Episode 71

The Show Must Go On

This week on Overtime, we’re focusing on moments of light in all of the darkness of what’s going on. Meg tells us about an upcoming design event that’s actually happening, and how she plans to continue her freelance career while also supporting small businesses. Plus, special guest Ashley Hohnstein joins us to share tips for how to have more mindful and helpful design critiques.

We have to keep this going, we have to support one another.

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Meg: Well, hello, hello! It’s your host Meg “[sobbing]” Lewis, and welcome back to Overtime, where I will still continue to deliver design news and give you the tips you need to create your best work. And you know, here at Overtime, my goal is to just keep on keepin’ on because doing this gives me a sense of normalcy. I plan to keep you up to date on the current events and the news you need, and also continue to give you the tips you need to create your best work because I think it’s helpful for us to all stay informed and also keep looking toward the future and keep working on ourselves and trying to make the world a better place as we go on.

And, you know, I think having me in your ears once a week since you can’t see your friends, I’m hoping that I can be your new best friend. You know, I just want to be that person that you hear from once a week that makes you feel a little bit better and helps you to feel, I don’t know, less alone, because hosting this podcast helps me to feel less alone too. It gives me a sense of purpose and it helps me to feel like I’m having a conversation with you even though I’m not. But we’re going to take the hotline calls and we’re just going to make this experience feel like a conversation, which I think is so important right now, because I’m getting a little lonely. Are you? Let me be your new best friend.

In this episode, the show must go on. I talk about an upcoming design event that’s actually happening and how I plan to move on with my own career while supporting small businesses at the same time. Oh, and you know what? Slack’s timely product update, I’ll cover that too. Plus, Ashley Hohnstein stops by to chat about conducting mindful and actually helpful critiques.

Let’s talk about some moments of light in all of the darkness of what’s happening. So, as you all know, everything has been canceled. We’re stuck inside and we’re doing the right things. We’re all paying attention. And I’m proud of us. We’re taking the steps we need to make the world healthier and better and keeping people alive, yourself included, and I love that. And so, since everything’s gotten canceled, I think a lot of people, myself included, are scrambling to find ways to continue life, to continue making money, to continue supporting and lifting each other up, and it’s so important that we do that. And thank goodness, because all the events have gotten canceled, Andrew Hochradel has created a new kind of conference called Canceled Con. I love the title, it’s funny. It’s happening on April 4th and 5th and it’s online only and it’s totally free. And there’s a huge long lineup of speakers because it’s two full days of talks and experiences and weird stuff. And I’m going to be involved in it – they’re giving me 30 minutes to do whatever I want. I haven’t even decided what I’m going to do yet. Is it going to be a funny guided meditation? Am I going to give a little workshop, a little talk? A little dance session? I don’t know, I can do anything. I think that’s very fun.

But I think this is so wonderful for so many reasons: it’s free, it’s going to give you something to do with your time, it’s going to help you to gain information and feel a little bit less alone, and I love that. And I think it’s really cool because Andrew, I believe, is going to be setting up a system where you can tip the people that are speaking to you. And so, Andrew is going to set up, you know, Venmo handles and all of that so that everybody can, you know, continue surviving and thriving. And yeah, it’s so exciting. And too, I think everybody’s starting to do a little experimental with things here and there.

Remember Erik Westra from last week? He was our correspondent telling us about events and what we could do planning events from now on. Eric started doing this really sweet thing with his two daughters, that he’s calling quarantine Radio Hour. And basically, he’s just on Twitch and he’s figured out a way to put his record player into – I don’t know anything about sound, which is unfortunate, because I host podcasts – but Eric has found a way to put his record player, his turntable, into his computer. Cords! And so, you can hear the records. He’s spinning pretty well, it sounds amazing, the sound is great. And he and his girls have microphones and they kind of introduce each song. And he picks some songs, he lets his girls picks some songs, so it’s just this wonderful mix of different kinds of music that are blended together. And it’s so great, and it’s just fun to watch somebody do something for an hour of time. And I love that he’s doing that.

