Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Design Team Thoughts

Reader Joyce Lau asked a poignant question about design teams that has had me thinking all week. I'm not an expert, having been on only one design team temporarily a few years ago. But when has not knowing much kept me from expressing my opinion and offering advice? Right.

Please, if you have experience on design teams and have a different perspective, add your comments at the end of this post. It would be great if wanna-be DT members had a place to come for well-rounded advice, not just my very one-sided advice. Thank you in advance.

Here is Joyce's question:

"Would you share your path of getting onto the design team and making the decision that it is not for you? The broader question is: how did you know it wasn’t for you until you worked as a design team member. I can’t help but wondering how I can decide if my goal is unhealthy or unrealistic if I have not achieved it. I worry that if I quit too soon I will regret that I didn’t try hard enough. At what point should we let go and move on because it is an unattainable goal? To me it is an extremely difficult question. The harder I try, the more self-criticism, frustration and unhappiness will result; but it is just equally sad to learn that the goal has not been achieved. It will then lead to more blood and sweat which does not necessarily transform to success. Isn’t it a vicious cycle?"

Joyce's question makes my heart hurt for all who struggle with the issue of design teams. I very much wish I had an easy answer, but of course, I don't. All I can offer is my own personal experience (which is of limited help, actually) and provide some things to think about as a person grapples with this question.

Periodically, I look for ways to shake up my crafting. Several years ago, I was contemplating either trying to get on a design team or trying to get published. I was very much in the contemplating phase, though, and hadn't started acting on either impulse, when I was contacted by a company asking me to be on its design team for six months as a representative of clean-and-simple style. I didn't try out or compete for a spot.

I chose to accept the offer because of the timing and because it was something of a challenge. It was also temporary, with the option to extend if both parties were satisfied. The company's stamp style was not obviously CAS (the reason they wanted me on board), and I knew it would be interesting to adapt it to my style. But I felt safe that if I didn't like being on a DT, I had an easy out in six months. I can do anything for six months, right? Yep. I'm a big girl that way.

The company had excellent lead times for its DT. I had my stamps months ahead of time and never once felt pressured by last-minute requests or production delays, as can happen on other design teams. I also felt that my compensation in free stuff was adequate to what was expected of me as far as projects and number of posts.

But I knew after the first month that DT work wasn't for me. I disliked the blog hops for monthly releases and also disliked putting marketing copy on my blog that I hadn't written. I worked in marketing for years and have very strong opinions about it that were not in line with the company's philosophy. Let me stress there was nothing wrong with the copy the company provided...except that I didn't write it. Most DT members likely don't care about that at all.

Also, while it was both fun and educational for me to use the stamps and product I had to use, it was also work. After a few months, I knew I preferred the utter, absolute freedom of being a hobbyist. As a hobbyist, I do what I want, when I want, how I want. Being on a DT let me know how important that was for me and my creative identity. I'd suspected that about myself, but didn't know for sure until I tried.

So, if my very individual experience helps you feel better about trying to be on a DT or about giving up on it, well, then, YAY. If not, here are some more, ahem, intellectual things to think about.

1. Why do you want to be on a design team? There are lots of reasons a person might want to become a DT member. She might want free product. She might want the exposure in the stamping community (who doesn't want to be popular?). She might want or need recognition and validation of her talent. She might want to stretch her creative boundaries and feel that the structure of a DT will push her in good ways.

All of these reasons ignore one fact about DTs: companies create design teams to promote product. Ideally, both the company and the DT members get exposure and gain popularity, but the DT's job is to promote and sell product by representing the company's interests in inspiring ways. It's work, not fun and games.

So in my opinion, the best reason for wanting to be on a DT is that you love the product you'll be promoting. Adding a work element to what is, for most people, a fun hobby can kill the joy you feel creating.

2. Don't take anything personally. Selection processes for DTs vary from company to company. Some have competitions, and some just ask the people they want. And you can bet your bottom dollar the people who are usually asked to be on DTs are those who already have an established presence and following in the stamping community. If you're not that well known, it's going to be hard to break in. And even if you are well known, if your style or skill set doesn't fit what the company wants at that moment in time, they won't pick you. It's nothing personal. They just want to sell product.

3. Are you good enough? This is the question that causes people the most angst, and the uncertainty over the answer can shred egos in the process of getting the DT spot. Some people love the hobby and want to take their participation to the next level because they live in a capitalist, competitive society and assume that is the natural next step. But are they good enough for professional-level design work? Some are, some aren't, and others could be good enough with a little work.

