24 August 2006

[design] More From the Fray: Interviewing as Market Research

In interviewing for jobs one sometimes finds out things one didn't know about, and it becomes a lesson, if approached at just the right way.

I was fortunate enough to go out on another interview yesterday. I walked in not knowing if I would be a good fit for this organization so I made of it a research thing.

Walking in there, I had already acquired information that I didn't have before. I'll not specify who it was over the company's own privacy interests, but in the day between when I made the appointment and walked up to the company's front door, I found out a lot more about photography (digital and film, and taking pictures of very specialized subjects) than I thought I would.

The job requires Quark experience, so I found out that despite the up-and-coming of Adobe InDesign there are still shops committed to the platform; I do note, however, that in my job searching so far, I find that I see the word InDesign a lot more than I do the word (and yes, though I tend to call the product XPress, for a while now, the products official name has been QuarkXPress). A corollary to this is, if you want to work in layout, at least try to grok QuarkXPress. Quark has a free trial copy of V7 you can download here. At least get you an orientation.

I found that, if you want to work web design, then you have an edge if you can at least understand the concept of mail merge, and that knowing where to find out about shopping carts will find you in good stead.

I also found that marketing insight is vital if you want to at least have an intelligent conversation. The company's primary web presence exists, largely, as two sites; one styled more for consumers and one styled more in thier 'purveyor-to-the-trade' mode. The consumer site can function as a front end to the purveyor site; this is what Google analytics calles a 'defined funnel'. The first site is slick, glossy, and well-designed; the second, an efficient, simply-styled site for those who know what they're looking for. I noted this in the interview and it resulted in a rather educational discussion of what this company wants its web presence to actually do for them.

I found that a really unified graphic approach indeed does make an impression. The company's graphic face uses a handful of typefaces and a simple, uncomplicated theme. The result; a luxury appearance. And it communicates that very well. Standards matter. Adhering to them strengthens the company's personality and style.

Frequently I talk logos. Even more frequently, people talke trademarks..you know, the ® thing. There is a tendency to confuse the two, and this is a dangerous misunderstanding for a designer who has anything to do them:
A logo, as understood by myself (and many), is a unique graphic device, either abstract or realistic, that may or may not also contain type, and uniquely identifies a product, service, or what-have you.
A trademark, on the other hand, is a legal thing, which uniquely describes a product or service but which confers a great number of additional rights on the trademark holder. Trademarks require distinctive character, as well; it cannot be discriptive. You can have an "Apple® Computer", but you cannot have an "Apple® Apple.". Read the Wikipedia's entry on it, which is quite complete.
Many times people will say "trademark" when they mean "logo". For the layman, this is forgivable, for the desinger who deals in identity, much less so. And there are legal steps which must be taken and billable hours expenede to get that little ® mark. Respect the mark.

Just another word on marketing, as a concept; the transition of thinking of myself as someone who can work in design to, looked at another way, something that can be marketed, has been jarring, just a little. There is a certain depersonalization, but there's an empowerment to be had there too (sorry to resort to the itchy neo-words there, but the meaning's the thing), and that comes in acknowledging the rules of the game.

Our economy–such as it is, however its working now–is a market economy, and if we cast ourselves as a value-producer, that market is where we sell those values. My market, as "Brand Me", is the graphic design field. Occupations in that field come in a dizzying array of shapes and colors, but when I come to my market I have to put my wares up front–what I have, what I can do. Understand this, and you can participate–at least until the paradigm shifts again (sorry 'bout that overused word too).

On a related note, it's not a bad company. Would be a pleasure to work for it. No chance for the grass to grow under my feet, something always needing to be done. As I said to the fellow interviewed me, "I didn't learn this trade to read a newspaper on the job".

Well, at least in so far as I'd be involved in its design.

Let's think the good thoughts.

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