10 Lessons from Working 1:1 with a Design Agency Founder

May 15, 2024 • LessonsGrowth MindsetConnect ↗

Image of Blank Resident & Julian Paul exchanging lessons

Two years ago I stopped working for an independent design agency previously named 3dro.ps. The now openpurpose.com led by Blank Resident is to date one of the finest design powerhouses on planet earth. From 2021-2022 I had the pleasure of working closely with Blank as a Product Owner, then Product Team Lead and also Founders Associate of the overarching wayward.group. Back then ofc.software was my purview (now part of openpurpose.com). It held a handful of SaaS products, one shipped and others still in their MVP or pre-MVP stages. The unique setup of doing all work in house meant ofc.software used the incredible openpurpose.com design talent. Needless to say the quality of work we were able to produce was top-tier.

As a Founders Associate to Blank my job was to plan, coordinate and track all progress towards better outcomes. Throughout this time, I was able to closely observe his leadership style and learn many lessons that still fuel my creative business endeavours to date. I would even credit Blank for my growing obsession with writing in the endless pursuit of communicating complex topics in the clearest form possible.

This article is an effort to collect my top-of-mind learnings into a condensed list. Not all are direct lessons from my time with Blank. Most are learnings gathered from in between the lines. If you are reading this, Blank: I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for the time we spent working together.

I will revisit these lessons regularly. Feel free to do the same.

Learnings for agency operators

[01] Writing is like cleaning an overgrown garden from its weeds — an idea is just a unique collection of words in your head. To make it real, get it all on paper, then cut down the copy into its most simplistic form. Clarity is uncovered when everything is reduced to its core. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Writing is like being a gardener to your own thoughts.

[02] If you don’t get told what to do, be proactive and figure it out — to assign tasks, a manager needs the time to define what to do and set the right priorities. If you don’t want to get micromanaged, simply solve problems in your responsibility area. If you reach too far, you’ll get boundaries, which are just constraints to help you focus on what is required of you. Working relationships like that carry respect.

[03] Consistently seek feedback & guidance — if leading requires learning to follow first. Then following requires learning to lead yourself first. Self-leadership then is the endless pursuit of betterment. So don’t just ask for feedback”, ask what could I do better?” The uncomfortable questions left unanswered are blindspots. If you are able to address them with yourself, you’ll be able to address them with your team & product.

[04] Confidence = abilities — the more you are able to realise, the more you’ll believe in yourself. Don’t try to change things for the sake of change. It’s wise to adapt and learn by doing things the defined way until you build a pedigree of proven ability. Change after all is figuring out how to establish a better way, not just a new way.

[05] Don’t assume to know your target audience — if you think you know how other people want to solve their problem, it will keep you from understanding them and bias your actions. It’s best to define the simplest version of what you think users want and then allow prospects to make up their own mind. Imagine you’d be using this, then scale your thinking.

[06] Memorable landing pages communicate the user journey — walk the user through their experience. Start with the desired outcome, then outline how it works, continue to visualise the benefits & finish off with a call to action that points to a single next step. If you question an element’s existence, remove it.

[07] Asynchronous work requires individual output first, then collaboration towards better outcomes — meetings and group calls can get out of hand without set constraints. Yes, asynchronous cultures need everyones thoughts to be heard, mixed and matched. But collaborating first without individual output to lay the foundation produces toxic work environments. Healthy cultures have defined roles, clear responsibilities and trust without a doubt. It’s always better to have a defined working structure to set expectations than none at all.

[08] Beware the operational tradeoff between growth & momentum — In an ideal world, there is endless time to experiment, but the world is far from ideal. Therefore the goal should be to design a culture that is so methodical in its creativity, every experiment is able to hyperdrive product profitability. So the closer you can build at the connection of growth (revenue) & momentum (experimentation), the more refined your product will be.

[09] Product inward (ops / planning) ≠ product outward (positioning / comms) thinking — even though work needs to happen from the inside out, don’t forget to leave room for creativity, so you may let how you imagine to say things define what you do. Use this hack as the exception to the rule.

[10] Reaching too far can make us fall too short — planning farther out than 2-4 weeks mostly produces more re-planning work for yourself. Rather, think in weekly or biweekly sprints and set quarterly milestones as guideposts. Planning too far ahead stifles creativity and ultimately puts a hardstop on innovation. Operational bliss is reached at a point where plans set = plans realised. Strive for that.

[BONUS] — A system and its processes are only overengineered if 1. People don’t stick to set standards or 2. Work is not being shipped fast enough.

Final thoughts

If you liked this, then I’m sure we have synergies in the way we think and view the world. If you are up for it, feel free to schedule a 10min coffee chat with me via tidycal.com/julian/10.

Want to connect? Visit @itsjulianpaul on 𝕏.

Until next time.

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