So, I’m actively looking for ways to do stuff like that too. But basically, my main goal for myself and my career right now is to fight my little behind off to keep my income relatively the same as it was before, despite everything crumbling down around me. And I need to do that so that I can continue to support small businesses at the rate that I was supporting them before. So, all of the restaurants I used to eat out at, all of the friends’ stores I used to shop at, all the workshops I used to take and conferences I used to go to, I need to be able to make the same amount of money, I hope, so that I can keep putting the money that I was putting into the hands of other people that so I can support them. So, I think that’s a good goal to keep in mind for all of us. Because we have to keep this going, we have to support one another. So, if you have friends or people that you’re a fan of online that offer something that you can, you know, put a little money into, if you are in a position where you are making a similar income to what you were making before, I highly recommend it, and that’s what I’m doing.

I am working so hard to be able to help other people through a number of means and a lot of that is me trying to offer new services online, give it away for free, charge a little bit of money so I can survive too, find different ways that I can do stuff online and offer the same services I was offering in person. Uhh, can’t do that anymore. So, I’m trying to figure out how I can do these things online. Whether that’s teaching online classes, I just learned about a new product called Loom, which I think is really fun. It’s where you can take a screen capture video on your computer or phone, and then there’s also a little video picture of yourself in the corner so I could give talks still this way, where I show my talk slides and then my little face is down there to give them the talk. Or I could do portfolio reviews, teach workshops with that. So many options.

But I know a lot of y’all are out here collecting unemployment now or you are just hanging on by a thread. And I see you and I’m right in there with you, but I am fighting my little butt off to try and help you as well and help lift others up. And I think as a self-employed person, my whole career, I am so used to things shifting and changing and having months where I couldn’t – can’t pay my bills, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m so used to this. This has happened so many times throughout my career where I’ve been like, “Shoot, I have to make money right now. And I need to offer a new service or do a new kind of work that I hadn’t done before so I can do that.” And I think that this mindset and having all this practice has been really preparing me for this moment. Because now I’m just like, “Oh, here’s another surprise, I guess I have to change everything once again.” So that’s where I’m at.

But I’m working so hard to help other people and find new ways to help people, lift them up, and help other people shine so I can just make the world a better place. And I think the scariest part about all of this is that right now the world is chaos, everyone’s anxious and scared and stressed out and nobody knows what the future holds, and so, you know, it feels really scary for me because I need to, and like most self-employed people, I need to keep pushing my things, I need to keep selling my stuff in order for myself to survive. But it feels wrong, it feels so insensitive to be doing that right now. Partly because I know we should be focusing on making the world a healthier place and it feels gross for me to be selling workshops and classes and offerings on the internet, when I just want people to focus on staying inside and staying healthy. So, it can feel really insensitive, but what I’d offer you as far as advice goes, is to try not to judge us as people that are self-employed for trying to sell things right now.

I’m personally finding a comfort zone, a balance of giving things away for free and helping people that are in need, as well as just fighting to help myself to survive. So, if you see other self-employed people that are, you know, pushing things and selling things, try your hardest to not jump on top of them to tell them they’re being insensitive. I get it, it feels that way, I think we all feel that. It’s so easy for this to feel really gross right now, and I’m always so scared of feeling like a grifter, but those of us who are self-employed, we’re fighting right now, we’re fighting so hard and we have to in order to survive, so that we and the rest of the world don’t fall apart. So, I think there’s a lot of little, little sparkles of light throughout what’s happening right now, and I think we’re all trying to figure it out. And every day, I see little, little wonderful, shiny moments of things that people are able to create during this time. So, I’m going to focus on that for myself too. And also, okay, I’ll keep you updated as I figure things out. I don’t have any answers yet. I’m in progress. It’s a slow but beautiful process because I’m listening to myself and learning from my past experiences and it’s beautiful and exciting, and so scary.

Okie Smokey, for our second news story, I think this is both topical and interesting, but also very fun for me, personally. As you may have noticed, Slack started rolling out a product update. And I guess this is a product update that they’ve definitely been working on for a while before all this COVID-19 nonsense. And you know, it wasn’t quite ready, but they realized that everybody’s now working from home and we’re all using Slack. They have all these new users now, so I think that they’ve started to roll out a lot of these product updates very slowly to a few people at a time in order to help people. Because I think, you know, if you’re like me, and you just have like a lot, I think I’m a member of at least 30 plus Slack groups at this point, which is too many. I will say that. But because I’m a freelancer, all my clients are in there, I have different groups for each client, I have groups of friends that are in their different communities and events that I’m involved in. Everybody loves creating slack communities, it’s so beautiful and wonderful and that’s such an important part of my life. When I say 30 plus, don’t roll your eyes or get so scared for me. There’s, I’d say, like nine that I’m active in. The others, I just let go because I can’t handle. It is too stressful for me.

