I remember well. 1975. It was a hot, sweltering Cincinnati Summer and the Big Red Machine was on their way to winning the World Series for the first time. Ten-year-old Andy Ruttle also found his passion – not with a puppy love, but with graphic design.
My own neighborhood newspaper The Paxton Post had taken off with a dozen subscriptions. I designed it using a typewriter and a felt-tip marker, then used the new-fangled Xerox machine to mass produce. My neighbor friends contributed to the content. Business was booming! And the people pleaser I have always been, was feeling the “first high” of professional praise.
That ignited a lifetime passion for the graphic design business. After graduating “Graphic Design Senior of the Year” from University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program, spent 8 years learning the ropes at what is now known as Landor Associates, and now nearly 20 years still learning the ropes with my own business, Ruttle Design Group (RDG).
“What’s your secret to staying in business that long, Andy?”
I get this question quite often, since a good number of small to medium-size startup graphic design businesses don’t survive past a year or two. The answer lies within each graphic designer, and I’m no different than the rest: Passion.
Now, you reading this is probably saying, “Is that all?! Passion?! That’s a given, dude.”
That’s correct, however it’s actually how you maintain that burning Summer-heat level of passion for plowing through business’ ups and downs. It’s called “business cycles” and for a reason. You will constantly go through cycles. That’s a given, too!
Sure many other aspects play a part of making you a good to great graphic designer and business owner. And plenty advice has been written, such as AIGA’s article “Besides Passion, What Makes a Good Designer Truly Great” by Ram Castillo. These qualities can be sharpened over time with steady discipline. Passion is different. You’re born with it in your heart and it needs other supportive, highly-passionate designers throughout your career to make it continually burn bright.
The year RDG was celebrating 10 years in business, I gave a speech “10 Tips from 10 Years” at an event involving peers. Abit nerve racking to say the least. The one business tip that holds most true is:
Surround yourself with great people.
Now that I’m nearing another 10 years in business, I now believe:
Surround yourself with great and PASSIONATE people.
You can be a great designer, however without passion, you’re not going to be that master designer who inspires – thus fanning other’s passion. This is where a chain reaction of passionate designers promotes the graphic design industry as a whole, and not to mention, maintaining drive, focus, and fortitude in running your graphic design business.
I have been blessed with great, passionate graphic designers and professional people in my life. Namely the ones I’m honored to “work” or have “worked” for me (I hate using that word). They are awesome talent that my only job as their leader is to make their job easier, allowing their passion to catch fire. And it’s reciprocal in nature! I benefit just as much as them.
Looking back over the years, a few projects come to mind that demonstrate the power of passion. We’ve had the honor and pleasure to work one-on-one with John Pepper, former CEO of P&G. His off-the-chart passion for P&G propelled us as we designed his memoir books – which continue to inspire P&G employees and other corporations. On the branding side, RDG’s passionate designers continually reignite stagnate consumer brands. A couple examples are brands that span 100+ years each. The meat producer John Morrell now has a more human-centric logo and enhanced shelf presence, and a well-known P&G personal health care brand is being explored to be appealing to the millennial generation.
All this accomplished through empowering the RDG designers to be leaders, interacting with the client every step of the way. Our client is every bit part of the design team and feels the passion.
“To lead is to serve” is my leadership model. Seems it’s intrinsic with my people pleasing nature. James C. Hunter brings this to life in his book “The Servant”. His timeless servant leadership principles are not about power, but authority built upon relationships, love, service, and sacrifice. Highly recommend reading his book, especially if you own a graphic design business or thinking of starting one.
So, your graphic design business is at stake here. Your passion level is the true answer and the ultimate success driver. The only way to make your passion a red-hot burning benefit to you, is to first make it burn like the sun for another graphic designer.