I never had, or even wanted to own, a plush toy. I was much more of a GI Joe kind of kid. Yet in 1992 I found myself heading up the design team for Gund, one of the most well respected and popular stuffed toy companies in the world. Day in and day out it was my job to promote teddy bears, rag dolls and baby buddies, decidedly sweet and lovable toys but for which I had little passion.
I enjoyed my job, though, because I loved the act of design regardless of the subject matter. There was a wide range of collateral requiring a variety of styles that my department was engaged in and it was exciting to create type and illustration-driven displays, catalogs and web sites. Yet that didn’t quite seem to be enough to sustain me.
Serendipitously my wife and I had recently adopted a beautiful baby girl. Now while furthering my professional career was not the biggest joy my daughter brought me, it didn’t hurt that I started to view our product through her eyes. I’d watch her playfully splash and giggle at the parent initiated exploits of her bath toys. I’d wax sentimental at the sight of her cuddling with her teddy as she slept and beam proudly as she’d interact with her soft ring and post set.
I began to pay more attention to the letters that children and adults wrote to Gund expressing their love for our toys and their thanks to us for creating them. While I never ended up entertaining my inner child by bringing home a teddy for me, I gained a passionate appreciation for the joy and well-being our toys brought to others. All this definitely impacted the quality of my work. Passion informs design – my renewed interest at Gund illustrated that point pretty powerfully for me.
I took the lessons learned at Gund to subsequent jobs where I made it a habit to get a hold of customer letters, meet the people in R&D and travel with salespeople to get an in-the trenches view of and appreciation for the businesses my host companies were engaged in. This had the added benefit of building strong relationships with my colleagues in these other departments.
I also found that there were always co-workers whom I had an affinity for and developed friendships with them that positively colored my perception of the company. They became the face of the corporation and lent an immediacy and emotional pull to my relationship with the business.
Unless you’re working for a company in a business that you have a moral or ethical conflict with (in which case you should hastily leave) you can definitely find a perspective on the company that will stir your passion and cement your commitment to its mission. Nurturing that passion will improve your designs and make your job more rewarding and fulfilling.