But Slack has started rolling out this update because there are a lot of new people. And if you’re like me and you’re a kind of a power user, you use it a lot, you’re so used to the difficulties of Slack that you might not even notice it anymore. But as soon as you see a new person come into your Slack group, and you have to just instruct them of how to put up a GIF, it’s a sobering moment because you start to realize, “Oh, yeah, this is actually kind of hard to use sometimes.” So, when you try to teach somebody that’s new something, it kind of shines light on all the parts of the product that are a little messed up. And slack is working to fix that.

So, I think that the biggest updates, I don’t have it yet, but I’ve been reading a lot about it and seeing a lot of screenshots, very exciting, some of my favorite things about it is that there’s new ways to organize the content that’s in Slack. So, I guess if you have a paid membership, which, some of my channels do, some of them don’t. If you have a paid group, you’ll be able to organize channels and conversations and apps into collapsible sections. So, think of that as like, folders, which is very exciting to me because for me, a lot of these things I work on are projects with other people. So, for example, in one of my Slack groups, we collaborate on projects together, so a lot of it is project based, and being able to put them together into collapsible sections is going to be a real treat for me.

And another thing, the biggest thing for me, is that they’ve now added a large compose button so it’s kind of feeling like email all of a sudden. So, in the big top corner, they’re going to have a giant compose button where you can just write away and then choose your channel and post away. And that’s very exciting to me because I have a chaotic brain and sometimes, I just think of things really quickly. And I think this is going to help me to not have to like, go find the channel, and check on everything, and then get distracted, and then compose or maybe forget about it completely. So, the Compose button I think is going to be super helpful for me.

The only thing that I’m worried about with the Compose button is that, you know, sometimes when you have a question you want to ask a Slack channel, and you go to the channel and you look and you’re like, “Okay, I want to ask this question about which flavor pizza roll everybody loves.” But you get in there, and somebody’s having a heartfelt conversation about, I don’t know, anything, I don’t want to insert anything in there. But so, they’re having a heartfelt conversation already and then you’re like, “Oh, I feel like I shouldn’t interject with my pizza roll question, but I also don’t want to forget this.” And then you don’t know what to do because you’re going to seem rude barging in. And I think that the Compose button might be a little bit of a problem there because I could see myself being like, “Alright, pizza rolls” in the Compose area and then just posting it, and then everyone, meanwhile is having this little sappy conversation, sees me barge in, and they might think I’m a little rude.

So, I feel like there’s a little bit of social situations we need to tiptoe around with that compose button. But I think a really cool part of the Compose area, the areola of composition, is that (giggles)… You know, sometimes I’m just weird and there’s no one else in the room with me so, I don’t know. Are you goofing with me that I just said areola of composition? I don’t know. I’m all alone, but so are you probably. We’re all alone together.

Anyway, when you’re composing, there’s a new action button where you can just press this lightning bolt and all of the available actions just pop up, and I’m making jazz hands with my hands to show you that I’m popping up. The actions just pop up so, you can just choose the action you want and then it goes to the action. It makes it happen, makes the magic happen. And I just think that’s very exciting because I think they’re really focusing on new people because I’m sure there are a lot of real new people using Slack right now, and slack is really focusing on that. So, I think that’s super cool.

Meg: Okay, whether IRL or working from home, I will not deny I have had my work critiqued by many clients and collaborators over the past years. But when it comes to assessing and critiquing the work of others, I am absolute garbage. I focus way too much on being a nice person and I end up protecting the emotions of the person I’m critiquing. I feel like I’m not even able to give the feedback I really want to give which just helps everybody to not create great work, and nobody wins.

So, I’ve brought in expert Ashley Hohnstein, an incredible packaging and brand designer who is probably the most thoughtful person I know when it comes to responsibly critiquing the work of others and having her own work critiqued. Hi, Ashley, how are you?

Ashley: I’m good. How are you doing?

Meg: I’m doing okay. So, my first question is like, whenever I’m critiquing the work of somebody else, what am I supposed to be doing in order to have the most successful experience between both me and them?

