January 18, 2024

10 brutally honest pieces of advice to my former designer self.

I was not meant to be a graphic designer, or even less a creative director for real time interactive and metaverse experiences.

I majored in 20th century history at high school and then did one year of political sciences at university, when I realised that in a country such as Argentina, political career was not something I was probably cut out for. But perhaps I was wrong.

I did have love for films, videogames and the internet, but a major sweet spot for "Behind the Scenes" featurettes on HBO where the mixture of practical and visual effects and early computer graphics were shown. That was for me real magic.

My logic eventually was clear. I love movies, I love posters, what if I learn how to design one poster, as the basic unit of visual communication, then I multiply that 24fps and I get a movie.

I was young, and stupid, and it took me a while to find my path so here is a list of ten things I would tell my younger creative self and I hope he doesn't listen to me and repeat the same things, otherwise I wouldn't be the person I am today, and I kinda like it.

  1. All those sleepless nights paid off. But prioritize health.
  2. Do an apprenticeship. All the free work you did to get experience also paid off, everything counted.
  3. Save more. Pay yourself first and build a freedom fund.
  4. Document your work better.
  5. Spend more time mastering the tools.
  6. Learn how to draw & create every day.
  7. Make more friends (build an audience).
  8. Go all in. Live in a shity place and focus everything on your craft.
  9. Have technology always up to date.
  10. Have kids earlier.

1. All those sleepless nights paid off. But prioritize health.

Our job demands that we sit in front of the computer for hours.

It was very often in my university days to pull all nighters either working on a particular project, or studying for a particular subject.

This tendency only increased when I started working at the first motion graphics studio, pitching until the very early hours because volume only seemed to come the last 2 days of the sprint. I remember taking massive amounts of coffee, sugar, cookies. And I gained a lot of weight in the meantime.

It was not until I was about 27 and after a couple of health scares, that I started to get interested in the theme of longevity, started drinking orange juice and eating blueberries in the morning, and luckily now with 40 years old Im very glad those first steps that lead me to weight training, crossfit, and running, etc.

Still lazy at heart.

2. Do an apprenticeship. All the free work you did to get experience also paid off, everything counted.

If I would have to start again everything, I would do a sort of apprenticeship of sorts.

I've had many boss-mentors over the course of my career but I have never really done apprenticeship type of work for long periods of time.

I would today, try to find someone that is doing the type of work that I would be interested in, and go all in, work for free and dedicate all my focus and energy to learn as much as possible for as long as possible.

That could have also been done at a place where I would have started from the very bottom, for example at a game studio creating assets, learning all about the tooling from the ground up.

My first job out of university was directly as an Art Director, therefore I always lacked the technical skills on a core level.

3. Save more. Pay yourself first and build a freedom fund.

Im not talking about fuck you money, but many decisions I had to make during my career were for a lack of funding to take the time, think, make my personal project and reshape the career on my interests.

Sometimes it feels that where I am right now, it's the direct result of not having the capacity to take 1 or 2 years off to reshape where I would see myself in the next couple of years.

Either bootstraping a project or learning something new.

4. Document your work better.

I've had a lot of great and cool projects during my whole life, that there is no real record of them.

Some of my most successful friends, have always spent time creating proper documentation about their work. Creating nice renders, of photography of the finished product.

I tend to look at my work as some sort of flow, and hope that the best one will definitely stand out the test of time on itself, but that is wrong thinking.

For example, last year when we launched the metaverse experience in Las Vegas, I could've travelled with my DSL camera and record and document the whole launch experience and the car much better. Luckily my colleagues at Journee created this fantastic film, which I've never would've managed to do by myself and its a whole project on its own.

BMW Vision Dee - Created for BMW's Vision Dee Launch. Role: Creative / Art Director

It is very easy for to make even not so polished work just stand out using proper mockups and templates. The same amount of effort and energy should be invested into proper documenting and presenting the work to the world.

5. Spend more time on the technical side.

I definitely wish I would know how to code.

At least to understand the basic principles of computer science to be able to solve problems from a different perspective.

I always felt that my limitations were mostly due to my lack of proper depth and understanding of the tools and therefore I had to use what little I knew, and come up with creative solutions and my superficial knowledge of them allows me to communicate with more technical artists.

But definitely bossing around about how to use Houdini, Javascript or even Blender Nodes, I think would make a massive different on my visual output.

6. Learn how to draw & create every day

Drawing is thinking and seeing.

One of my mentors once told me, "the only tool a director ever needs is pen and paper".

I always regretted not having a more formal way of expressing my thoughts on paper. Not knowing how to draw was always something that behinderd me on my creative journey.

As a director, it sometimes pays off to show someone else that idea that you have on your head to someone else with clarity and drawing is the perfect medium.

