Good design is more than a new shirt

As part of my 2008 goal of getting out of admin work and back into more creative endeavors, I recently subscribed to the Designers In House mailing list. The signal-to-noise ratio is pretty bad and I decided to unsubscribe when I recently saw someone post advice to designers looking to get ahead in the world. The author suggested that

[Creative] Directors do not wear band shirts, ripped jeans and Chuck Taylors. If you are looking to move up in the industry, dress for where you want to be, not where you are.

Apparently, a great way for a young designer to get ahead is to get some pleated chinos and a collared shirt.

This argument makes a flawed assumption regarding the universality of “directors” and other senior managers’ dress code. It would be more accurate to say that *most* companies’ directors don’t dress like this. Some do, though. Frankly, I’d rather work for and become a manager who doesn’t wear a monkey suit just because ties are status quo amongst big shots.

This advice is symbolic of a general career philosophy that I was surprised to read on a design mailing list. Sure, if you’re wearing ripped jeans because you’re too lazy to update your wardrobe you’re displaying a certain lazy attitude towards perception and branding. If that’s the case, you should consider making a project of your closet and update your sartorial selection.

But if you actually want to wear ripped jeans and believe they make the world (and your ass) a better place, you should do it con gusto. If a designer’s only creative thinking is how to be more like the goon in the corner office, it’s hard to imagine that any good creative work is going to follow. And that’s just good stuff – forget about “outstanding,” creativity, which is nonconformist by definition.

I recently read a nice summary of the conformist instinct from Seth Godin: someone who works all day so he can buy stuff at night.

Where’s the passion? Where’s the joy?

When your career path is pointing to a shopping spree at Banana Republic, it’s time to skip the makeover and find an environment that rewards fun, innovation, and creative strength. So my 2008 resolution is to take dress codes and any other soul-killing, conformist, consumer instincts and ef them up the effer, as my lovely wife likes to say.

Nonconformity, innovation, and hard work lead to bigger and better things in one’s career than mimicking your boss. All of the best designers and programmers I’ve ever met were the most likely to don cons and a zep shirt.

2 comments

  1. When design works there’s no friction, and you can just go about doing what you intended. Good design anticipates what you need without making a big deal about it.

    However, anticipating what people need isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, and can have unanticipated pitfalls.

  2. On the eve that I planned my blog post about what I expect from a Creative Director, your blog post came as a wonderful spark on my engine.

    1. Your observation of the designer + seniority + clothes is an interesting one as it reminds me of my observation in art school: the designer / artist who care most about how they look often have the shittiest work. To me they try too hard to look like an artist when really it’s their work and not their clothes which defines them.

    2. Look no further than the photoshoot for Advertising Age’s Who’s who among digital independents for division on suits vs casual. It appears that suits appear to be winning (I can’t tell if they’re all creatives though)

    3. My opinion on this matter is that as long as a creative director serve as a great source of ideas and inspiration, I can care less what they wear. It’s when they only can present well, dress well, but cannot think of anything innovative which bothers me tremendously (I’ll get my act together to create my post 🙂

    Are you available for drinks / lunch some time? Would be great to catch up!

    Cheers,
    See-ming

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