Monday, 23 May 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 1: So you want to be on a Design Team?

Hi and welcome to the first round of ‘Tips for the Design Team-curious’.

If you’ve just landed here for the first time you might want to quickly read through the introductory post for a broader idea of the topics I’m going to be covering.

But basically … I’ve kicked into shape everything I’ve experienced; reflected on; formed opinions of; read around and tweeted about regarding creative Design Teams over the last 4 years and condensed it into an 8 part series which I’ll be delivering to you across the next few weeks.

Using this series to help you reach your Design Team goals:

I think you should set aside a notebook/ journal/ scrap of paper specifically to jot down your responses to today's post and actually ... to the rest of the series.

It might not surprise you to know that I find making notes on paper a useful method of clarifying your thoughts and it should help you identify your Design Team inklings and track how your expectations and motives change the more thought you put into the whole process.

If nothing else … I'm giving you a legitimate reason to break open that a crisp new notebook you've been saving for a special occasion. [i know you have one!]

Plus you could turn your journalling into an fascinating reflective scrapbook page
when you do get on a DT!

So, now I've set out my stall for you, you tell me …

Who are YOU? For now, allow me to assume that you are indeed the DT-curious!

You're the DT hopefuls, the creative-types out there who’ve never been on a Design Team but are now hearing that little voice daring you to branch out, take a risk, share with the wider world!

If that's not you ... hang on, don't click away, at the end of the post, I’ll reinterpret my advice so it applies to you too!

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, let’s start from scratch …

What is a Design Team? A ’Design Team’ / ‘DT’ is a group of people recruited by a manufacturer, retailer or challenge/inspiration blog to promote their products and services. Payment, if there is any, is usually in products which the DT members are expected to create with, photograph and blog about to spread the word. 

In Part 2 [Wednesday 25th] I look what Design Teams expect of their members - I scrutinise those apects which a DT member or hopeful may [rightly?] feel are beyond their control. But today ...

...I'm focussing on YOU, and you should too ...

Why might anyone want to be on a DT? And, more to the point ... Why do YOU? Without a doubt, being on a creative DT offers you opportunities beyond the end of your own blog’s back gate.

So let’s start with what I believe are the 2 most discussed, but not necessarily the most rewarding, reasons people seek out a DT role: exposure and free products.

1. You gain exposure to a new, wider, audience: So, you’re a blogger, you’ve built up a loyal following, you enjoy the interaction with your readers, you're proud of your creative work and you'd like more people
to see it.

Firstly - good for you! Being proud of your own talents is half the battle when applying for a post on a DT especially when there's a chance you won't be selected.

It's vital to stay certain of your own creative worth so that if it's what you truly want, you can try again ... undeterred. 

Secondly - I don't know if this is a peculiarly English/British trait but I think we should all be more open about wanting to be on a Design Team for, for want of a better word, the glory / the attention / the 'fame'. To show off.

Of course you do. Why not be open about it?! There's really nothing wrong with being confident in the quality of your projects and wanting more people to see them. Being popular is alluring. No doubt about it. But ...

... do look carefully into your own reasons for wanting to get a place on a DT. Because if you really want this just to be popular and you get overlooked your confidence could be shaken.

I'm not saying don't try out for a DT spot if you're not 100% confident in your work. Sometimes pushing yourself to take on new things can give you that boost toward becoming happier and more confident, with your output.

A challenge such as applying for - and being successful in - a DT role can be the nudge you need to raise your own game. On your own terms.

But I would advise is for you to be in a position where you already believe you're pretty great BEFORE you offer yourself up.

Because if that's how you approach your application, even if you do get turned down you'll stand a good chance of believing in my Dad's advice [given when I've failed in job interviews etc] that the situation was 'their loss'.  Not yours.

Then you can move on.

2. You receive free products!!! And what's better than 'free'?:
In the next installment of 'Tips for the Design Team-curious' I'm really going to explore this notion of DT members receiving 'free' product to work with ... but until then ... let's go along with the idea ...

I'm not denying that it IS great getting products delivered to your door which you haven't had to pay hard cash for. It's fun. It's like a gift when it's delivered, it's exciting to open the box and see what you've been sent .. but ...

But, we all know that in return you have to spend time blogging and promoting any projects you make with it. So, perhaps it's more useful to be interested into a DT not for the 'free' products [because they're not] but for ...

3. You receive unexpected, interesting and challenging products!
Now you're talking my language.

Not having paid [in cash] for the products you'll be working with is one thing ... but not having chosen them is something else entirely. And the challenge those unexpected items present to your creativity is one of my favourite parts of DT life.

As wonderful as all those supplies we've collected for ourselves are ... the sheer amount of them and 'baggage' they each contain can have a debilitating effect on our creativity.

In contrast you have to use the contents of your DT package. You HAVE TO. And it's amazing how creative you can be when you have limits set on your supplies.

Ironically, it's the limited supplies you have to work with in during your DT life which can actually offer you the most creative freedom.

This 'free' stuff exists purely to be USED! You cannot save it, squirrel it away or 'save it for best'. Therefore the DT supplies can offer you freedom from the
 tyranny of your own stash!
Similarly your productivity can increase if you're working to someone else's schedule ...
4. It imposes order and discipline on your creativity!
When you're part of a DT you agree to create and contribute work regularly and on time, a structure which you might not otherwise set for yourself. 

Clearly this has pros and cons but for me personally ... I know I work better, quicker, with more purpose when there's a deadline to get me motivated: 
While none of us should really need an external 'excuse' to ignore the ironing pile and pick up a craft knife ... I can't deny that having an obligation to make something for a DT has helped me justify my crafting time to myself from time to time ... and it might just work for you too!

And finally ... for now ... you might want to join a Design Team as...

5. You get to meet new people, broaden your network, make new links. I can only speak for myself here, but I've been fortunate to come out of DT life with some wonderful relationships under my belt.

As creative people **sweeping generalisation alert** we're often not used to the camaraderie of group activities while growing up. We were often the ones chosen last when the sporty-types were picking the teams - [yes, I am speaking from personal experience!] - and being part of a team of arty, creative, make-y types can be a real treat.

My time on the Banana Frog DT gave me something immediate and clear-cut in common with
Hannah Milburn and Kirsty Neale both of whom I knew before we all ended up recruited to the same DT, but who I got to know so much better through that initial connection. The DT gave us something to talk about until we truly got to know one another and while none of us remain on the Banana Frog DT, we've remained close friends.

Furthermore, you can get to know the people who run the Design Team.
Having a close connection to someone in the industry who knows you're not only talented, but reliable too, can be of benefit to you in the long run if you're ambitious, forward-thinking, planning ahead for a future venture, branching out, developing your own creative industry ideas.

While there are no guarantees it can't hurt your future chances of having them co-operate, give advice, work alongside you, accespt a proposition,  if you've been showing your best side throughout your DT term for them.

OK, that's enough thinking and making notes for you for now. Let's see if I can help clarify some of today's ideas:
  • Before you ask how to get on a DT, think about why you want to be on one. This should help you deal with your expectations of DT life.
  • Ask yourself if you most drawn toward: the camerarderie; the free stash; the discipline or the opportunities.
  • All are available to you to a greater of lesser extent, but again, working out what you'd be happy with now, will help manage your expectations and decision making in the future.
  • Make some notes on what it is you feel being on a DT could bring you and which aspects of your personality it would appeal to.
  • This will also help when it comes to identifying which kind of team you'd be happiest on [which I'll cover later in the series].
  • Have you ever asked yourself why you blog? [Ironically I started mine as Design Teams expect you to have one!].
  • Knowing why you blog can help you become more focussed in your content or your tone while posting.
  • Consider adding some of those motives to an 'About Me' page or in a text box in your sidebar. I have both. Go look! 
  • This can help clarify to your readers what they can expect from your blog and therefore why they should stick around post after post.
  • If you need discipline and deadlines to help motivate you, why not set yourself a regular blogging feature and get your readers to help hold you accountable for creatively and regularly 'showing up'?
  • You too can crack open a shiny new notebook ... in factI positively command you to! [That's just in case you needed an excuse!]
  • Analysing the motivations behind any of your goals is never a bad thing.
  • Being clear why you want what you want is not only useful in helping you achieve it ... it might actually reveal gaps in your thinking.
  • Is there another way you can achieve that feeling you're seeking ?
  • Is that thing you are focussing on [i.e getting on a DT] really just a distraction?
  • Sometimes this kind of thinking can lead you away from what you thought you wanted .. into something you really need!
In a later post I'll be looking at precisely this point in relation to Design Teams where I'll be suggesting where else you can look to satisfy the kind of drives which are right now pushing some of you down the DT route.

I'll be back on Wednesday with a no holds barred look at some Design Team expectations.

But until then ...
Until then I'll give you a chance to wade back through this post. I threw a lot at you so I'll give you time to go back and pick it all up.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments so if you get time to leave me a message that would be great. Thank you.

If, after reading this first post, you think it's worth passing on to friend, then please spread the word.
And if you use Twitter you can give me your feedback and general reflections over there too. I'm @notesonpaper there. I'll be using the hashtag #dtcurious to discuss it. [And if you want to know more about that you might want to visit 'Tips for the Twitter-curious'  while you're here!]
See you soon.
Please note: During the series I will NOT be referring in a negative way to any teams or companies by name. I ask that, if you share experiences or opinions in a comment, you stick to this way of doing things too.

Thank you in advance … you can collect yourself an ‘I Play Nice’ sticker for your cardigan on your way out.

© Julie Kirk 2007-2011 The images used throughout the series feature the projects I've made and photographed as part of my Design Team commitments over the last 4 years.


  1. Great advice Julie! I would agree that the most important part is to want to be on a DT for the right reasons and not just to 'get free stuff' and 'become well known, it doesn't work like that. Also, again reiterating your advice, don't expect to like everything you are required to do as a DT member. On the other hand, like you, some of my best work has been produced from products I would have never dreamt of purchasing myself.

  2. This is my first time at your blog, but just wanted to say I think this is fantastic advice!!

  3. Very interesting & thought -provoking article. I think many people who put themselves forward for DTs have a certain self-belief in themselves & their abilities to start with. Over the years I've come across many people who are incredibly talented but do not have the confidence in their art to put it forward. Some people do not want to feel obliged to create on demand. Some are in it for the freebies but then find that the benefits of having free stamps is outweighed by having to do things with them when you may not feel like it. However I must say that many DT members are incredibly conscientious & work hard to carry out their duties. I guess if you enter into it with an open mind & are willing to put in the hours it can be mutually beneficial.

  4. Excellent article Julie, I'm looking forward to the rest of it!

  5. Great and very inspiring article. Thank you!


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