Two months ago, I walked into Sliced Bread Design and started my first full-time design agency job. I had stereotypes about design agencies (mostly involving tight jeans and those weird glass whiteboards), but honestly I had no idea what I was getting into.
I'd gotten one piece of advice from Guthrie Dolin of Odopod: agency work means always being a little out of breath. After my first week, I saw how right he was – I'd never, ever worked so fast. On my first day, I sat in on a phone call scoping a new project. In five days, I sketched, prototyped, tested, and did visual design on my first ever client project. On the fifth day, I handed my work back to the client, an education startup. I cracked my knuckles and took a deep breath. Clients? Bring 'em on.
Now that I've worked on 1 small project and 2 big ones, I thought I'd share a couple unexpected things I'm loving – and not loving – about the pace and feel of design agency work.
The best part: You get to scratch your curiosity itch, day in and day out, in the service of helping real people.
I'm currently working on a project that involves investigating, in a whole lot of detail, how a certain class of employee gets paid. It's an incredibly complicated process, and it's not like I was put on this project because I somehow already knew about the weirder ins and outs of obscure payroll situations. "That Molly Wilson, she sure knows a lot about payroll" is a statement that has never, ever been uttered.
Why am I admitting this on my blog? Because going from zero to knowledgeable is what you do, over and over, at an agency. You have to love learning new things enough that you'll get excited about diving into whatever gets thrown at you, just because you're the sort of beast that's built to learn.
Am I excited about payroll? Um. I wouldn't exactly call it an area of personal passion. But am I excited about improving the daily grind for people – people who have tough jobs made even worse by software that doesn't meet their needs? Hell yeah. It feels like a very productive outlet for my (sometimes distracting) desire to understand everything going on around me.
The worst part: You have to log your hours.
Yup, as an agency designer, you now have something in common with your corporate lawyer ex: you have to keep track of what you are doing every hour of every day.
I don't know if this is as brain-grindingly difficult for everyone as it is for me, but reflecting on my time use tends to make me hate on myself. If we estimated that something would take 10 hours and it took me 15, I feel like an idiot. If it took me 5, I also feel like an idiot, because I must be missing something. I can't win this game!
My colleagues tell me I need to chill. An estimate is an estimate. Sometimes you're over it, sometimes you're under it. But, as we all know, reassurance from others only goes so far. It's up to me to learn to silence my inner time cop so I can focus on the work, not the time.
I wrote this article in January, but I didn't feel comfortable posting it until I was done with the payroll project. I'm 4 months into my job now, but most everything above still applies. I'm happy to report that I've worked through some of the time-tracking demons, but it's still a work in progress. Got time-tracking sanity hints? Tweet at me @mollyclare.