Expanding graphic design for the masses

published7 months ago
4 min read

Hey there,

Many light-years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked at the premier advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, when that was what the cool kids did, when tech as we know it was just starting to take off. As an account executive on the short-lived IBM Small Business team, part of my job was to translate client requests into creative briefs and to partner with our creative team on executing great ads across TV, radio, print and digital. At the time, Adobe products were the de facto design software that all art directors used to create ads. Years later, Adobe still reigns as the top enterprise graphic design software (hello Photoshop), but small businesses now have a zillion options to choose from.

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Software has made a huge transition over the past decade or so, from installation-only to cloud-based. From the design tool standpoint, when Adobe Photoshop hit the market, it became the industry standard. Most graphic designers today need to be fluent with multiple Adobe products to even function in their role. Before Photoshop debuted in the late 1980s, an art director needed to use tools like an X-acto knife and rubber cement in order to edit photos. (Check out this video if you want to see what old school editing looks like).

So you can imagine that once this software launched, companies like advertising agencies and other design-focused firms would pay handsomely for this software as it saved gigantic amounts of time and money. At the time, you had to install the specific software tool on individual computers and purchase yearly licenses for each machine to access and receive updates. The pricing was beyond the budget for many, many small businesses so they needed to purchase services from a small ad agency to design their marketing materials.

Adobe packaged many of their design tools together and debuted the Adobe Creative Suite in 2003, acquiring companies along the way to augment the suite of tools they offered. Then in late 2011, they pivoted to offering Adobe Creative Cloud, moving all of these tools to a cloud-based subscription model. Along the way, the rest of software had shifted to a cloud-based model, and Adobe had to move along with it, tho it was still a pricey package. So in early 2012, a tiny competitor startup in Australia named Canva was launched.

Canva is aimed at helping individuals, influencers, and small businesses access the tools they need to design their own beautiful marketing collateral. I love how easy it is to use from a design standpoint and the ease of exporting various outputs (pdfs, jpegs, ppts, etc). Canva has also expanded to enterprise-level subscriptions too. And apparently, others love it too as Canva recently raised another $71million to hit a $15B valuation. And co-founder Melanie Perkins is one of the youngest female CEOs of a unicorn startup.

As consumers have gotten more comfortable with creating their own designs and a good website design is expected from most users, there has been a proliferation of niche tools to design better presentation slides and mobile apps, and UX experiences. More to come in a future newsletter on how tools have adapted to help design connect to marketing success.

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One piece of advice for job seekers that is often repeated: look for a good manager and they will help move you along your career faster. But there is a lot less advice on *how* to identify a good manager during the interview process! And even if your manager is good, are they able to function effectively in the workplace you’re joining, and will you also be able to? As an interviewee, you need to assess both the workplace culture *and* your future manager to ensure a good fit.

Here are 3 tips on how to assess both during the interview:

  1. Understand what type of management style helps YOU thrive in a job.
    1. Are you someone who likes to be autonomous or be guided? Do you enjoy supportive bosses or ones who challenge you to achieve? Do you like to be publicly recognized for your achievements or quietly with flowers or stock refresh grants?
    2. One person’s favorite boss can be another’s worst nightmare -- because we all have different work styles and preferences. Make sure to know yours to help you evaluate for fit.
  2. Ask your prospective manager questions that force them to respond with specific examples of interactions between themselves and someone on the team.
    1. Here are 3 good questions to ask initially (with good explanations for each one found here). I like these because they help you understand how the manager interacts with the entire team as well as individuals on the team.
      1. Tell me about a time when a team member changed your mind.
      2. Describe a recent success or win.
      3. Tell me about the last person you recognized.
    2. Try to push past the surface-level cheerleading or obfuscation that some interviewers do. If the interviewer can’t or won’t answer these 3 questions directly, it’s likely that they have not received a lot of management coaching themselves -- so be wary. Here are a few additional tips to identify a potentially toxic manager.
  3. Ask all of your interviewers questions geared towards understanding the work environment on a day-to-day basis.
    1. You want to identify a work culture that values psychological safety to help you and your team be as successful as you all can be. Research at Google showed that psychological safety was the number one predictor of success for high-performing teams. And many companies are adept at plastering platitudes all over the place, but how do those values play out on a daily basis on your future team/department?
    2. Here are some sample questions from HBR to ask your interviewees to help you assess the workplace culture:
      1. Can you tell me about a time when your teammates and your manager had your back during a project?
      2. How often do people in the organization apologize to one another?
      3. Can you tell me how your company encourages individuals and teams to recognize one another for achievements large and small?
      4. Do people with diverse backgrounds work at every level of your company?
      5. How did you (or your manager) start your last team meeting? What happens during the first 5-10 minutes?


* Please contact me for a potential referral.


A Dyson sphere could be the key to immortality. (And no, it’s not related at all to a Dyson vacuum cleaner).

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