Good use of perspective, human anatomy. All things that I would love to master.

I'm addicted to purchasing notebooks but they are all empty because I don't know what to do with them.

Photo of my notebook.

Recently I stole my son's pastels, and started creating, not every day but almost, and start to discover a new form of expression.

It still feels that not knowing how to draw properly is not allowing me to express the things that are in my head. Like not knowing enough of a language to talk to people.

That creative output, then reflects on my work, I take another look at color, texture, and the tangible aspect that is so missing on the digital space.

7. Make more friends.

I'm not a friendly person, maybe not even an likeable person.

The few people in my life that I call friends, are true friends. That I know I pick up the phone and they will be there, and even if i don't see them after 10 years, they will be there for me.

Nowadays, with the internet, you can build an audience of followers, and like minded people that you can have a shared journey together.

If that is something that you are interested in then, supporters, followers, or people that follow your journey, will come back to you if you are genuinely engaged with them. You can feel part of your own little community that can help you grow, or go independent one day.

But if that is the case, I want to be lucky enough that I connect with the right people.

8. Go all in. Live in a shity place and focus everything on your craft.

I went all in on adventure, but with a bourgeois spirit and soul.

I've experienced extreme discomfort and really extreme situations, like that time I was struck by a rare vascular disease that turned my skin red for months alone, in the middle of a dark winter whilst trying to make a big job come across because I needed better health insurance. I cannot say that I left everything behind and dedicated my living self to my craft and soul. Maybe in that case I would've become an artist.

I tried to "balance" things out. Go all in on something, but making sure I got paid for it, and not reinvesting always that money on myself or my craft but to enjoy things in life, go out exploring Berlin's techno nightlife and wasting a lot of time trying to "find myself".

9. Have technology always up to date.

A bicycle for the mind.

Your tools should always be sharp, clean and up to date.

Business will run smoother if your tech stack is up to date and it allows you to create the things that you want with ease. Tech should not be an impediment for you to express yourself.

They should actually give you an edge. Allow you to work faster. Become a bicycle for your mind.

10. Have kids earlier.

Controversial, but, to be honest, when you are young, you have the energy and stamina to go through things with higher rates of recovery. Not only kids give you purpose, but they give you a sense of responsibility and real growth that nothing else delivers in this world.

Your lens and priorities will permanently change, but also, if you would have kids at you early 20s, you would have the energy to go through parenting and career, and when your kids can start taking care of themselves and become more independent you will be able to focus on the best years of your career without sacrificing their formative years.

More kids please.

December 3, 2023

Consistency Of Vision

Im just a guy that loves this work too much. I spend more hours in front of the computer than I spend hanging out with my family and that is a fact that probably a lot of us share in this industry, or that is even just the reality of the working conditions of intellectual workers in this century.

Today, I was lucky enough to be part of a extremely high level conversation between two of the most important creative leaders in this business. And a phrase came up that struck a never on me and that was the title of this post: Consistency of Vision.

I can only write from my own experience, and I believe this is, by far the main differentiator in business success that you can have in the creative industry.

Vision, is the most important trait of a creative individual. Not only this, but also on a human level, in any industry, craft or anything for that matter.

It the ability to connect to the imagination, with vivid clarity, imagine things and articulate it to someone else and create something out of it.

One can say there are different manifestation of vision, one can be a visionary storyteller and write amazing books that keep readers engaged and motivated to turn the pages, others can be more visionaries in terms of ideas and communicate things to the world that make you see things from different perspectives and points of view, perhaps convince you and even change your mind about things.

Visionaries, worldbuilders in the creative industry are the ones that can tap into a world of unseen things, environments, atmospheres and creatures, and can imagine realities where the rules are made by us. How do these worlds look and feel? What type of details we get to appreciate, smells, sound.

The more you can connect and enrich this inner world, the richer your visual output will be. The more you think and work to expand the resolution of the things that you are experiencing in your imagination, the more interesting your work is going to be.

There will be challenges that arise, that seek to put you away from your vision, voices and opportunities that want to influence the way you see things. Some will enrich you, some will make you lose time.

And time is running out. Keep the vision clear, and consistent. You will get there.

November 7, 2023

The secret to infinite creative productivity.

In this post I will show you how you can increase your productivity 10x and get to better results faster in any creative discipline. We'll uncover the essence of perseverance and the iterative process in the realm of design and creative problem-solving.

We are all grownups here: We know the secret to success in the creative industry does not rely on the genius, or the talented, or even the...well genius. The secret is really that the ones that want to solve the design problem the most, and by want, I mean, REALLY want the thing, they will solve it. At any cost.

The Importance of Persistence in Design

When facing a creative problem, the designer that manages to create more value per output, is the one that will get closer to success. Design is a process of discovery, you will start doing something, and it will not match what you have in your head, so you need to iterate over and over until you start discovering that little seed, that little thread that you need to pull until you figure out what that thread is.

It is in the repetition, in the exploration and in the discovery that you will find what tool, technique or driving force actually starts to multiply the output. That is for example, the essence of style.

The Significance of Style

Style is a set of choices and decisions that are repeated over and over forming a pattern that is recognizable and over time, it starts to mature its coherence.

The Dual Approach to Problem-Solving

The formula is on one side understanding the problem and on the other side trying to brute force a solution, eventually you will manage to marry both. The more experienced a designer you are -more library, more tools, more skills- the faster you will transform overclocking your brain and trying to bash through a problem, but everything starts on those two energy demanding edges.

Application of Principles Across Creative Disciplines

Here is the thing, that principle can be applied from developing a custom set of brushes, to drawing circles in order to learn how to draw basic shapes and also if you want to learn anatomy in order to complement the foundations, and you manage to repeat this every day until it becomes second nature, then you will start finding solutions faster.

This happens also when you are trying to solve hyper complex design problems, in real time for example, working on a landscape or an environment, you need to understand your foliage brushes, distances, landscape design, scale, composition, etc. Then in order to get to a perfect frame, you need to go through hundreds of iterations.

In concept art, usually before starting drawing, people do thumbnails, and they do sheets of dozens of them until they find that seed of what they are looking for.

Same applies to character design, character designers go through many iterations until they find the right curves, the right colors, the right expressions, etc.

With photography its the same thing.

The Art of Discarding

Bear with me with this one... In philosophy, via negativa is used to explore the nature of existence and reality. It emphasizes the limitations of human language and understanding when it comes to describing complex or abstract concepts. By focusing on what something lacks or what it is not, philosophers aim to clarify the boundaries of what can be known or defined.

We judge design, by what its not, and so, we try to define what it is, since designing is bringing something useful into this world (serving a commercial purpose then digital design has intrinsic value), we poke, challenge and stress test design and see where it fails.

Some designers value their work too much. They believe that their output is something that comes from the gods, and treat their work. But its the other way around, you can create divine work only if your decisions translate to an end result that solves the design problem.

Therefore, like evolution, the strongest designs, meaning the ones that are judged by stakeholders, will eventually be challenged, morphed and adapted to fit that particular need that the design is trying to fulfill.

Therefore, you have to get used to discarding your work, to try millions of iterations until you learn something, until you find something that is useful not to satisfy your ego, but to solve the business problem and provide value.

The Path to Infinite Productivity

You cannot brute force your way without an intellectual understanding of a problem, but the secret, in the end is not too complicated. Start. That is 50% of the battle, then keep going, repeat, try something else, repeat again, gain confidence and speed, iterate as much as you can and have as many options as possible, have a backup plan and be a master of your craft. Be open to examine your work, as if you were an ice cold judge, poke holes and challenge it, be brutally honest with yourself and make sure that the only thing you are mostly aware of is your own ignorance. If you ruthlessly apply this principle to every single stage of the process, no matter how small, it will mathematically push you forward in your discipline.

November 1, 2023

Only share your work when you are absolutely confident.

Or the AI clickbait version: The Presentation Code: Cracking the Formula for Conquering Your Creative Demons

There is this thing in the creative industry, which is, there is always a point where you have to share your work with someone else for review...the presentation.

In the creative industry, the moment of presentation is akin to baring your soul before others for scrutiny and critique. It's a process that often induces trepidation, even for seasoned professionals. I've experienced the nerves & the sweat. However, I've also learned that these presentations, when approached with the right mindset, can be transformative, providing opportunities for growth and affirmation.

Presenting always involves exposing yourself, raw, naked in front of someone else to get ripped apart, your flaws will be shown in public, and every mistake that you did will surface. Depends on the audience, if its a peer that is more senior than you, there is a really big chance that your work will be challenged in a way or another.

This doesn't mean that the experience will or has to be traumatic, it might be intimidating in the beginning, if you are a more junior in your career, even though, I always dread some feedback sessions, I get nervous and sweat, feel insecure or get an instant imposter syndrome shock in my bloodstream.

A presentation with an empathic, benevolent partner, can give you honest and motivating feedback. It can give you confidence that you are working on the right path and maybe share with you a key or two that can unlock your career path. You never know. Sometimes, after a presentation you realise, that you've grown.

The more experienced that you are presenting, the more confidence you can project and the easier it might be for you to navigate your audience. But there are certain guidelines that can help you arrive to your appointment more prepared and reduce not only the level of stress, but of insecurity, dread and give you protection when you are facing a challenging counterparty.

First things first, you are a designer, not an artist. You solve problems. It's crucial to remember that every element you present must be justified. From the color palette to typographic choices, every design decision should have a purpose. A cohesive narrative that ties together the elements of your presentation can make all the difference. Anticipating potential weaknesses and having well-prepared counterpoints ready can fortify your presentation against potential challenges. If you are presenting a moodboard for example, you cannot have random images that don't make sense one next to the other. People will always, and I mean always, pick up your weakest spot within your performance and question you around it.

A well-prepared presentation not only encompasses the content but also the design and communication strategy. It's crucial to ensure that every detail is meticulously planned, allowing you to confidently navigate through your presentation. By being aware of your current position in the creative process and having a thorough understanding of your work, you can confidently present and respond to any challenges that come your way.

This also trickles down to the presentation design, the story beats, the way you prepare the editorial. How you communicate your ideas. The more solid and prepared you come - the more you know the upside downs of your work, the higher the rate of success. If someone challenges you, better to be over prepared, have stuff under your sleeve, that you can pull off to make a point.

If you have all your systems in place, all your content on point, and you are aware what stage in the process you find yourself, you can present and respond with confidence. Confidence in presenting is not just about displaying your work; it's about showcasing your journey and the expertise that underpins every creative choice you make.

October 31, 2023

The Designer class will rule the world.

I can't get enough with these clickbait titles. I want to perfect them so that you can get in and read my AMAZING content. In this post I will explain you how there is the rise of a new creative class that is meant to take over every aspect of society.

OK - Let's go down memory lane.... once upon a time, when the first iPhone was released in 2007, I remember being at University as assistant professor at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (FADU) and the head of staff just came back from Miami, and in between his rants about how it is a city without culture and how easy it is to just arrive there with some street art project of sorts and make it, he also came with a little 3.5-inch screen device called an iPhone.

As a nerd that he was, he was fascinated by it, and said to me something I will never forget.

"From now on, design problems are going to be logical problems, problems of interaction, not aesthetics."

He was insanely right. At the moment, websites and motion graphics were all the rage, and the term UI-UX designer did not even exist. My students were struggling printing slides from Photoshop and Illustrator, and I was hot-stuff just because I was doing 3D motion graphics using the cloner with Cinema 4D.

Mr. Jobs creating infinite and true prosperity to a whole new class of creatives.

As I developed my career in Europe, I started to see with time, more and more a couple of terms that became more and more popular. One was User Interface and User Experience designer. In the beginning I thought they were only fancy names for website designers.

How much has the web and mobile market exploded that designers started to become more and more part of the hierarchy of organizations big and small. Gathering importance as they started to solve bigger and more complex interaction problems. And because one could argue that form follows function, those that managed to enhance the UX via fantastic and delightful UI were growing stronger, becoming essential parts of these startups and corporations.

Nowadays, we have rising stars "Chief Design Officer" - "Chief Creative Officer". And those designers that managed to cross-pollinate creative problem solving with creating business value, from an agency and also within every aspect of the value chain, start to prove their value more and more.

A new term also that surfaced at that time was "Design Thinking" a problem solving methodology that was popularized by IDEO that came as a sort of productized framework to solve problems from product to service placing the user at the center of the problematic.

Problems, problems, problems...

Designers are problem solvers, and those that can properly articulate, propose and build solutions, will sooner or later will be transitioning more into higher leadership roles. Sooner or later designers will start replacing engineers and business executives as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and that will be the dawn of a new era for humanity: global warming will revert, wars will stop and the world will finally transform into a better place.

A 2019 McKinsey study found that companies with strong design capabilities outperform their peers on financial metrics by 32%. (Yes Mr. Consultants!) A 2020 study by the Design Management Institute found that design-led companies were more likely to report innovation success, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction. Finally a 2021 study by the Boston Consulting Group found that companies with CEOs who have a strong design background are more likely to outperform their peers on both financial and non-financial metrics. - some of these papers can only be accessed via subscription, we will have to trust Google Bard for its word.

  • Jony Ive, the former Chief Design Officer of Apple, is widely credited with helping to make Apple one of the most successful companies in the world.
  • Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, is a former designer who has instilled a design-centric culture at his company.
  • Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet (Google's parent company), is a former design engineer who has overseen the development of some of the most popular products and services in the world.
Johny Ive spent 4 years after leaving Apple perfecting this typeface: LoveFrom (more info)

These are just a few examples of designers who have achieved success in leadership roles. As the world becomes increasingly complex and interconnected, the skills and mindset of designers are becoming increasingly valuable. As a result, it is likely that we will see more and more designers rising to the top of the corporate world in the years to come.

© Ivan Flugelman 2022 Creative Direction, Design & Strategy in the Metaverse.