If stampers don't get on DTs, they might start questioning the quality of their work. As Joyce expresses in her comment, self-criticism escalates when we don't feel successful. There is a huge difference between healthy self-criticism and unhealthy self-criticism. Healthy self-criticism makes you try harder and fills you with determination. Unhealthy self-criticism makes you feel beaten up and depressed.

I believe there are more "good enough" stampers for design teams than there are spots. In other words, plenty of people who are good enough will never, ever get spots because there aren't enough spots to be had. If you judge your creative worth by whether you get on a design team, you're definitely selling yourself short.

I also believe some people could easily be "good enough" if they took a design class or two. Not everyone is good at self-teaching, and putting yourself in a classroom setting (there are some great online classes) can improve the quality of your work. Ask a few people (not just one) you respect and trust to be honest for their opinions about your work.

Finally, I believe that we all should do what we love: make pretty stuff. Who cares if your pretty stuff is professional quality or not? It's your stuff. Own it. Love it.

4. Is your personality right for DT work? There are some personality characteristics that make some people more suited to DT work than others. For example, DT competitions are often intense, with quick turn-around times. You have to be creative on demand. Some people struggle with that while others thrive.

Also, we carry around all sorts of unconscious expectations of what the judges want to see in competitions, and in trying to fulfill them, we can totally miss the mark. During my time judging for the CAS challenge DT on Splitcoast, I saw perfectly talented entrants miss the mark, sacrificing good design to "dazzle" with a "creative" use of a product or pushing limits on requirements. Others just didn't read and follow the rules.

5. Are you valuing your joy highly enough? I'm going to tell you a story about my sister, Lisa, who started taking ballet lessons in second grade. In eighth grade, she went to the North Carolina School of the Arts. After she graduated high school there, she was an apprentice at the Pennsylvania Ballet. She auditioned for lots of companies, but never got a call-back.

Finally, one of her mentors at Pennsylvania called a friend at the American Ballet Theater, then under the artistic direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Lisa's mentor told her friend to pay attention to Lisa at their next cattle-call audition.

Lisa's name was one of seven called at the end of the that audition. She swears no one looked at her on the stage with 70 or so other dancers. It was her mentor's phone call that got her a call-back, not her talent. So many lesser companies had turned her down, and she felt that she was nowhere near talented enough for one of the top ballet companies in the world.

Plus, Baryshnikov, people!!!

The seven dancers were invited to take classes for a week at ABT. At the end of the week, some of them might be invited to join the company. Lisa fully believed she couldn't make the second cut, but she had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn from the best, so she grabbed it with joy. She focused on having fun and soaking the experience all in, not on impressing anyone.

At the end of the week, she and two others were asked to step outside the classroom. Lisa expected to be sent home, but instead, a woman looked her in the eye and said, "Misha would like you to join the company."

Lisa's graceful response was a snort and "You've got to be kidding!"

She spent the next five years of her life touring the world and sitting through physical therapy sessions with Misha on the table next to her. Her amazing success came out of years of hard work, sweat, sacrifice, blood, and pain, but it was her joy that clinched it.

So my advice to Joyce and all the other stampers who are trying to get on design teams is this: focus on your joy, not the competition. Stamping won't make your feet bleed (though it might bloody up your ego), but it can bring you incredible joy to create stuff. Never lose the focus on that joy in favor of approval-seeking through design teams or publications or other measures of popularity or success.

Because it's your joy that will clinch it.

And now it's your turn. What are your experiences with design teams? What advice do you have for those who are trying? How can stampers break what Joyce aptly calls the "vicious cycle" of hard work not leading to success?



  1. I love reading your perspectives Susan!

  2. Susan, I must tell you how much I enjoy your blog! Whether it is a short and sweet "here's my card and how I did it" or a lengthy essay on an interesting topic, your posts are ALWAYS relevant and well-written. THANK YOU for sharing your creativity and your thoughts with us! Also, THANK YOU (from this English major, daughter of an English teacher) for proofreading and for knowing how to write!

  3. Sound advice to those thinking about design teams. For myself, I am not on a team nor desire to be on a team for many of the reasons given in this piece. I would also add to the list is the fact that I work and teach craft classes. I do not have the time to be on a team and do not want to do something that would not be fun. I do have a blog and do feel some folks wonder why I am not on a team and do think I don't get as many followers because I am not a DT member. But, stamping is about having fun and having a chance to try new things that are suppose to bring joy, not more stress and grief. And, as I talked to those who are on a team, it is a lot more work than you may realize.

