Finding Happiness at the Workplace as a Designer
Posted by: Eoin Thomas O'Hehir
I've been out working as a designer since I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in the May of 2013, and I've had the pleasure of working for many different types of companies in that somewhat small period of time. There are so many different kinds of places to work at and they all have different vibes, so it begs the question: How do you find the right workplace for you? How can you feel successful where you work?
Firstly, you have to find a place you love to work at. This is a little difficult, especially when you've just graduated and you don't know what you really like in a company. For me, I worked at a small startup for a few months in NYC before leaving to work at a large medical company in my hometown (Rochester, NY) and I found I really missed how quickly I could get things done at a smaller company. At the larger company I felt like I could work at whatever pace I wanted and enjoyed the larger paycheck, but it took so long to execute ideas and I couldn't really feel how large of an impact my decisions had. I was such a small cog in a very large machine and it was hard to tell if I'd made any progress as a designer, which eventually led me to leave the company. However, that's just me! It takes some experimentation to find out what you like in a workplace. Don't be afraid to explore and find out these things. Once you do, you can make better decisions about where you want to work.
Next, as a new employee, you're a fresh face. Often times you don't get seated with a lot of responsibility to make sweeping changes in a project. However, it's up to you to go above and beyond to really stand out. If you put in the extra effort, you make yourself more memorable as an employee and more respectable as a person. Put in the extra effort on small projects or tiny side-tasks and people will notice. This definitely works, and certainly did when I put in a couple hours to design a poster next to my espresso machine that I brought into the office while I was still working at the large medical company. I just wanted to let people know that they could use my machine to make their own brew if they'd like, but just to ask me first so I can show them how to not burn themselves. I couldn't tell you the number of times people just came up to chat while I was making my morning coffee, complimenting me on the poster I made. Plus, making lattes for people at work helped me get to know my coworkers better. That was one of the small things that helped me feel better about working there, because I got to meet so many different people outside of my tiny corner of the very large office building.
That's another thing - get to know who you're working with. It doesn't matter who you are or where you work, you're going to be working with a team of people who have their own varied interests and backgrounds. Go out to lunch with them, talk to them about your own life, ask them about theirs. Everyone has their own stories to tell. You'll find work will be that much more fun once you get to know everyone better. If you can laugh with the people you work with, you're doing the right thing. It'll make your work life that much more enjoyable.
Finally, ask for feedback on how you're doing. And don't just stop there; give feedback on how you've felt or how things are going for yourself too. Since I started at the DevShop, every couple of weeks I've met with Alec and Jesse P to ask about how I'm doing. It's been amazingly helpful for me to do so. By giving and receiving feedback, I've been able to get the guidance I need to complete projects and mature as a designer, plus I also get a chance to let those two know how we can improve our process. Especially for those of you who work in small companies, this is crucial to both your own improvement and the company's improvement as a whole. Honestly, I didn't know how crucial opening that line of communication was until just recently. After leaving the large medical company, I left to do some remote work for a startup in London which lasted for all of two weeks. There are many reasons why the relationship didn't last, and it was mostly due to my own slowness. I simply wasn't executing designs fast enough, and a large part of that was because of a time zone difference interfering with when I could get feedback on my designs. However, if I started asking for professional feedback sooner I would have known during those two weeks that was a big issue. In hindsight, I could have worked around the time difference in a multitude of different ways, but it's always easier to see these solutions after the problem has already come and gone.
You won't make good work or feel good about yourself until you find a place that rewards you adequately for the work you do, but every person has different definitions of what an adequate reward is for good work. Find out what that is for you, strive for it and work won't feel so aggravating and soulless any more. To me, if you're not having fun, you're doing something wrong. So, in whatever way you can, have fun. Enjoy your work and enjoy yourself.