Wednesday 25 May 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 2: Finding a balance of expectations.


Welcome to Part 2 and a discussion of topics which, if you follow me on Twitter [@notesonpaper], you might have already seen me raising before. 

If I’m honest, it’s the subject which has given me the most pause for thought within this whole series, making me question whether or not I, as someone wanting to continue building relationships within the industry, am stupid to point out any of its flaws?

Maybe I am.

Of all times I’ve mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook I’ve only ever had two responses!

Both were in fact supportive but noteably they were both from well-established industry figures.

I guess it's understandable that people whose goal is to get a place on a DT, or those already happily recruited to one might not want to be seen joining in a critical debate about them!

But for this series - how could I truly offer up advice about how to spread your creative wings … if I neglected to warn you about the possibility of flying into plate glass doors?

The thought of getting a place on a DT can be so absorbing and exciting ["Ooh. Yay! Pretties! Popularity! Free stuff! Go me!] I just wanted to offer you a wider picture to help you focus your energies and avoid frustrations from the start!

NB: I MUST be clear here ... or else they may disown me! But ...
  • None of the following applies to any of the teams I’m currently on or have been on in the past.
  • It's all drawn from time spent browsing DT calls and requirements online and discussions with other crafters over the last few years.
So, now that I've got that clear ...

What does a DT want from you? What do you want from them? - Balancing their expectations against your own.

You're going to need to get that notebook out again in a minute ... Got it? OK.
  • Maybe I'm lucky;
  • Maybe I chose well;
  • Maybe I've never actually applied to any team who I though wanted more from me than they were offering in return.
Whichever it is ... I've only ever experienced teams who asked for what I considered a reasonable amount of work in return for a generous DT parcel.

However each of us has to decide  our own balance of what is reasonable and what is generous and what we're happy to work for.
Assess your availability before you begin.

Before you begin looking into which DT you'd like to be on, before you get swept up in the thrill of possibilities which a new call can spark, before you decide you want to work for XYZ so badly that you barely read through their list of expectations ... you might want to ask yourself:
  1. How much time can I realistically set aside each month to  create new DT projects?
  2. How much time can I have to spend photographing, editing and subsequently blogging the finished items? 
  3. How happy am I to use spare time in the promotion of my projects and the team I'm on?
  4. How much 'payment' would it take to make this worthwhile?
  5. Can I live happily the balance of rewards / effort?
  6. How long can I keep it up?
Once you know [roughly] what you're happy with, you can view DT requirements with a more rational eye.

Some example requirements.
The following is list of some typical, not-so-typical and becoming-increasingly-typical requirements DTs are combining in their calls.
  • 3 - 4 projects per month / per kit
  • 4 - 5 items per month
  • Blogging on the manufacturer's / team's blog
  • Weekly blogging a new project on personal blog
  • Maintain a fresh, regularly updated personal blog
  • Participation in blog challenges and blog hops
  • Commenting on the work submitted by blog readers to any challenges
  • Frequent contribution to the site/blog's in-house message board / forum
  • Uploading projects to online galleries eg. Two Peas
  • Regularly submitting work for publication in magazines
  • Interaction on the site/blog's Facebook page
  • Answering queries on product etc on Facebook
  • Promoting blog posts / competitions etc via Twitter
And my all  time personal favourite:
  • 'Daily interaction on our message board'

The less I respond to this particular criteria here the better for all concerned.

[I'll save that treat for James who has to suffer my rants on some of the, quite frankly ridiculous, expectations some teams have of people who they pay in supplies. And ... breathe ...]

Over time, after reading through increasingly demnding criteria, I've almost come to the conclusion that there'll come a point where a DT requires from you:
  • 4-5 creative projects per month;
  • plus custody of your first born;
  • and first refusal on any of your vital organs should the need ever arise ...  
But, joking aside, apart from the obviously onerous requests, much of the list of requirements is perfectly reasonable if the benefits offered to the DT member are of equal value.
Which is purely down to you to decide for yourself. 
I'm not here to say you're decision is wrong. In fact, in later posts in the series I'll be backing your decision 100% and highlighting ways in which you can improve your chances of being selected.

... but ... daily interaction?


Are you sure?

I'm raising all of this in the hope some of you will realise your worth, your value, what YOU are offering to a DT.