    1. Oh how fun to teach classes! And yes, DT's take a lot of time.

  4. Interesting discussion. I think we need to define design team a bit further though. I am part of the Memory Box design team ( a company driven team) but I am also a design team member for several challenge blog sites. For me these teams satisfy several needs that Susan touched upon. For MB, the joy of free product is always a driving force. I mean who doesn't like free stuff!! Plus, I LOVE a challenge and I work the best under a deadline. Different company design teams have their own rules and MB expectations of me are doable. I don't mind pushing the company line because it fits in with where I want to go and it provides me an insider opportunity to try to encourage the company to expand their boundaries in new directions as well.
    Challenge design teams fulfill my narcissistic needs to get my name and art out to the wider world, plus as I said before I LOVE a challenge. There are so many challenge blogs out there, that it is somewhat easy to find one that will fit your
    creative needs and time constraints. I found just playing along on several that I liked gave me the inside track when a position became available. My name and work were familiar.
    Soooo all this being said, there are no rules or expectations when it comes to our craft, it is all about having fun.When it isn't fun anymore because you have stretched yourself to thin by the expectations of being on a design team you need to rethink it.
    Joyce- don't be hard on yourself, just have fun and create!
    Susan- thanks for such a though provoking discussion.

    1. I was also on both company and challenge DTs. I found both to be restrictive in much the same way for my experience, but as you say, all DTs are different. Some--whether company or challenge--require more than others. I love our One-Layer Simplicity Challenge, but I couldn't do it without the rest of the team!

  5. Beautifully written, Susan, and it gives us a lot to think about. I went through a phase of being desperate to get into a design team. All the cool kids were on one and I wanted to be a cool kid too. So I applied and applied and applied and got turned down over and over again. I was pretty disheartened and had more than one pity party along the way. Then I got invited to be on a brand new challenge design team! Easy as that. I was thrilled and terrified. I've been on the team for a couple of years now and have had some, "What was I thinking?" moments. Don't get me wrong - the team is made up of a fantastic group of gals and I couldn't ask for a more easygoing and thoughtful team leader. But, as you mentioned above, it is work. Sometimes I really struggle to come up with a design and worry over it up until the deadline. The other part is the commenting. I guess for company design teams this isn't really an issue but for challenge teams it is. I had no idea how much time it would take and how hard it could be to always find something positive to say. I've settled into my groove on this team now and love the interaction with my teammates but it has made me realize that DTs are not all glitz and glamour. I admire those people who can juggle a dozen team assignments at once but it's just not for me.

    1. Jen, I had a whole paragraph about commenting and deleted it before posting. I got so burned out commenting that it took the joy out of it for me. I'm just now starting to recover! It was truly sad because I always loved leaving comments...before I HAD to do it! I feel your pain.

  6. I have no DT experience. My only comment would be the need to like the product that you will have to use. And a recommendation not to change your style to fit the product or DT.

    That's not to say your style won't change as you 'mature' as a cardmaker. But don't try changing it just to make a DT. I have stopped following many blogs because the blogger joined a DT and I did not like the product they were now promoting or the style they began to use.

    Many cardmakers join smaller or newer company DTs as a stepping stone to 'better' company DTs. But lately new companies are attempting to go after more well-known names for their DTs to help market their stamps. Also it can be expensive to buy new products just to try out for a company. If you don't already like the products and have some in your stash, you might want to ask yourself why you want to be on that particular DT.

    There are a lot of companies out there now. Maybe it is not unreasonable to keep trying for a DT spot. But if you don't enjoy what you are doing, it will show in your cards.

    I'd like to wish everyone good luck - and have fun - if you try out for DTs. ;-)

  7. As always, Susan, excellent words of wisdom. When I started making cards, it was for practical reasons. About five years ago, three weeks before the day, DH bought SOME of the grandchildren, Valentine cards. We still needed to purchase a few more, and since we made purchases like that in batches, we had time to buy and mail them all out on time. Those few cards cost us over $22!!!!!!!!! I said "NO MORE." And I started my serious card making. Then I discovered the world of card maker's blogs... Drooling. Hours spent looking. Trepidation at the thought of starting my own blog. DT dreams flying about my brain. So I created my blog, and name it GottadotheHappyDance. It's a goofy name, but one that defines a large part of me. We all need to find something everyday that makes us do a little happy dance, even if it's in our heads. I've done one this morning (in my head) about the tulips that have pushed their way up above the layers of dirt. But I digress a bit....After thinking that to be a successful blogger/cardmaker, I Should be on a DT, I realized that I what I really and truly wanted was to be me. A card maker. A friend. And all those other things that I already am. I don't have a "style", as I've come to realize as of late. I'm all over the place with the cards I make. But that's ok! Most of the time, I gear my cards to the people I make them for. Not sure if a DT would ever want me. But that's ok too. In my world, it all boils down to something you said..and I paraphrase and condense it here -- find YOUR joy, find YOUR happiness, find YOUR balance in making cards, and in life. I like that. I like that you put it all so well. If that means someone becomes 'world renowned,' great! I will be truly happy for that person. Or, if it means someone (like me) makes cards for the pure joy of making cards, also great. If we could all paint like Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, or all of the other great artists, who would be left to enjoy and admire the creations? I guess what I'm saying simply echoes what you've already said so well. Find your joy in whatever way that joy occurs. Thank you, Susan for this post. Thank you for all your posts. Always, always a pleasure to visit your blog. Bev

