A Switch That Flicked

The long story of a small realization.

A Switch That Flicked

Vibes
Mckenzie Urquhart
By 
April 29, 2022

The long story of a small realization

When I joined a small studio there were a lot of documented processes. In fact, our Notion was like process inception that explained everything we do, everything we want to do and every blue sky thought we ever had about what we want to do that it was both inspiring and demoralizing. What I figured out was that you could essentially identify the locked in processes by the effort put into that page (icon, colors = official) but the rest of it was layer on top of layer of half-baked ideas. They were all probably the result of super fun collab sessions and truthfully, nothing gets me more keen on my day-to-day than a refreshing all-team aspirational collab. People are talking about the really good stuff. Not the free lunch kind of stuff but the building a creative incubator, or a digital zine kinda stuff. Often resulting in a few dozen stickie notes, a notebook, and some follow-up lists. Needless to say, there was a lot of evidence of collaboration and brainstorming in the studio's Notion workspace.

Anyway - nothing better than that - So stumbling on all these goodies in my first week was tantalizing, albeit I wasn't a part of the actual get-together but whatever, this is my new team! Much like in the past, I felt that in this new setting, things were different and a small studio had figured out how to make these things actually happen. I felt I had finally found a place that had follow-through and didn't just ride the coattails of blind excitement until it wore off (just in time for another all-team!). And there was something different about a small studio - but it wasn't what I thought. They, much like past companies I had worked for also struggled on follow-through, but that quickly became less important than the why. Previously I’d experienced revenue becoming the driving force in decision making, leaving dreamland behind. For a small studio, It wasn’t that. Everyone intended to follow through on quarterly goals, our internal projects, and our overall vision but constantly pushing the vision and focusing on the next big thing at every turn, takes a lot of growing pain, and growing takes up time.

Before this sounds like I’m suggesting learning and growing as a creative studio is bad, I’m going to instead state the obvious; you need as much time as possible for creativity. Because creativity takes on many forms - infinite forms - and half of that time is going to be spent getting stuck, and trying to get unstuck, another quarter of it collaborating and then finally, when you get it, you might use the last quarter of the time to go make something. And this is where we’ve seen a lot of struggle. We can’t expect someone to be able to jump to that final quarter of making things without validating the need for aaaaall that time before that goes into it. As much as we truly wanted to give everyone what they needed, offer them dream projects, and ample time for personal development, nobody was capable of follow-through because we had missed something. We were giving our team permission to use time we hadn’t made for them yet. The workloads didn’t lighten, the processes didn’t change and the roles and responsibilities were still unrefined. But hey! We support you taking that course and please pursue your passion for teaching or illustration. All this gave us was a heavy “should” feeling. “I should be developing my skills, I should be working on that passion project because the studio is supporting me, what’s my problem?” The problem is without having other work alleviated, we’re forced to pile this on top and that’s not how the studio wanted it to be for our team.

So there we were, with was access to anything, but no time to take advantage. This became obvious in several ways. People were starting things but not finishing, people were using the word “excited” a lot, only for that idea to wither away, and the line between personal development and doing well at work was getting blurry in a bad way. It’s much clearer in hindsight but at the time we realized something needed to change and our team needed some breathing room, so we decided to look inwards and refine the things we could refine. Not so that we could take on more work but so we could support and protect honest to goodness time meant for the wellbeing of our team, and the health and happiness of everyone on it. During that time there were only three things that we focused on. Groundwork in the form of;

Process

Foresight

Flexibility

The time we need to follow through on the blue sky stuff does not need to come from late nights, weekends, and sacrificing recovery time, it can come from groundwork and flexibility. The first form of groundwork is processes in keeping with the integrity of our team. And from that massive process (aka - how we execute on all the elements of our studio) comes tried and true procedures, guides, templates, and resources that make sure nobody has to start from scratch. And along with building these processes and documenting them in a clear and concise way, we also have to educate the entire team on how to find and use all this groundwork - or at least teach them to go looking for it before they dive in. Because if we do the groundwork and nobody is using it, then we’re truly looking at wasted time for the learner and the teacher... and probably a lot of duplicated processes and those half-baked concepts I mentioned finding in my first week.