Ashley: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I think the biggest thing is approaching it from a human level and not just trying to get to the point where you are happy with the work kind of thing. So, how do you make that person feel like you are elevating them and their work up to a place that you are collaborators and not client and designer or vice versa?

Meg: I see, okay. Okay, so that makes sense. So, it’s like we’re working together to do something together rather than a me versus them sort of situation.

Ashley: Exactly. Because I feel like the second you enter it as a me versus them or enter it from a place of defensiveness of “I just really want to get what I want and I don’t want to look at something that I’m not open to,” you’re just going to end up having a shitty working relationship.

Meg: That makes sense. I think a lot of the issue that I tend to have whenever I’m critiquing a designer’s work specifically that maybe designing something that I can’t necessarily take on. So, I’m handing something off to them. I’m delegating this thing to a designer. I think I really struggle with the fact that it’s not how I would do it. I know that’s probably a very common issue. How would you approach those situations? Ashley: I try really hard not to tell them what to do, but rather the goal or the intent behind what the work that they are doing is. So, like, instead of saying, like, “Hey, like, you know, I would have rather this had three blobs instead of two. We can talk –” does that feel pointed?

Meg: Yes, but no, you’re speaking a language that I understand.

Ashley: I think it’s about like, what’s the intent behind the blobs? And like, what is the message that we’re trying to send to get to the point with a client that is messaging the right thing? I think it’s just about making sure that you weren’t being prescriptive in your feedback and more about like, what is the communication challenge that isn’t being solved?

Meg: I see. So, in the case that maybe they are solving that challenge and the problem well, but it’s not necessarily the way that I would have done it, would you recommend just – the correct answer is that I just have to be okay with that.

Ashley: You just have to let go; you know? It’s like the shifting from “I am the designer on this project” to “I am art directing or creative directing another designer.” So, it’s like, when you are a designer delegating to another designer, at that point, you’re no longer a designer, does that make sense? Like I try to view it as like, I am delegating this work. Therefore, I cannot 100% super control it any longer. And I have to think about it from a leadership perspective, and how do I guide this designer or illustrator or whomever, to the place where the communication is solved?

Meg: Okay, that makes total sense to me. Okay, that makes me feel so much better. So, what do you recommend I do if I get sassed? Is that like, am I doing something wrong in order to receive the sass? Is it a problem with the way that I’m approaching it, or do you think that people just get super defensive?

Ashley: Are you being asked by your client or being sassed by the designer who’s being defensive about their work?

Meg: The designer that’s being defensive about their work usually.

Ashley: I think that that is coming from a place of insecurity, and they’re worried that their work isn’t working for you. And I think that’s a time to like, again, what’s that level set of like, “Hey, I hear you, I appreciate that you took this approach. But I think we should talk about other ways in because this isn’t exactly working for us yet. It’s kind of like a moment to me to step back instead of – otherwise, you’re going to get that head to head battle moment of like, “Well, I think it should be pink, and I think it should be blue.” And it just, then it’s like, almost like personal taste is mixed in too much in it. So, it’s like you just step back. And again, remember that like, to me, design is art with math. So, it’s like we’re not solving the problem properly. It’s not supposed to be about personal taste as much.

Meg: Right, okay, that’s a really good point. Because I think whenever I’m being critiqued, I think a lot of the time I become so emotional to what I’ve made, because it’s such a reflection of my brain, that if, I even set myself up for scenarios where I won’t receive any feedback, because I’m so afraid of negative feedback, and so I think that I just become a kind of a ball of mush. And I’m just so sad whenever I receive any negative feedback because I have such a self-worth tie-in to the work that I’m making.

Ashley: Yeah, and I think that that very much differs depending on the person. Like I’m somebody who’s working with clients and like, I might have a personal style, but they aren’t necessarily coming to me for my personal style, whereas a lot of people have a really great personal voice that clients come to them for, and I think that’s a lot harder to separate yourself from the critique. But I think the important thing is just, always remember that you are not your work, which is a practice that everyone should be taking into account. And it’s definitely something that gets easier with time. I know I used to, and I still do get emotional depending on how like, burnt out I am on a project, or how passionate about a project I am, but it’s just about how do you take the moment, reflect, breathe, and walk away, and just be open to it because you’re going to be a more successful designer if you’re able to take critiques and effectively apply them to your work. But how do you not become like, emotionally damaged by that?