  8. Thanks for this well thought out post. If there is no joy why bother? Life's too short.

  9. I saw this quote by Walt Whitman today and thought of you (and your blog)...

    "The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity."

    Just perfect.

  10. The one thing I agree with, is that you have to love the product - if you don't it's a chore and you wont ever create anything that you'll be truly happy with....that's obviously from personal experience and on hearing on what others have said.
    Why did I join DT's ? Mainly, for the challenge - I felt I'd eased in to a groove of crafting that was easy for me to do...so, being on a DT makes you move out of a comfort zone and gives you a chance to expand.
    Great piece...thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your expert perspective, Paula!

  11. Plainly another thought provoking post Susan, and may I say how well you put it.

    Most card makers start off making cards because it challenges their creativity and (mostly) we all either hate our first few efforts or look back on our early efforts and cringe but ... we all strive to improve at our chosen craft and love seeing what the DT's produce when a challenge is unveiled. I often find that I look at the challenge and have the germ of an idea but then look at the DT makes and go in a different direction.

    I tried a DT once but, like you pointed out, it quickly became a chore to be endured rather than enjoyed so, at the end of my "contract" I stepped down and had an absolute blast making whatever the heck I wanted again!

    Design Teams are great places for the people with the right motivation but ... they don't suit all and you should try out because YOU want to rather than because people tell you that you should!


    1. Good point, Kathyk. I wonder how many people are trying for DTs because people think they should rather than because they truly want to be on one.

  12. Very well said, Susan! I have never wanted to try out for a design team for the very reason you mention...I love making cards and gifts, but if I had to do it on a deadline, I would begin to hate it. I am just not the kind of person who thrives under that kind of pressure, but I do love to dawdle and think and create in my own time. I can spend all day in my craft room and feel happy even if I don't create a thing!

  13. Great post, Susan. I haven't been on any company DTs yet. I haven't even really thought of applying to them. I have been on a couple of challenge DTs though. I don't have a lot of spare time, and crafting and blogging and commenting takes time, so I don't apply to lots of DTs at once! I enjoy the DT experience. For me, one of the best things about being on a DT is that it forces me to craft. My life gets so busy and my crafting time always suffers. To have deadlines to meet means that I HAVE to take some time to play with my stamps and ink. :-) This is truly good for my mental health. I also get the added benefit of getting to know some amazing people on the DT, and I get to meet NEW crafters who enter the challenges. I don't approach DTs for my ego, although I do like positive comments as much as the next person. I join DTs for challenges that I really like, that I play in already, so playing as part of the DT is never a chore. :-)

  14. Well said! Another thought provoking post. I enjoy being on Design Teams, it motivates me to create and it gives me something to do that I love doing, and free products is a motivator for sure~

  15. Thank you Susan for a well written piece. Never had a thought about being on a design team probably because I don't feel I am good enough. Getting an occasional acknowledgement is good enough for me. Like Marilyn I too teach classes and there is so much preparation involved, and checking out blogs for ideas, I would not have enough time. I am old and I need my sleep.
    How is Jonah?

    1. Jonah is doing as well as can be expected...no serious complications, for which everyone is grateful. I'll be posting another call for cards for him shortly.

  16. Susan, that was a fabulous post - everything you said helped me to gel my thoughts on design teams. I have no desire to be on a company's design team as I buy products from so many different companies. So I thought of trying out for the SCS CAS Challenge design team. I did the try-outs twice and both times got a spot as a guest designer. The first challenge I had to design a card for was great - I loved the posted challenge and enjoyed making a card for it. The other time was a challenge that did not interest me at all and it was quite a trial to come up with something. It made me realize that I would not enjoy being a full-time DT member - I need and want to make cards that interest me and give me joy to make, rather than feel stressed by making something that is not of interest to me.

