Working Smarter, Not Harder
hen I look back on periods in my life where I struggled to prove myself, and reach the next rung on the ladder of my career, it's amazing to me to discover how much of what I went through then, I am still going through today. Time isn't as frivolous as it used to be-sleep is more important, as are family and friends. I now know the value of time, and strive to spend it wisely.
I have spent the bulk of my life paying my dues by doing what other people asked of me, and whatever I thought was needed to get the job done. My parents encouraged me to be true to my word. This became my trademark and identifying characteristic-if I said I was going to do something, I would do it, no matter what the consequences. I started hand-lettering in the seventh grade, and won my first client through a family referral. It was my first experience with hard deadlines and all-nighters, and in the process I learned how to estimate my time, and to deliver consistently with quality and few errors.
In the first years of my life in the design and advertising world, I was “smart as a whip,” but not the best designer in the house. As a junior designer at Toyota, I paid my dues by learning how to use a stat camera, (one that spanned an entire conference room), and create mechanical boards using a wax machine, an Xacto knife, a precise eye and a lot of patience. I helped to hand draw a custom Lexus typeface, and discovered layout, balance and structure. I witnessed the unveiling of the new Toyota logo that I thought looked like a cow brand. While the Japanese saw intersecting ellipses of unity and a subtle “T,” I thought it looked like it had come straight out of Texas. It was my first experience with the nuances of cross-cultural design, and how perception might vary from one culture to the next.
In the years following I delved into the advertising and entertainment industry, eventually working as a full-time consultant. “Kelly puts 'free' in the word 'freelance,” my friends would say, as each project was more challenging than the last. My normal mode was to say, “sure no problem,” and my clients would only see the deliverables-high quality and on time. They weren't privy to the pain and all-nighters it took to get the final results. I believe I made about $5/hr during that time, but learned a lot in the process. Working in the entertainment world meant a certain pressure was applied at all times to pull off the impossible, whether getting a promotional CD-ROM designed and published in less than two weeks or to launch a new television network in two months. I learned how to manage difficult clients and work with teams in a collaborative (albeit frantic) manner.
Paying my dues has meant setting my vision and intent towards what I truly love, and learning to work smarter, not harder. Through the years, I have had the chance to explore several fields within the world of design and have determined not only what I enjoy, but also what I am good at. Now, at gotomedia, our mantra is “exceed expectations and take vacations.” I am lucky to work with a group of people who actually love the work they do and look forward to Monday mornings. After more than half of my life in the field, I find that the journey has been more important than the destination and that dues are paid along the way, as one continues to learn and grow. Does one ever stop paying their dues? In the design world, especially within the field of innovation and technology, it seems there would never be a time when the dues were paid in full. But the rewards don't stop either. And that is the seductive draw of being in a field where change is imminent and inspiration comes from constant exposure, learning and experience.
Published originally on the AIGA site, circa 2011