Fact: Creative careers are changing across the board, from the platforms we design on, to the age-old standards of working for one company for life, to focusing on a single speciality for 40 years. But don't be worried. 99U recently guest-hosted an AIGA/NY conversation with Big Spaceship CEO Mike Lebowitz and illustrator Ping Zhu to dig into the pressing questions, like what skills need to be sharpened (and perhaps blended) to tackle the opportunities of tomorrow?
In a lively conversation on the future of work, Zhu and Lebowitz shared their projections (and some pure guesses) on bringing more transparency to work rates, educating giant companies on what exactly creative agencies do, and where designers will fit in amid new technologies like VR and robots. (Spoiler alert: Zhu says illustrators shouldn’t get bionic hands just yet.)
Read on to get a peek into the future.
Commit to unexpected collaborations with unlikely partners.
There’s a false notion that creatives specialize in one corner, and analysts are isolated in another. But Big Spaceship is experimenting with prioritizing their collaboration. “We’re pairing up our analysts with writers and taking data to a place where it has a much more pervasive interface, which is the written word,” says Lebowitz. “All our clients can read something and not all of them can get a good scan off a dashboard.” The result is numbers turning into ideas that all stakeholders can more easily understand and act upon.
Don’t get bionic hands (yet).
We’re all scared the robots are coming for our jobs. (Even the lawyers are in danger.) But Zhu remains calm. “My skill set is called illustration, but it’s really about the way that I think,” she says. As long as you carve out your own personal style and approach, you’ve got something that not even robots can replicate, giving you something defensible that you can count on even as technology keeps on disrupting the status quo.
As jobs evolve, you need to educate your clients on what the additional workload requires.
Lebowitz says there can be a disconnect between what a client thinks you do, and what you actually do. Clients, out of ignorance or lack of curiosity, can therefore make requests that are simply untenable. “A prospective client will say, ‘We want to meet the people who will be working on this,’” says Lebowitz. “Well, we’re an agency; we don’t have people on the bench. There isn’t a team for you to meet until you give us work.” Providing the client with a clear understanding of what the work entails, ensures that you do—and get paid for—all you’re contracted to complete.
Freelancers, talk about your darn salaries.
We all have some reticence about talking about money with our peers. But that lack of transparency is hurting freelancers, says Zhu. Creatives are guessing what rates they should charge their clients based on very little data other than asking their inner circle. (Zhu often gets her data from five trusted friends.) But since we don’t have a crystal ball for what others are charging, Zhu suggests we start talking about it more freely among ourselves. And she walked the talk for the pool of designers in the room. An illustration for The New York Times Op-Ed? $300. For a set of digital stickers for Google? $2,000. It’s a start.
Embrace the power to say no.
Early in your career you have the greatest power in the world. The power to walk away. Not many people can do that later on—there are obligations, kids, employees. It’s time to flip the narrative that young designers are at the mercy of the companies they want to work for. “You’re interviewing for an entry level job and you’re terrified. But you can say, ‘I don’t give a damn’ if you don’t like them,” says Lebowitz. “Really, you’re interviewing them.” So even when you’re just beginning and think you’ve got nothing yet, remember you’ve got a certain kind of freedom and that’s worth something.
Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer.