The design industry has undergone major changes in recent years, and 2022 was no exception. Some trends continued—high demand for services, extended lead times and labor shortages—while others began to shift, especially as economic uncertainty grew. On Trade Tales, host Kaitlin Petersen heard designers’ stories firsthand, welcoming nearly two dozen professionals onto the podcast to lay it all bare: their biggest turning points, the nuts and bolts of their business processes, and everything in between.
Here, we’ve curated 12 of the best insights designers divulged on the podcast this year. And if you’re not already a listener, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify to get new episodes every other Wednesday.
Social Media: Expectations vs. Reality
Managing an online presence was top of mind for many designers this year, though some made the bold decision to cut down on their screen time—or step away from social media altogether. That was the case for New York designer Meagan Camp, who woke up one morning in 2021 and decided to hit reset, clearing her firm’s accounts and archiving all of her posts. “It was like this creative social experiment: If I could start fresh, wipe the slate clean and start over from the first post on the type of work I would like to showcase, what would that look like?” says Camp. “It was such a weight off my shoulders. I felt like, ‘Hallelujah, I have done something that no one else has done, and they probably think I’m nuts, and I don’t care.’”
A similarly complex relationship with social media prompted North Carolina–based designer Ashley Ross to share the story of her real-life transition from her day job into a full-time design career—and explain why on social media, she told her audience a slightly different story while her firm found its bearings. Meanwhile, New York designer Alvin Wayne explained why he chose to further integrate his social media presence into his professional life, even going so far as to make it the centerpiece of his business.
As the lines between work and home continue to blur, it’s no surprise that designers still face challenges around stress and burnout—but if there’s one thing design professionals do well, it’s finding creative solutions to sticky problems. For Seattle designer Lauren Caron, that meant taking a less-is-more approach to her portfolio, accepting only the projects that felt most meaningful in order to protect her energy in the long run. “I just came to the conclusion that I needed to ‘Marie Kondo’ my clients and decide which ones brought me joy and which ones didn’t,” says Caron.
Other designers went in the opposite direction, bringing in other people to help shoulder the load when it became too much to bear. California designer Kevin Isbell tapped business coach Sean Low to help him define his goals and establish systems to protect his creativity—a process that ultimately ended up with Isbell building downtime into his workday in order to decompress. Fellow California designer Shaun Crha went a step further in his own business journey after a family emergency thrust him into the role of full-time caregiver overnight, placing an even greater strain on his boundaries. “It really drained my emotional and physical bucket,” says Crha. “The biggest turning point was realizing that building a team around me was the only way I was going to be able to sustainably continue my business.”
Taking on new team members was a solution for some, but for others, it was the start of a new challenge. When Meg Lonergan joined the podcast, she shared how hiring employees—and later, letting go of them all within a six-week period—almost prompted her to leave the business for good. Instead, the Houston-based designer enlisted the help of a variety of specialists (including a business coach, a therapist, a burnout coach and yoga teachers) and revisited the issue with a fresh perspective on her approach and her own leadership skills.
Fellow Houston designer Nina Magon faced a similar challenge when conducting an organizational overhaul of her business. With her sights set on creating a firm that embodied the luxury experience, she had to let go of employees in order to build a new team primed for growth. “When you’re in a creative business, it’s kind of a two-way thing: Either you stay smaller, and you manage every single project, or you think bigger,” says Magon. “To do that, unfortunately, you have to let go of something.” For Virginia Toledo and Jessica Geller—the duo behind New Jersey design firm Toledo Geller—the biggest adjustment involved spending nearly a decade as a team of two, before more recently expanding into a five-person team and adapting to a new normal as principals overseeing a support staff.
Lessons in Longevity
Weathering both the industry’s soaring heights and its more turbulent times has proved to be one of the most gratifying challenges for guests who joined the podcast this year. As a designer who rose to prominence during a period of change in the industry, Massachusetts-based Erin Gates capitalized on the design blogging craze of the early aughts to launch her business. When the book deals and licensing agreements began flooding in, she shared how she doubled down on creating an authentic brand to ensure that her rising popularity wouldn’t fade into a passing trend. New York designer Delia Kenza experienced a similar career trajectory, which kicked off with a major magazine feature that set her on course for high-profile clients and television appearances. After leaving the structure of design platform Homepolish, she realized that whipping her business practices into shape was the best way to sustain her growing success.
Some of the biggest lessons in longevity came from Michael Cox, designer and co-founder of the firm Foley&Cox. On the podcast, Cox shared how his business has grappled with ebbs and flows over the course of its 20-year history, while committing to refining its processes every step of the way—including, even now, an audit of the firm’s operations. “One of the aspects that I have to be most aware of is myself being a hurdle to future growth,” he says. “What I may have implemented 20 years ago that has served me and the firm well, that I’m proud of—maybe is no longer relevant, and maybe someone else on the team has a fresh perspective, a new idea, a better thought process.”
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