industry that is design. In true ADPlist style, the session ends with Q&A from the audience.
We are going to break down the session into smaller topics and help you understand what transpired between Chris and Tridz with all the participants in this uncensored episode of After Hours.
Change in plans for Chris due to COVID 19
It has been a time of chaos and adaptation for the entire world in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Chris has been just as affected by the new world view as any of us.
When Tridz asked him about some of the things he has changed due to this new climate, Chris mentioned that he has had to adapt to the new normal, since his entire team was gearing up to move into their new office space which has been sitting empty for the past few months due to the lockdown restrictions.
He says,” As unfortunate as this is, we are experimenting with virtual workshops, with whiteboards and me being able to walk around instead of just sitting”. He also mentioned that it would be foolish to not adapt to the changes as people would only lose out on opportunities.
Finding balance in Work from home
With the concept of work from home becoming the new normal, Chris had to find a balance between working and resting as he often finds himself intensely working without taking any breaks. [Hey, that sounds like the rest of the working population actually!]
So he takes afternoon naps and breaks to not wear him down by the end of the day.
What is he currently obsessed with?
Chris is undoubtedly a giver and to no one’s surprise, he is obsessed with teaching as many people as he can. He said that, “How to help the design community to have more success is what I am thinking about every day” is what he is constantly mulling over.
Did he always plan on getting into the design field? When did he decide to give a facelift to the design community?
As a student, he was not aware of design as a professional field that could fetch money and allow him to produce wonderful things. He only knew art, and although he never wanted to be a starving artist, he still enrolled in art classes.
“I was always creative though, at least I consider myself to be a creative being” he says and he only heard of the term Graphic design when he was 17 or 18.
1. Chris and his thoughts on Design
1.1) Thoughts on several professionals being interested in the design industry for the monetary benefits as an average product designer in the silicon valley earns 75000$. What matters to you?
“If you pursue money, you will wind up with a broken heart,” said Chris who insisted that a person owed it to themselves to try and live out their passion, no matter the hardships.
He is a complete non- advocate of people doing something for monetary benefits.
“You might be rich but completely bored,” he added. The right attitude to have according to him was despite the hardships of the industry, professionals should want to pursue design.
1.2) Thoughts on extensive skills and experience being packed into a 3 month bootcamp and if that is even enough to deal with the real industry
Chris thought that on a theoretical level it might be possible for a course to pack in all the expertise and skill sets needed for tackling the industry but the student would have to be absolutely beast like in their work.
But in practicality he thought that it was probably not possible for students and teachers to be that focused and dedicated.
1.3) About his first design job and pay
While still in college, Chris took a semester off to work for an ad agency in Seattle with a pay of 40k$/year. He said that at that point of time he felt very accomplished with his corporate apartment and the company flying him to and from LA.
They were ready to pay him 85k$ yearly if he joined them full time, but he knew advertising was not for him.
1.4) What he would have done differently in the past
Just before the bubble of the internet and its vast possibilities had ended he was swamped with tons of clients wanting to work with him. But due to his already packed work life, he wanted nothing but to avoid them by doubling payments and then doubling them again.
He wishes he could have just expanded his team, serviced as many clients as he could and just embraced the demand because it would all end one day.
1.4) About how he slays in design
He said that it is important to remember you always have something new to learn no matter how far you have come in your career.
With this attitude even though he came from a print design background,when the industry was moving towards motion design, he quickly learned the new concepts and kept himself relevant.
1.5) About his 50% analytical and 50% creative side
The story went like this – Chris’s father was a completely analytical man whereas his mom was very artistic and he became the perfect amalgamation of the two.
This worked out very well for him since he is able to handle business goals and creative goals side by side which always wow’s his clients.
He believes that balancing the two is highly important to win in the industry.
2) Chris and Mentorship
2.1) Having mentor to help find jobs
Chris rightly pointed out that mentors are in short supply and heavy demand. So if someone is willing to help you by giving one on one feedback, people should embrace it. He remembered Seth Golden talking about designers finding heroes from various channels like Youtube, Books, Podcasts and more if only designers are willing to listen.
He admitted to having different kinds of mentors throughout his life who pushed him back on track and interestingly he even had a business coach for 10 years that he constantly met with.
2.2) What makes a mentor really successful?
The perfect mentor according to Chris was someone who gave feedback and goals that would suit each mentees style and way of working.
That was the way he differentiated a mentor from a consultant, where the latter would give you goals to achieve and things to do, like a to-do list without necessarily moulding it for the people.
2.3) Paid career coaching vs giving back free knowledge to the community
This was something he felt was personal to every individual. He began The Futur because he was not happy teaching the semester wise content to a maximum of 18 kids at the arts center.
“My goal in life is to teach as many people as I can before I die” said Chris.
According to him paid coaches are important too because they instill discipline in oneself to see through their goals and not give up when times get tough.
“When you give up something to get something, you find value in it”
2.4) Advice for self taught designers
He was amused by the idea that people believe self taught to mean learning from no one or from no source. He rightly pointed out that self taught people pick up resources from the likes of books, instructional videos, guides and forums which all amount to other people’s knowledge.
He mentioned Danny Yaunt’s journey of becoming multiple Emmy award winning designer, which was as self taught as it could get.
3) Chris and Business
3.1) His relationship with competitors
Chris is someone who believes in befriending his competitors and called it a fantastic marketing strategy.
He believes that all agencies will go through phases of being small, medium and big and that you should always seek to help those who are newer than you.
Building these relationships helps get those clients that someone superior to you in the industry cannot service.
3.2) His experience working with clients who were intolerable
Chris laughed off the fact that he has had his fair share of clients who troubled him but accepted it as a part of the business game.
Once a client had asked him to have a pager on him to be able to reach him at all times which he found to be extremely ridiculous. He urged people to trust their gut instinct when it came to clients because it has always worked for him so far.
3.3) Working in a toxic environment
So many of us have faced working conditions not matching our expectations.
Chris said that if one felt strongly about working under a terrible boss then they should start planning the escape route by looking out for better jobs and quit.
And if nothing works out, which was the case with him, then just start your own setup. He felt so out of place in all his workplaces which finally pushed him to start The Futur.
3.4) Belief in the process of Learn Unlearn & Relearn
He is a firm believer in this philosophy, mostly because of how much he has had to reinvent his company with changing times. One has to constantly update their knowledge base, he said, affirming that as you keep reading new things, you should be flexible enough to overthrow past learnt knowledge.
He also mentioned that he gets a creative high from trying to perfect his process even during crunch time of deliverables.
3.5) Companies looking for entry level designers with 2-4 years experience
This brought back an interesting memory for Chris, where a candidate who he thought would be a great fit for his company rejected his offer for a better monetary opportunity. And years later the same candidate returned, but unfortunately Chris was no longer interested in the type of work the candidate was doing.
Chris had much better prospects to look at
He mentioned this because he has seen several candidates always chasing the tech companies and their unreachable demands where instead they could be working with smaller firms.
After diving into the different shades of the creative world, Chris also gave some advice to all the designers out there. He urged everyones to measure their progress not with their future self that does not exist yet, but with their past self, from which they have evolved. He voiced the fact that we all have finite energy which should be used for creating and spreading positive thoughts only. The After Hours session with Chris was as insightful as it was fun, as we found ourselves tumbling over with laughter at his anecdotal jokes.
Chris ended the session on a magical note, by saying, “If I could wave like a magic wand over all of you here, I would wish for you to learn to come to peace with who you are today, to love all the good parts of you and also to embrace the parts of you think are ugly”