Because sometimes creative people need to place themselves and their work on the same level as the Design Team they admire. It's not like they're doing you a favour.
Without you working for them, manufacturers would have to invest heavily in paid promotions and adverts to give them as much exposure as you and your team mates are offering them.

Remember that for all DT work may fun, interesting and challengingit is still work!  It's still a contract based on supply and demand.

A few last minute grumbles.
After you've worked-out the level of work/compensation you're happy to work for, you can then throw yourself wholeheartedly into the application process.

[1] The Application Process 
The broader topic of making a good application and even gaining the confidence to apply is actually something I'm going to be covering in Parts 3 + 4 so stick with me until then.

However, as those posts are more upbeat in attitude than today's, I thought I'd squeeze in this minor point of note here instead!

Briefly: many DTs ask simply that you email them images of a few of your best projects or else send links to your blog / gallery etc. Which, to me, is ideal for those of us who don't like to broadcast that we've applied for things in case we don't get selected.

[I did afterall mislead my entire family about the date on which I'd find out my Degree results ... just so I could collect them without feeling any pressure!]
However, I've noticed a recent trend for increasingly public applications:
  • In these, you're asked to apply via a post on your own blog.
  • You present your chosen projects [sometimes even with a tutorial to boot!] and state your intention to be in the running for a place on the team.
I don't judge anyone who's done it. But I'm not sure it's for me.

I'm simply putting it out there so you now know everything I know. Forewarned is forearmed ...
And finally ... I'll leave you with one bug-bear which I know for certain I share with many others out there.

[2]. Lack of communication
Some DTs openly state in their recruiting blurb that they will:
  • Neither acknowledge your application
  • NOR inform you if you've been unsuccessful.
When I read that I hear not simply that "We're too busy" but also "We're busier doing more important things than you".

Maybe that's just me being touchy, but really ...
  • they decided to issue the call at this particular moment in time; and
  • they are the ones seeking assistance in the promotion of their company/blog.
  • I too have other things to do [amazingly!] yet I put myself out to carefully follow your application process;
  • I would appreciate the common courtesy of a response.
I'm not expecting a personally addressed -  'Sorry you didn't make the cut this time Julie, but hey, stick with it kid, one day you'll go far' - message here.

But is a BCC email sent out to all of the unsuccessful applicants in one go - or even several batches if there's that many - really too much to ask? 

  • Be clear on what's you can offer and what you expect in return;
  • Know that there will always be someone who doesn't mind any of the points raised in this post who will happily take your place and accept having to do more work for less.
  • Decide if you can live with that - and if you can, don't take the role, find something more suitable to you. 
  • But if you can't - and you want to be on that DT no matter what ...
  • Plan to capitalise on your time there as much as is humanly possible! And watch out for the rest of this series where I'll be backing you, come what may!!
  • How much of your content are you happy for another blogger to use?
  • I know of cases where whole tutorials have been used without prior persmission - with only a link to the original post.
  • Similarly I know of people who've had their projects just pop up on someone else's blog with not even a friendly heads-up about it.
  • Also you may get asked to contribute existing posts or guest-blog on other sites.
  • When any of this occurs consider what your blogging time is worth and what you'd like in return.
  • Personally, if I know another blogger is, like me doing it as a hobby [i.e not a salaried blogger] I don't mind the exchange of my content for the chance to promote myself and share my work with their audience.
  • If you want to make it clear to others how you expect your content to be treated - consider having an 'etiquett'e type page on your site spelling out what is and is not acceptable to you.
  • For examples see this from Crafterminds and this from Kelly Rae Roberts.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying no one should work for free! I have done it myself and it was either:
  • for a charity;
  • to gain experience or
  • on the assurance it was as a one-off / trial-run and that the next time I would be compensated. Which I was.
And on each occasion I accept that I was indeed 'paid' ... it just wasn't in cash.

Finally, here's the best advice I received when I was debating an uncertain offer around unpaid work:
"Do you think they pay for their office furniture in 'product'? Do you think they get a plumber to work for them by putting a link to his blog in their sidebar?"

If we don't respect the value of our creative work how can we expect the non-creative world to?


Right ... I'm carefully stepping down from my soapbox now ...