There’s also groundwork in the form of foresight. Squeezing creative play and explorative R+D into a year that is up and running is SO HARD! Things get pushed and client work is the priority when push comes to shove. To combat that, we made a calendar for the upcoming year when everything was slow and winding down, and added days throughout the year that are designated internal, R+D weeks, and studio closures. When we scope out projects for that year, we state in the contract that the studio is not producing client work on those days and we plan around them. So far, so good.

Then finally there’s the flexibility point. We found that we don’t need to laminate (figuratively) any of those procedures. Instead, it worked to keep monitoring and listening so we could iterate and improve. The people at the studio might change, the size might change, and even service offerings and the relationships with clients will change so procedures need to change with them. In fact, some of the greatest improvements at a small studio were made when someone questioned something fundamental or what was previously thought to be untouchable, like when we overhauled our recurring schedule or rejigged our design process twice in one year.

These three elements are not groundbreaking but that’s what we like about them.

Process - Record things you do so people can learn from your failures and successes.

Foresight - Set aside significant amounts of time, AHEAD OF TIME for internal projects, team collaboration, and studio closures.

Flexibility - When it comes to change, nothing should be excluded from consideration. Just try it out! MVP style.

And that's what we've figured out for ourselves that works for us at the moment. If you’re interested in reading about how these 3 things come to life at the studio, check out our A-OS, Just Because Weeks, or an example of a quick change we made that stuck!

we-are-hiring

We're Hiring!

Hello, is it you we’re looking for?

Read the Article
we-are-hiring

We're Hiring!

Hello, is it you we’re looking for?

side-affects

Which Side Affects You?

An entry point for expanding our understanding of the Roe v. Wade overturn and its impact on fundamental human rights.

Read the Article
side-affects

Which Side Affects You?

An entry point for expanding our understanding of the Roe v. Wade overturn and its impact on fundamental human rights.

pet-department

Meet The Pet Department

Meet the four-legged members of the Pet Department!

Read the Article
pet-department

Meet The Pet Department

Meet the four-legged members of the Pet Department!

squrl

A Tendency for Tangents, Turned Studio Tool

An ever growing discovery engine to hold all the incredible creations we come across as a virtual studio.

Read the Article
squrl

A Tendency for Tangents, Turned Studio Tool

An ever growing discovery engine to hold all the incredible creations we come across as a virtual studio.

studio-office-hours

Studio Office Hours

Taking a look at our daily collaboration sessions

Read the Article
studio-office-hours

Studio Office Hours

Taking a look at our daily collaboration sessions

studio-retreat-2022-bring-peace

Studio Retreat 2022Bring Peace

a small studio’s first retreat! Together we reflected on what it means to bring peace.

Read the Article
studio-retreat-2022-bring-peace

Studio Retreat 2022Bring Peace

a small studio’s first retreat! Together we reflected on what it means to bring peace.

what-goes-into-building-a-design-studio

What Goes Into Building A Design Studio?

What are the key building blocks of a small studio?

Read the Article
what-goes-into-building-a-design-studio

What Goes Into Building A Design Studio?

What are the key building blocks of a small studio?

creatorplus

The Future of Storytelling

A first-of-its-kind movie experience that brings you closer to the creators than ever before.

Read the Article
creatorplus

The Future of Storytelling

A first-of-its-kind movie experience that brings you closer to the creators than ever before.

cyxtera

Taking Data Centers Digital

Making data centers more accessible and actionable for remote managers and digital natives.

Read the Article
cyxtera

Taking Data Centers Digital

Making data centers more accessible and actionable for remote managers and digital natives.

sparkthink

Putting the Spark Back in Consulting

An ecosystem of online tools designed to amplify the process of discovery.

Read the Article
sparkthink

Putting the Spark Back in Consulting

An ecosystem of online tools designed to amplify the process of discovery.

dose

Building DOSE in 5 Days

Amidst one of the largest political awakenings, we paused all normal business operations to build DOSE.

Read the Article
dose

Building DOSE in 5 Days

Amidst one of the largest political awakenings, we paused all normal business operations to build DOSE.

shearshare

Connecting the Beauty Industry

Connecting salon & barbershop owners with all beauty professionals.

Read the Article
shearshare

Connecting the Beauty Industry

Connecting salon & barbershop owners with all beauty professionals.

fizzbuzz

Turning Dreamers Into Doers

An online, after-school, technology program designed to catalyze your growth.

