6 Ways to Focus on What Matters & Do Good Work

David Lai headshot David Lai, CEO and Creative Director of Hello Design, expands on the ideas in his SXSW “Do Good Work & Everything Else Happens” speech. He explains how designers can do good work and impact the industry through their commitment to excellence.

Do Good Work: Focus on What Matters

14 years ago when my business partner Hiro and I started our own digital creative agency, we didn’t have a name, but we always had the same mission: Do good work. This mission has led us to opportunities, challenges and mistakes, ultimately always leading us to better design.

Mostly, it has guided me to recognize two things: 1.  That great design comes from caring so much, you’re never satisfied, and 2. The importance of working on diverse projects and clients and taking chances in industries you know little about to fuel better design. Ultimately, innovation comes from dedication and experimentation, and there are some important strategies you can use to bring good work to life.

You are what you do. It’s essential to identify a few things that you’re passionate about and do them really, really well. When I think about designers I admire, I think about individuals so committed to excellence that it translates to their work. I’ve learned from great designers like Yves Behar, that when designers create, you can see who they are in their work.  Therefore, it’s important to first figure out what kind of designer you want to be and commit to becoming the best at it.

Small Steps
You’ve probably heard this before: There’s no better day than today. And it’s true. If you’re taking small steps everyday, eventually you’ll get to where you want to be. It’s not always easy and fun, but it’s ultimately rewarding. This is especially true when it comes to experimentation and bringing new ideas to the table.

For example, Foursquare initially began with no real visual design on the app. As time went on and design played a larger role in the app, the focus was on check-in action, badges and mayorships. Eventually, the business needed new energy, and by identifying new data about what users wanted, they thought about how to introduce an impressive collection of features. Gradually, Foursquare developed a completely new design for the app. With the redesign came massive changes to the experience and the way users interfaced with it. Every adjustment was intentional and the design revolutionized the business.

As designers, our job is not to just create. We are also responsible for understanding our client’s business and designing new and innovative platforms and products that fit into the context of that business. There is a difference between being a partner and being an editor. As a partner, we should bring ideas to our clients as opposed to reacting to those they bring to us. And don’t be afraid of the data, let it inform the design.  This is how we make ourselves valuable.

tortoise and hare

Give 150 Percent
My father always tells me “we all have 24 hours.” Whenever I’m complaining he likes to remind me that I have just as much time in the day as everyone else, and then he tells me to eat well and exercise. It’s the most meaningful wisdom he’s imparted, and I think that the bottom line is that you get to choose how you spend your time. YOU decide. And at the end of the day, if you commit to something, that 150 percent is really important because then you have no regrets. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter.

Photo from Shutterstock

In design, you put so much of yourself into your work, and if you’ve done your best, you’ll probably be ahead of the competition. I think an excellent example of this is the story of the tortoise and the hare. In this well-told fable, the hare is talented but he takes a nap because he was lazy. If the hare sprinted and gave his all–150 percent–that tortoise wouldn’t have had a chance.

Stay Humble, Stay Curious
There are always people better than you, learn from them. I think there’s a sort of inverse relationship where if you feel like you’re the master, you don’t strive to learn anymore. But if you feel like there’s a lot you need to learn, you tend to be more humble and curious. You ask a lot of questions. And you can be anyone from the top-level executive to the intern, there’s always going to be someone better than you. I think this is a good thing. It’s aspirational and inspirational. For me personally, when I think of design luminaries like George Nelson, they remind me that at the core of an ever-evolving career is the hunger for curiosity.

Go with Your Gut
Take the shot, and even if you’re wrong, you’ll get to right faster. We’ve heard this before but not enough people do it. Lots of people’s fears prevent them from taking the shot.  The reality is, what do you have to lose? The faster you fail, the closer you get to the right design or product.

The Little Printer, by Berg London, is a great example of taking a calculated risk to get to the right product. By hacking old technologies, The Little Printer has become an efficient cloud-connected printer, which allows people to print what they personally find essential. It’s not only designed well, but it’s useful. And in an age where digital puts everything at our fingertips, this proved to be the right risk.

Do Good Work…And Everything Else Happens
Ultimately, all of this leads to good work. If you do good work, everything else will follow– more work, new clients, great talent–and collaboration, perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of design, will also happen naturally when you do good work. You probably chose to be a designer because you wanted to create things. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that in our work, there is always the opportunity to create something new and the best opportunities are those you don’t plan for. That’s your job as a designer – inspire the future. Kind of the best job there is, right?

David is the CEO/Creative Director of Hello Design, which he co-founded in Los Angeles in 1999. Clients include Herman Miller, Tillamook, Nike, Sesame Workshop, Sony, and Speedo. A graduate from Cornell University, David has won numerous awards for his work including a Cannes Cyber Lion, the One Show Silver Pencil, ADC Merit, and a Flash Film Festival award.  As a faculty member at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, David taught and lectured on web design. He was also on the Advisory Board of the AIGA Los Angeles. 

HOW_20130901e100x128Do you need some good design inspiration to get started on your own 150% projects? Then be sure to pick up a copy of the September issue of HOW, the Self-Promotion and Marketing issue.