Last November I was asked to speak with University of Michigan art students as part of the ongoing UM Stamps School of Art & Design Professional Development series. Joining me was industrial designer Jeff Deboer from Sundberg-Ferar. Our topic: professional etiquette.
As I prepared these “Do’s and Don’ts” tips I realized these were good reminders for all of us in professional practice as well as the students.
1. DO ARRIVE ON TIME
For interviews, client meetings, lunches. Good habit to get into. Some folks say 10 minutes early is on time. I say, at the very least, go for right on time.
2. DON’T BS
Whether you are in an interview or presenting your work to a client or working with your colleagues, don’t BS. Don’t say you are an expert when you are not. Don’t give convoluted or meaningless reasons for your work that don’t make any sense.
3. DO GIVE OTHERS CREDIT
If you have worked on a group project give credit where credit is due. I often see the same group project in student portfolios or the same work in colleagues’ portfolios. In an interview tell me what you worked on, what was your role on the team. Don’t be afraid to say that was someone else’s idea that I implemented. Many of our Q projects are developed within a creative team and all our complex projects are the result of many minds and hands.
4. DON’T GOSSIP
Not a lot to say here. Not gossiping is different than hiding or concealing bad behavior. Illegal behavior needs to be called out. Unless you know all the details about a situation, it is pretty dicey to pass judgement on people, projects, etc.
5. DO CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS
This relates to your work space, work files, and your interpersonal communications. A lot of work involves sharing files. We try to keep our project files well organized (and I am a big offender!). In an office there is always a messy person in the kitchen. Don’t let that be you!
If your social media presence is a mess clean it up.
If you’ve offended someone—colleague or client—by a comment, it is up to you to apologize and get the relationship back on track.
6. DON’T OVER-PROMISE OR UNDER-DELIVER
This a tricky area and takes some experience. We all want to do our best, but sometimes our effort is out-of-scope, out-of-budget, or won’t fit into the schedule. Professionals always strive for excellence, but we are also realistic. My biggest pet peeve is not delivering when and what you said you would. Don’t give clients or colleagues false expectations. Respond and reassess when projects start veering off course.
7. DO USE AN EMAIL SIGNATURE
A lot of my correspondence is via email. It is helpful to have your full name, your contact info, and your social media contacts if appropriate.
8. DON’T USE ACRONYMS
Funny detail that my colleague Tom Rieke always mentions. And it is a good one. Using acronyms tends to be “insider talk”. A client or new colleague can be overwhelmed by the verbal shorthand many of us use. There is an appropriate time for acronyms, but if they confuse our communication we should stop and clearly explain what we mean.
9. DO LISTEN
I’m always trying to improve my listening skills. Sometimes our colleagues and clients are trying to explain something that is difficult for them to express. We need to listen for what they are not saying.
10. DON’T CHECK YOUR PHONE DURING MEETINGS OR MEALS
Goes with listening. Try to give your undivided attention during face-to- face meeting times. Be present. Be in the moment. If you are in a design/development meeting you might be using your phone as a reference…that’s different.
11. DO RESPECT EVERYONE
Of course we assume we give our professors, CEOs, managers, clients, and colleagues our respect. (That doesn’t mean unquestioning blind loyalty.) But there are also all the other folks who deserve our respect: your cab driver, vendors you work with, the folks preparing and serving your lunch, the cleaning people at your office. They help make “us” happen.
12. DON’T ORDER THE MOST EXPENSIVE ITEM ON THE MENU WHEN THE CLIENT OR COMPANY IS PAYING
Entitlement. Someone is still paying for this. If you are encouraged by your host to get that extra expensive wine or lobster tail that is different. Yum!
13. DO READ (A LOT)
I always like this one since we are visual folks. We look like mad. We can never look at enough images, designs, real world details, but we should also be devouring written content. Readers are better writers. Readers are smarter designers. In our office we have to write all the time—proposals, reports, emails to clients. Get your reading in any way you like best—online, books, newspapers. And yes to podcasts. Another way to stay informed.
14. DON’T OVERSCHEDULE
My daughter calls this FOMO. An acronym for “Fear of missing out!” I hate missing out on stuff, but in our professional and personal lives we have to figure out how to keep our schedule optimal. When we are too busy and distracted, we can’t focus and do a good job. This takes experience as well. Down time balanced with productive time keeps us at our best.
15. DO FOLLOW UP
After interviews, follow up at the least with an email. Handwritten note: extra points! In the workplace, prompt follow-ups in response to client inquiries, colleague requests, and biz dev inquiries keep us connected and moving forward together.
After the lecture we had a brief Q&A with students. At the end of the event UM associate professor Stephanie Rowden noted one of her favorite tips. Say thank you. Seems pretty darn simple, but a good reminder.