Join me later this week for Part 3 of 'Tips for the Design Team-curious' where we'll be looking at preparing yourself for success and basically making yourself irresistable ....
Julie :-)

Please note: During the series I do NOT refer 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 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. I have also seen the requirement for 'daily' participation in a message board and quickly clicked away from a DT application asking for this. I'm happy to chat on message boards, I enjoy them, but committing to daily participation seems crazy - I have a life here you know!

    This is all very interesting - thanks! x

  2. I've come to the conclusion that
    a, they can't afford me amd b, I'm too lazy!.....great series, I look forward to more!

  3. @Jennifer - thanks, at least I know I'm not alone on that one then!

    @Effie - I could have told you they can't afford you! We'll just find you another way to take over the crafting world! :-D

  4. Some brilliant tips here. I see some people on 4 or 5 DT's at a time and I seriously don't know how they do it and on some occassions come across as a career woman AND Supermum of the year too. They depress the hell out of me those people, I'm not ashamed to admit it.

    I'm only on one and I worry all the time that I am letting them down or not doing well enough. (That's on top of never geting the housework done and only working sporadically for the OH) Your tip to value yourself as much as they value their business is an excellent one... I hasten to add it's not the DT I'm on making me feel that way about myself - they are stars. OH said virtually the same words to me you said - it's all about valuing yourself.

    I can't get over some of the requirements in your list up there. Joke much?

  5. Thank you for running this series. I have been on teams previously that were awesome, but recognized the overload and pulled myself out before it became a problem. I am looking to hop back on the DT train but am waiting for the right requirements, thanks for not making me feel crazy!

  6. Love your finely and nicely balanced article, Julie. I have been amazed at what DTs expect. And I echo wholeheartedly your recommendation that we should value our time, our energy and our Selves equally with that of any organisation/team who offers us work. Anything else is exploitation... (ooh, was that too strong?)

  7. Great post julie, fantastic advice!

    Sarah x

  8. Thanks for keeping it real x

  9. Very well balanced and useful post. I'm gobsmacked at the daily interaction idea - do you think they check? Perhaps they have teams of people tallying up the number of interactions - perhaps that's a team I could happily apply for ;o)

    Even commenting on (a share of) reader submissions to a gallery can be time consuming - with word verification at every turn. And what happens when you have holidays and travel/training with work ... time IS money - not stash, especially stash you haven't carefully selected for yourself!

  10. An interesting read!I'm no way even contemplating DT stuff but if the time ever arrives,I'll be bearing all this in mind!

  11. I came over here from your link at 2Peas and I'm so glad. Thank you for keeping it real and giving some very realistic, hard and fast advice to those DT hopefuls. I'm happy with the teams I'm on but that's not to say I was battered and bruised before making them! It's a very competitive world out there and so important to value yourself. So thanks! Off to read your next posts. :)

  12. Excellent points, Julie, and good for me to read as a DT recruiter.

    I know some people like to be on more than one DT at a time, but like Carmen, I am simply amazed at the load some folks carry. And many of them do very well with it... but I find myself wondering how. It's something I look at in applicants, honestly - I wonder if they can do justice to our team if they are on 6 other teams... and work a full-time job... and have 4 kids. But some people can do a great job.

    In any case, it makes sense for the company/blog to realize that people have other obligations and interests and to make room for those. It's not a full-time job, for heaven's sake! I do have to say that I was just agape when we brought someone onto our design team who told us upon our very first assignment to her that she was "too busy" to do it. We released her immediately, as it was clear to us that she had not bothered to even read our requirements. And we heard there was a bit of a bitter backlash over it, as this person is apparently well connected in crafty circles. There were no hard feelings on our side, but we did feel quite puzzled that she wasn't prepared to contribute to the team except on her own terms. That was a big shock to us.

    So your advice here is really important. Whether our expectations were unreasonable or too demanding is open for debate, but the fact is that we were very clear about them when we asked her to join the team (I suspect she may not have even read our welcome document). With the first assignment, we let her know that if it wasn't her cup of tea, she could do B or C... and her response back was, "No thanks." Um.... schwaaa?!

    @Carmen, I'm glad you know that you are valued at GA and I hope you'll stop feeling inadequate lest I have to fly to the UK just to smack you down. :) You are the very essence of Gauche Alchemy and we value you enormously.


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