When you were first getting your Newport Beach, California–based design agency Hoodzpah off the ground, was there a defining moment that helped you define Hoodzpah’s work or style?
Jennifer: It sounds way sexier if there’s an a-ha moment, but really, success is more often a slew of trial and errors while you sift through opportunities.
Just saying “yes” was a key to us surviving early on. We were not choosy. It was more important for us to build our credibility and portfolio. So we did catalogs for mops. We did production work. And peppered throughout were passion projects for friends that proved we had a unique style. Some of our seemingly boring jobs were the ones that paid good money, so we could also take time to do low-budget projects that we were excited about. And no matter what, we always did right by our clients and made every effort to make the experience fun and exciting for them.
Working as contractors for larger agencies also helped us build our credibility. This enabled us to work on projects for bigger names that we couldn’t gain on our own. Getting that one recognizable client logo on your site can mean a lot. It’s just perception, but it’s powerful.
You cofounded “unnecessary necessaries” company Odds and Sods, which sells pins, prints and more. How do you balance your time spent on designing and running your other projects?
Jennifer: It’s touughhhh. The company grew out of our enjoyment of making physical products and us wanting to create an income stream that wasn’t solely service based. Design services are a trade of time for tender. Product, if successful, is an initial time investment that can then sell over and over again—without us having to be involved in every transaction. We have a company manager who runs the day-to-day for us, and we just stay involved in the creative and overall business strategy side. It’s a fun way to make side cash—so long as we don’t put in more than we get out.
You also cofounded the creative event series Connecting Things, which has chapters in four states. With all that you have going on, what are your ingredients to maintaining a positive, productive studio environment?
Amy and Jennifer: Healthy work boundaries are a must! Keep clients off your direct messages and prorate messages if at all possible. Clients texting you about projects at 10 pm is not OK—it makes you angsty and makes them feel like you should be responding immediately to any whim. Keep it to emails or scheduled meetings during business hours. Beyond that is only for emergency. We’ve also been trying to save emails for the second half of the day so we spend our most energized hours doing actual work.
Even if you work from home, keep regular work hours, and if at all possible, stop when the day is done. Working late eats into your next day, throwing your whole week off. It leads to you caving to bad impulses because you “deserve” them.
Break your work hour routine when you’re stuck. Work remotely. Go get coffee. Take a trip and work from an Airbnb. A change of scenery can get you focused in a new way and give you more inspiration.
Finally, hold regular critiques at specified dates and times. It discourages coworkers, clients and bosses from approaching you without warning to offer thoughts when you’re not prepared and the project is not ready.
How have you seen the value of design change in the business world since starting Hoodzpah?
Jennifer: Whole industries have changed seemingly overnight due to a great idea that’s made better with quality design and creative strategy. None of us would ever have dreamed of ordering a mattress online that arrived in a box—till Casper proposed the idea in a fun, compelling way. Casper made the experience easy, trustworthy and alluring through a great site, great messaging, funny illustrations and unique in-person experiences at events like SXSW. That was a carefully designed shift in how we thought about buying a good mattress.
But the key to success is not design alone. The underlying team and idea also have to be solid. Looking good on the surface falls apart if the product/service fails or if we lose trust in the company delivering the product/service—think Samsung Galaxy Note combusting into flames, Uber’s culture crisis or US Airways’ customer-service fail. Design can only add long-term benefit if the brand and product it serves are worthy.
It’ll be fascinating to see who designs exciting experiences with voice-based interfaces like Alexa, virtual reality and augmented reality. This new iteration of design is exciting. It’s experience focused, which has always been at the heart of great design.
What advice do you have for people just entering the profession?
Amy: Larger, really well-known companies look great on paper, but you might not get as much responsibility and opportunity to get your hands dirty with real work at those companies. As an entry-level designer at a small outfit, you’ll likely work on things that make a real impact on the company. All this to say: don’t be embarrassed if your first job isn’t your dream job. Just learn as much from it as you can, and know when to spread your wings and advance to a new position.
Jennifer: Rightly or wrongly, more and more companies are outsourcing their creative work “as needed” to contractors rather than keeping a person or team on staff. So being aware of the business side of things will make you a better asset to any company, no matter where you end up working. This kind of know-how makes you promotable. Also, it gives you the power to choose.
If you have a healthy freelance side hustle and aren’t being treated well or getting the kind of work and pay you want, you can start turning your side hustle into your main hustle. The freelance life isn’t for everyone, but even doing it a little gives you an edge, an understanding of the project management and business development side, and a gratitude for the people keeping work on your desk.
Amy: Know what constitutes everyday value to you. If you can’t find it in the world, see if there’s a demand for your work as a freelancer, and create the position yourself.