Blog: Iain Lanivich

Iain Lanivich is a Digital Creative Director for Campbell-Ewald, directing all phases of creative work from concept development through production. He has also played the Detroit hard rock scene for the last 10+ years as a singer.  Iain believes it's a small world so you better start networking. He'll be writing about finding and keeping talent in Detroit.

Post No. 3

How do you produce top-quality creative work

It’s a very simple answer… 

  • Know your role.
  • Make sure your team knows what you bring to the table.
  • Make sure you know all the skills of your team.
  • And put EVERY ONE on the team in positions where they can contribute best.

The point I was trying to make with my previous blogs is that if, as a kid, you’re not put in situations to find your talents, you’re going to have trouble finding them.

When I went to St. Clement, my options were pretty limited – your typical Math, English and Science classes, with few electives. When I was a senior, I thought my only option to succeed was to become an engineer. So I went to a university that specialized in engineering – only to find out it wasn’t for me. If luck didn’t come my way, and I didn’t get hired into Campbell-Ewald, I would’ve never known I possess many of the talents I utilize today.

Finding the experts

I don’t try to be a designer. I know I’m not. I know I can concept with a vision of the end in mind, I can transform business strategies into creative solutions, and I can present my ideas to an audience in a way they will understand and get excited. I know I can express passion in my ideas, and I know when a design is straying from the overall objectives. But I was never formally trained in art and design, so I don’t try to be an expert. I often look back and wonder if I was ever presented with options, as a kid and teenager, would I be a top-notch designer today. I don’t know. 

I also didn’t grow up with any musicians. Most of my friends were jocks. So, if I hadn’t met Eli (at the engineering university), then I would have never known that I can rock a stage – and would have missed that whole part of my life. It’s funny how everything works out. But unless you’re pushing yourself to try new things --not only try them, but put forth 110%-- you’ll never know. And you’ll be stuck in your comfort, or un-comfort zone. 

So, anyway, back to the topic. How do you produce top-quality work?

Well, you assemble teams based on the skill sets that are needed, and you find players that are EXPERTS at those skills. For me, since I’m not a designer, I know that I need an expert designer on each team. Now, obviously, not everyone is an expert (YET). If you’re hiring a junior or entry-level position, they’re probably far from being an expert, so you gotta look for potential. And personality also plays a key role – if this person is great at something, but you know they’re not going to gel with the current team, then that’s a major red flag. 

The painful interview process

And yes, it is painful. I don’t care if you’re a junior, a senior, a manager – it all sucks. I’m going to talk a bit about the key things I look for in an interview – and I’m currently looking, so if you’re an interactive creative looking to make a jump, or be part of a rockstar team, then hit me up on myspace. 

So, there’s a key thing I see all the time in the junior peeps (and I used to do it too), that seems like a good approach, but really isn’t. When you’re new to interviewing, it’s very intimidating and overwhelming. You read into everything way too much: What questions are they going to ask? How am I going to respond? What clothes should I wear, etc.?

It kinda cracks me up when I walk into an interview to see someone in a nice business suit, and I’m wearing some baggy, ripped jeans that look like I just got back from following the Dead
. Now, there are jobs out there that want you to look a certain way, but truth is, I can care less if you walk in wearing a mesh-half-cut shirt and a pair of running pants, as long as you fit the profile I’m looking for. Well, ok, the mesh would be a li'l too much. You should have seen this zuit-suit-wearin’ guy I freelanced last year. I still get crap from the guys for dropping him on them (sorry fellaz, I was in a pinch). 

At the end of the day, all anyone wants to know is, how is this person going to make my life better. If you’re the manager, then you want to know that this person fits the role you need. If you’re someone who is going to be working alongside the newbie, then you want to know how this person is going to help relieve you from some of your day-to-day responsibilities.

Here’s the issue – picture yourself as someone who just got out of college, interviewing for a new position. The interviewer asks you what you can bring to the company – you respond with “I’m pretty much willing to try anything, and get my feet wet, doing whatever you want me to”. When you say that, it sounds to you, like you’re telling them that you’re willing to give this job everything you got. Well, what I hear is --- umm, this person doesn’t have a clue what they want to do, or what they’re good at, so I can’t afford to give this position away to someone who "may" have potential, but will definitely be a project. 

As sad as that sounds, it’s true. I have very few positions to fill – ranging from junior to senior – and I need people that can walk right through the door, and start to contribute. I don’t want to have to think "what the hell am I going to do with the new guy," cuz that puts more work, on my already-overwhelmed plate. 

Now, lets look at it from a different angle. If I ask the same question "what can you do for my team," and you say "well, I’m an entry-to-mid level designer with a lot of room to grow. I’m currently a solid flash tweener, but putting a lot of focus on my ActionScript knowledge (reading and writing to XML and loading external files), and I have some basic AfterEffects skills for minor video editing and flash integration," then I know exactly what I have to work with. If I don’t hire you, it’s not because of you, it’s because I needed something a bit different.  

Another issue that is pretty consistent is the materials that people bring to an interview. Bring what you want us to see. Not what some portfolio builder tutorial told you to bring.

We all know that the finished product for most jobs, has been watered down due to clients, and legal, and devils-advocates, etc. – so we want to see the initial designs or concepts. Because that is the point at which you put in YOUR vision, not someone else's.

Now, yes, there are some very good standout campaigns, or solo projects – so if you have one of those, then you should show it. But if you had an idea that you are passionate about, that's never seen the light of day, and you still believe in it – then bring it (even if it’s just some crazy chicken-scratch). I recently had an art director bring in sitemaps, wireframes, and Flash coding examples. I was like hell yeah! And guess what, I hired him. 

Jack of some trades, master of one (or two)

Center for Creative Studies (CCS) is a very good school for interactive design, as well as Macomb Community College’s new MACA program. Several months back, I spoke to about 300 potential and current MACA students. I was pretty blown away by their setup. I’ve never been excited about school, but I swear, I wanted to go through their curriculum.

And who would have thought MCC would put together a kickass interactive program? I grew up knowing it as 12 Mile High (I guess now would not be a good time to say I went there….ummm). The MACA curriculum is setup to change with the industry – as new applications and trends roll out into the interactive world, they add it to the program. It’s a program that’s setup to provide you with the skills to do a lot of things, but allow you to determine your own forte.

However, the interactive world isn’t easy – if designing is your thing, or flash, or video – you need to work it on your own time. It’s definitely not a 9-5 job. You may go home at 5, but then you hop online and do some research, or you think about something while talking to your girlfriend/boyfriend (babe, I don’t do that to you, tho').

I remember days when we used to work 60 hours, but only put down that we worked 40, just so we wouldn’t go over budget, trying to make something as cool as it could be. Now, you definitely got to love your job (or at least that project) to do something like that. 

So, in the end, it’s good to be a jack of all trades, but you better work towards being a master of one, or two skills. And sometimes this can be very difficult for an interactive creative. For example, it takes a completely different mindset to design, as it does to code ActionScript in Flash (or any coding for that matter). So, odds are, you may know a little of both, but you’re probably only excelling at one or the other. 

If you’re reading this, and you’re one of those EXTREMELY RARE people that can flip between both mindsets, and rock great quality on both, hit me up on myspace. 

Talk to you tomorrow, as I will address the need for more global warming in Detroit during this wild and crazy winter!