Meg: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think about that a lot because I work in a space where I am hired for my brain and my artistic style. And my work is so tied into my life and the way that I do everything and so, it gets really confusing very fast to decide. I know that what you’re saying makes sense, of course, it does. Like I am not, I should be distanced emotionally from the work I make, but so much of it is so personal to me that a lot of times if somebody gives me negative feedback about the way that I talk about something or the way that I approach something, or you know, like the larger picture things about what I’m doing, then it feels so offensive and upsetting to me. But I think that there’s definitely a way to, I like what you suggested about, you’re working to solve a problem or you’re working towards this goal. And that helps me to think beyond myself, I think a little bit. So, I think setting myself up for success of being critiqued is really helpful of saying, “No, I’m trying to accomplish this larger goal. So, if the feedback that I receive helps me to do that, then it’s helpful for me to receive it positively.”

Ashley: Yes. And I think too, another thing that’s really important is to think about who you are receiving that feedback from, and if that’s somebody that you respect enough to absorb the emotional impact of that, like, especially with portfolio reviews and stuff like that, I always tell people like, do you respect the portfolio of the person who just beat you down? And if the answer is no, then maybe you don’t have to absorb the emotional impact. Like there are ways to take the feedback and try to really understand what they meant, without taking it super personally and feeling like you personally fucked up.

Meg: Right. Yeah, I think I always have to remember too like, what are my scary areas, the places where I’m really self-conscious about it. And if somebody happens to give me feedback that’s poking at that little point, and I usually react very emotionally, and then I take a moment and think about it, it’s like, “Oh, it’s not their fault that they mentioned that. It’s me. I’m very sensitive about that thing and they had no idea.”

Ashley: Yeah, like, there are things that are triggering to us that we know are our weak points. So of course, when somebody touches on that, we’re like, “I know.” Like, that’s like when I, typically if it’s like an internal critique at work or something like that, I will make sure that I am level setting what stage the work is at. So, if somebody starts picking at a piece of type that I know isn’t perfect yet, or I haven’t spent the time with, I don’t want to go there. You know, and I think like, “Hey, like, what I need a critique on is x, y and z. Like if you have other thoughts, I’d love them, but just know like, I’m not there yet for you to be talking about that stuff.”

Meg: Oh, I like that.

Ashley: Yes. The other joke I like to make is, “I’m only accepting positive criticism at this time,” especially if somebody’s trying to do a drive-by critique. No, thank you. I don’t want you to tell me my work sucks when I’m not printing it out and I’m not ready to talk about it.

Meg: I love the concept of a drive-by critique.

Ashley: Oh my God, that’s office culture. That’s where you’re blessed that you’re freelancing.

Meg: Oh my gosh. Okay, well, I feel very satisfied and feel like I know what to do now. Thank you so much, Ashley. Is there anything specific that you’d like to promote?

Ashley: Oh, um, no, not really. I guess my Instagram. Follow me on Instagram. I post all my sewing stuff there and a lot of pictures of my dog, Stella.

Meg: Yes, that’s right. And a lot of your work too.

Ashley: I do, yes.

Meg: Where can everyone find you on the internet?

Ashley: I am one of the only Ashley Hohnstein’s in the world. So, I am @AshleyHohnstein on everything. Most of the time, you can just google me, and I’ll come up.

Meg: Oh, that’s so nice.

Ashley: Yeah.

Meg: What’s that feel like?

Ashley: It’s great. There’s a Michael Ashley Hohnstein.

Meg: [Gasp] Michael Ashley Hohnstein?

Ashley: I know. I feel bad because I’ve knocked him out of the search results on Google.

Meg: Good job. All right. Thanks, Ashley.

Ashley: Thank you.

Meg: We are changing the overtime hotline to be a place for you to call in and share what the heck is on your mind all throughout the chaos and sadness happening right now. So, call 1-833-DEZIGNZ. That’s 1-833-DEZIGNZ and leave us a voicemail sharing your thoughts whether optimistic, pessimistic, worried, or I don’t know, if you’re gassy. So, call 1-833-DEZIGNZ to leave an audio message. And your recording, you know, it might be featured on the podcast. And that’s it for this week’s episode of Overtime. Stay healthy, wash your dang hands, take care of your mind and body, and do whatever you can to keep those around you safe and healthy too. And as a community, as a design community, let’s band together to lift each other up. Okay. Bye-bye now! Hear me next week!