Designers were just designers.

Good times when designers were just designers.

Designers were just designers.

Good times when designers were just designers.

Wake up in the morning, find inspiration, meet people, do prototypes. Simple and playful stuff.

No, it is not like that. Not just for industrial designers, but mainly all the roles that have the word “designer” in its name have this destiny in common: have just 25% of the time to design, while doing so many more things in the rest of the day.

I am writing this blog post on Friday and I woke up this morning saying “it is finally design day, today Mario Alessiani does design”. Yes, because the rest of the week was so full of commitments that I had time to sketch ideas just on my way on buses and trains.

Design is easy. You just write 100 emails a day, attend 6 or 7 meetings and then start designing at 4:45pm. (a tweet from one of my favorite quote generators Tad Carpenter).

What I learned during my 10 years of independent professionalism is that design occupies more or less the 30% of the time.

Being an industrial designer requires a lot of skills like: sketching, 3d modeling, rendering, prototyping, technical drawings, engineering, graphic design, presentations management… and then accountability, promotion, social media, sales, client relationship, meetings, people management, talent research, personal branding, event participations, media management and so many other things that I refuse to continue the list.

I remember Fabio Novembre (I don’t remember where and when, maybe at V&A London in something like 2011) saying that making projects is a very small part of his job because he has so many things to do that design occupies just a few moments of the day. I just graduated and I thought that was a normal thing for such a successful person to see things in that way.

I was basically wrong because as soon as I started my own thing, a couple of years later, I understood what he meant.

In the first moment the design routine went a bit out of control. I used to work for companies, design studios and do some freelancing, so my day was all about designing. 

When I became “Mario Alessiani Design”, so I started fueling my brand using my name, things changed a lot. The phone started ringing, emails came in, so my time started reducing without even noticing. Last, not least, I was doing my PR and it was a total pain and a lot of time of work, but I had no money for an agency.

At the end of the day I was working 12 hours 6/7 days a week.

I was enthusiastically enjoying my job, but there was something wrong.

Take in consideration this: I have no mentors. I live in a small city in the center of Italy and started my own activity very young, so I had no one to copy, I had no idea of what to do. So everything I learned is the consequence of trying and failing.

Given that the only thing to overcome this overload is to understand and manage it, not just by doing a few adjustments, but changing the method and putting down some rules. It is more about trying, like an athlete. We do not just learn things because we need it, but because we do it.

The real problem is that we, as designers, don’t have the preparation to face such a routine and we break.

During the years I met so many talented colleagues that gave up this dream job for a 9/5 work somewhere because they felt they can’t manage freelancing or starting their own studio. Not because they were no good at what they did, but because the management part was scary even if it was a solo activity.

I studied, I listened, I trained until things started dancing together. It is not perfect yet, but if I see myself 10 years ago, I assure you that I did make strides.

So, if I was talking to myself 10 years ago I would say:

  • make a calendar of your activity (yearly, monthly, weekly and daily);
  • be sure to show all the workflow to your client so she/he understands how much effort you are putting in your work;
  • be sure that your community (both online and offline) are aware of what you are doing, even if it is a WIP;
  • work smart and use tools to go faster. No one cares if you use Canva or Photoshop, use the smartest for the task;
  • it is never actually urgent, you are not a surgeon.

For more words about designers or companies workflow, have a look at “The mistake most companies do” or simply browse my Journal page.