Read the Article
fizzbuzz

Turning Dreamers Into Doers

An online, after-school, technology program designed to catalyze your growth.

our-remote-office-guide

Our Remote Office

We’ve been operating as a Remote studio since 2020 and this is what we've found works.

Read the Article
our-remote-office-guide

Our Remote Office

We’ve been operating as a Remote studio since 2020 and this is what we've found works.

how-about-efficiency-being-about-something-other-than-revenue

A Switch That Flicked

The long story of a small realization.

Read the Article
how-about-efficiency-being-about-something-other-than-revenue

A Switch That Flicked

The long story of a small realization.

my-productivity-playlists

My “Productivity” Playlists

We all have different methods for tapping into our productivity.

Read the Article
my-productivity-playlists

My “Productivity” Playlists

We all have different methods for tapping into our productivity.

what-our-week-looks-like

What Our Weeks Look Like

Always adapting, and always a work in-progress.

Read the Article
what-our-week-looks-like

What Our Weeks Look Like

Always adapting, and always a work in-progress.

why-we-should-always-define-the-words-we-use

Why We Should Always Define the Words We Use

When I first came to a small studio, it felt like I was learning to speak a new language.

Read the Article
why-we-should-always-define-the-words-we-use

Why We Should Always Define the Words We Use

When I first came to a small studio, it felt like I was learning to speak a new language.

who-is-a-small-studio

Who is a small studio?

We’re a collection of creatives using our gifts to bring peace to people’s lives.

Read the Article
who-is-a-small-studio

Who is a small studio?

We’re a collection of creatives using our gifts to bring peace to people’s lives.

how-to-work-with-us

How To Work With Us

Never business as usual.

Read the Article
how-to-work-with-us

How To Work With Us

Never business as usual.

first-impressions

First Impressions

I first came across a small studio the night of December 25th, 2020.

Read the Article
first-impressions

First Impressions

I first came across a small studio the night of December 25th, 2020.

our-newest-sr-designer-jane

Our Newest Sr. Designer, Jane!

Promoting Jane!

Read the Article
our-newest-sr-designer-jane

Our Newest Sr. Designer, Jane!

Promoting Jane!

mari-tautimes

More Than Family Business

A reimagined brand focused on lifting women higher in life and business.

Read the Article
mari-tautimes

More Than Family Business

A reimagined brand focused on lifting women higher in life and business.

welcome-sarah

Welcome Sarah!

We Hired Sarah!

Read the Article
welcome-sarah

Welcome Sarah!

We Hired Sarah!

asu

A Bridge to Sustainable, Impactful Action

Building a digital experience for the passionate team behind sustainability solutions that have a global impact.

Read the Article
asu

A Bridge to Sustainable, Impactful Action

Building a digital experience for the passionate team behind sustainability solutions that have a global impact.

tayne-experiment

Leading By Experiment

The only influencer platform that leads by experiment with extra-ordinary experiences.

Read the Article
tayne-experiment

Leading By Experiment

The only influencer platform that leads by experiment with extra-ordinary experiences.

webflow-virtual-world-tour

Webflow Virtual World Tour

Following the launch of our project DOSE, John gave a talk at the Webflow World Virtual World Tour.

Read the Article
webflow-virtual-world-tour

Webflow Virtual World Tour

Following the launch of our project DOSE, John gave a talk at the Webflow World Virtual World Tour.

dose-showcased-by-webflow

DOSE Showcased by Webflow

Webflow shared the project with their audience of nearly 100,000 Twitter followers.

Read the Article
dose-showcased-by-webflow

DOSE Showcased by Webflow

Webflow shared the project with their audience of nearly 100,000 Twitter followers.

salt-athletic

When Fashion Meets Hygienic Innovation

Bringing fresh style and innovation to the soccer community, with love.

Read the Article
salt-athletic

When Fashion Meets Hygienic Innovation

Bringing fresh style and innovation to the soccer community, with love.

ypos

A Landing Pad for Young Professionals

An engaged community of young professionals deserves a vibrant flag to wave.

Read the Article
ypos

A Landing Pad for Young Professionals

An engaged community of young professionals deserves a vibrant flag to wave.

voyce-threads

Standing for What You Believe In

Start meaningful conversations by showing off what’s on your feet.

Read the Article
voyce-threads

Standing for What You Believe In

Start meaningful conversations by showing off what’s on your feet.

Let’s talk strategy.

Schedule a call with our Identity Architect and see if it makes sense to work together.