Iterating on a career, 2 years at a time
A little over two years ago I decided to take a break from my own design practice and join Jet Cooper (now Shopify Toronto). At that time I was stationed at the Center for Social Innovation and worked with a selection of activists, and social innovators. I had two goals in mind for joining a larger team; to work in collaboration, and to work more closely with web technology and on complex projects. I certainly achieved those and much more thanks to the amazing co-workers who quickly became family.
Getting closer to the 2 year mark it was time to look at my toolbox of skills and the trajectory of my career and re-focus my energy. Looking at my favorite projects always serves me well as a compass for the years ahead. So with that in mind I reviewed my past work and picked what I was most proud of. Four themes emerged:
- Strategy and Visioning
- Mentorship (social incubators and tech startups)
- Community driven initiatives (CreativeMornings Toronto, HCD Connect meetups)
- Citizen engagement
See something missing in the list? Yep, there is nothing in this list specifically about visual communication and interaction design, my bread and butter respectively. I am a visual communicator no matter what, but I am most interested in my work when I'm using my design skills to address one of these areas (or hopefully all four).
It was clearly time to act.
After many conversations with Verne and Satish, my good friends and co-founders of Jet Cooper, we slowly came to the realizations that perhaps what's best for the company in the next couple of years is not aligned with my goals and vice versa. Those conversations, our comfort in being open and honest, and our genuine interest in each other as people first and co-workers second, are the things I cherish the most. It's sometimes ok to leave a job that gives you everything you thought would make you fully satisfied and look around.
I joined Jet Cooper as employee number 7 and had a blast collaborating with a tight knit team on building, breaking, and re-imagining our process. In two short years our team and clients grew in size, and our projects in complexity. In March of this year when I decided to move on we had moved offices twice with a talented team of 20 designers, developers and strategists.
Serendipitously the IDEO.org fellowship deadline was around the corner when all this was happening. Everything about the fellowship was such a perfect match for what I was looking for that I decided to use the application process to update my profile and portfolio and if I didn't get accepted just look for similar opportunities. I submitted my application, transitioned out of my full-time commitments with Jet Cooper, and started taking on independent projects to allow myself more time to explore.
If you call yourself an instrumentalist people will hand you a score sheet. If you call yourself a composer, you will get commissioned for original creations, and no one would mind if the mastero himself can play the solo parts too. (You have to be good at both, of course!) This was the clear analogy in my mind throughout my self-evaluation process. I wanted my profile to reflect my actual role in the projects of the past 4 years.
With that realization I made a personal commitment to only take on projects where I am fully responsible for strategy from the ground up and define the deliverables only as strategy documentation. Of course I am still the guy that drafts the documents in InDesign, obsesses over typography, and uses visuals and infographics to illustrate a point. But I made sure I am not getting paid for design deliverables alone.