    My advice to Joyce is to try being a guest designer first and see how she likes the process. There are various blogs out there that post challenges and pick "winners" to be guest designers for one challenge. I was picked for the Merry Monday Christmas card challenge for a week and felt totally flattered and really enjoyed it, but I sure don't want the pressure week in and week out.

    Susan, I'm glad you mentioned on-line classes. I'll second that suggestion. I did the recent on-line stencil course and learned a lot, both technique-wise and design-wise.

  17. I'm so glad you took the time to talk about this DT dilemma. I gave up my blog, most challenges and any fantasies about being on a Design Team when I realized that I was spending an inordinate number of hours online and checking my e-mail to get one more comment on my most recent card project. My ego was being fed heartily, but my heart really wasn't in it at all. I was a wannabe and it was sucking all of the life, joy AND creativity out of my hobby. I still make cards and other paper crafting projects. I still enjoy seeing the inspiring work that is out there. I still pin tons of beautiful cards on my Pinterest board. I still place my cards for sale at a local shop that sells gifts and other hand crafted art. I have purged and reorganized my workspace, I actually gave up online paper-craft shopping for Lent and frankly, I am more convinced than ever that I can be addicted to anything. But you know what good has come out of this? I am enjoying making cards again. I have more creative energy not only for card making but for cooking too. (My husband and I are hard-core foodies!) I'm seeing a lot my environment with a more creative eye than I have in a long time. For me it was time to step back and take a breath. Thanks, Susan, for letting me share on this one!

  18. Hi Susan, this is a great post. I was on a "design team" for 3 months last summer for a local scrapbook store's blog. They were doing this as a trial, and it was only a 3 month appointment. I was able to do it, because as a teacher I had free time over the summer when this was to run. Even though I did have time to spend creating for them, it definitely did take some fun away from creating cards. I felt pressure to come up with "worthy" cards. The pressure really only came from me . . . but it was there none-the-less. At the end of 3 months, I declined to continue -- I'd be busy with work again. It was a good experience, but not one I am not interested in pursuing again.

  19. I have and am on a design team right now. For me I just like stamping and have been stamping for a good 20 years. I don't think I will ever be really famous like Tim Holtz or Dee Gruenig but it's still fun for me besides the fact all the stuff I have I need to use it. The design teams I've been on give stamps for payment and that is fine with me. Although it is a kick to be published in a magazine which I haven't in a while but that's o.k., too. My advise is just do what is right for you and be happy!
    stamping sue

  20. Thanks for prompting such a great discussion, Susan. So much of enjoying our hobby or profession or life is about finding joy doing it ... without that joy, it becomes a chore, and life's far too short for that. I'm not on a DT, although I have done a few guest spots, which suits me to a T. I get a taste of the thrill of designing under 'pressure' and try out what it's like to comment on lots of other people's work within a fairly tight timeframe. That's enough for me for now. I admire enormously the commitment of all those on DTs and their contribution to our crafting universe ... as others have said, it is hard work and on occasion can be draining. Thanks goodness they are there! Anita :)

  21. Loved this post Susan. I was given some good advice by a dear friend when I was unsure about giving up a DT that I was not enjoying anymore but felt obliged not to drop out. She told me...when it becomes a chore, you need to move on, after all it is our hobby! And this has stuck with me. I am on a few DTs and have started my own one with Nonni and blogging friend and also do quite a lot of admin work for the sites I am on DTs- I like the mix of creativity with admin work. I don't work AT&T he moment and feel this gives both parts of my brain a work out! When I don't feel creative I do admin and vice versa!! Anyway, this is a great discussion, thank you x

  22. How is it that you have the ability to hit the nail DIRECTLY on the head. I have never been on a design team, though truth be told haven't given up on the idea, but, at this stage of play, I am not absolutely sure I want to be locked into coming up with something with stamps I hate. I have had publications but even that becomes a chore after a while

    I am content at the moment to follow my crusade of using up all my 12 x 12 paper and make cards that my Mum and aunts love.

    This may change ......

  23. I think Diana really hit it when she said the product has to fit your style. I was on an unofficial DT (no free product) and we had to use only the company's products, which I liked a lot but in combination with other people's products. I had a hard time using just their stuff. Yet we allowed participants to use whatever brand stuff they wanted and didn't even had to use ours. So no one did so I didn't get inspiration from those who joined in with us. We also offered a gift out of our own pocket to encourage people to join. Once we stopped that the amount of participation dropped way off. That blog is now closed. I hate "having to" do something so DT work is not for me!


Thank you so much for taking time to comment!