The past five years have been a roller coaster as Hans and I struggled in the downs and reveled in the ups of having a small boutique agency. As we entered our fifth year, we began to ask ourselves What’s next? without any obvious answer. In many ways, we’d done what we set out to do, and had come to the surprising realization that neither of us was enjoying it. In short, the experiment had run its course, and it was time to move on.
With the decision now months in the past, I’m spending my last afternoon in our lovely little Herengracht studio. All of our employees have new jobs, most of our furniture has found new homes, and what remains is packed into boxes. Saying goodbye is hardly easy, but I also cannot help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment for the thing that we built.
So without further ado, here are five of my proudest accomplishments of the past five years.
Creating a Safe and Challenging Environment
When we founded The Artificial, Hans and I set out to create an environment where our employees would be challenged to do their best work for clients while also creating a safe space for exploration and room to learn from failure. Safe and challenging were goals we kept in mind while recruiting, when planning projects, and when choosing clients. In hiring, we filtered out candidates who came across as ego-driven and focused on finding designers who were curious and passionate; when creating proposals for clients, we always made room for experimentation and collaboration beyond standard client deliverables; and when we found ourselves working with clients who proved more challenging than productive, we hastily ended those relationships.
As an accident The Artificial ended up being almost entirely female, something we became known for. Before long, our applicant pool was over 75% women. This was a far cry from the 25% female agency I had left behind.
Leaving our Clients with Higher Expectations
Many of our clients decided to work with us despite low expectations of agencies. We took our responsibility as a trusted partner seriously, and impressed clients with not only the quality of our work, but also with the openness of our process. The care we put into bringing our clients along for the journey of design helped elevate both the conversation and the work itself.
It was gratifying to see our clients happy, but even more to see them adopting our methodologies and deliverables in their own internal processes.
Making Time for Side Projects
Over five years, we had dozens of side projects, both published and unpublished. It was through these side projects that we experimented and played outside the bounds provided by client work. When work was busy, we tried to make time for side projects, and when work was slow, we used side projects to better ourselves. Some favorite side projects include to [icon] where we explored visual systems of pixel perfect metaphors, Friday Cocktails where we practiced our bartending skills, and our annual holiday books (2016, 2017) where we designed for print instead of for pixels.
Experimenting with Process and Methodology
Throughout side projects, we not only experimented with the product of design but also with the process of design. We regularly tried out new tools and buzzword methodologies to see how we could improve our process and approach for client projects. Looking back on the past five years of work, it’s clear that we got better with age.
I’m now capturing these processes into a book based on my learnings from The Artificial, learnings not only about process, but also about how people learn new processes.
Providing a Leg Up for our Employees
One of the truest measures of success for any workplace is whether or not it leaves its employees better for having worked there. For most of our employees, I can say that we did this. It’s in the success of former Artificers that The Artificial lives on, and it’s a joy to see these talented women conquer the design world – teaching and mentoring others.