Jay Fanelli

Co-Founder of Cotton Bureau

Jay Fanelli

Co-Founder of Cotton Bureau Episode 33

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode 33 of Design Edu Today, the podcast series discussing topics concerning the state of interactive design education at institutions of higher learning. I am your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In this Episode, we’ll be discussing the skills necessary to be a contemporary designer, the specifics on the need to produce high fidelity prototypes and what a designer’s portfolio should look like and what it shouldn’t.

Today’s guest, Jay Fanelli, currently heading up a job search for an Interactive Design position at Cotton Bureau was a previous guest back on Episode ten (nine) of this show. For those new to this show, Jay, a Design School dropout, is one third of Cotton Bureau, the mutant child of the previous T-shirt store web design community, United Pixelworkers and the grandchild of the dearly departed web design studio, Full Stop Interactive. At Cotton Bureau, Jay’s in charge of colors, shapes and letters. Jay was named after a brand of pistol grips and lost only two Spelling Bees in his life. He made it from 1991 to 2008 without vomiting for any reason and strongly believes that the Nike Air Max 95 is the greatest sneaker ever designed. He also is hopelessly addicted to Coca-Cola. Welcome, Jay.

Jay:
Wassup, Gary. Thanks for having me back.
Gary:
I’m excited to have you. So, I’m just going to jump right into it. You are recently…you put out an ad for a UX/UI…well, I’ll actually just get into the question. That’s what this Episode is about, it’s about the job positioning that you posted and this is for the listeners of course, and then some of the…who knows? We’ll talk about the responses you might be getting for it.
Jay:
Yeah, we’ll go wherever this goes.
Gary:
All right, so, in your job ad you said the following, and this is a quote from the ad: “We’re not actually sure what to call this position specifically because, well, our industry isn’t quite sure what to call it either. Web Designer, Interface Designer, UI Designer, UX Designer, Experience Designer, Digital Designer, Front End Designer. Ugh. Maybe it’d just be easier if we explained who we’re looking for.”

So, my first question is, why do you think we’re having this identity crisis in the industry?

Jay:
Well, first of all, I think some of that was just kind of trying to be clever from a copywriting standpoint because so many job listings are the same; they’re asking for the same thing, they don’t really stand out in any way, so I think that in a way was for us to sort of like put our personality out there, just so any potential applicants can, like, read that and see this is who Cotton Bureau kind of is, but it was also just being honest about the sort of state of the industry which I think is at this interesting transition point between maybe the sort of, let’s call it the ’95 to 2007 or 2010 kind of era where most companies I think were staffed by people who taught themselves, people who were kind of Jacks of All Trades or Jills of All Trades, who knew everything from design to code to copywriting, UX, even before UX was really a thing and now I think companies are looking for specialization to some degree but they don’t know…like the industry, the terminology hasn’t coalesced around one thing or another yet so it’s an Interface Designer for some companies; it’s an Experience Designer for others; it’s a UK Designer, you know, it’s the Web Designer and I think so much of what we’re looking for, what we specifically at Cotton Bureau, we’re looking for, is somebody who kinda has tentacles that reach into a lot of those different directions, so, somebody who maybe has some experience designing marketing sites but somebody who also has experience designing really serious UI for either web apps or native iOS or Android apps and then whatever sort of like skills designers, ancillary or primary that they come with nowadays, so, people who can design icons, people who can design marketing graphics, things like that. We, again specifically us, we’re looking for somebody pretty senior I would say; early sort of mid-level senior; somebody who can step in and really contribute on Day One, somebody who we’re not necessarily having to coach up and kind of bring along, so for us I think we’re looking for somebody who has a little bit of this and a little bit of that, not necessarily somebody who’s like super-specialized in one area. But even if we were looking for somebody specific, I don’t know that we would have the language to ask for that either.
Gary:
Yeah, and as you were talking and explaining that to me, it did occur to me that I think…I agree with you wholeheartedly, and correct me if I’m not paraphrasing correctly, but essentially, all these terms are basically just kind of showing that the industry is now going into specialization and just doesn’t quite know how to do it yet because like you said, between ’95 and 2010, whenever media queries came out in 2010, I think that’s the date that I use: you did it all.
Jay:
Yeah, right. For somebody like me, I’m a little bit older than I think most people in this industry but first of all, I’m not capable of doing any of this stuff any more for the most part but there was a time when even I did it all, you know, everything from designing, coding, copywriting, you know, all that kind of stuff, but now it’s so complex, both on the design side, the development side. How far down the stack are designers expected to go, all that stuff. Not to mention being experts in, or at least somewhat well versed in motion graphics and animation and things like that. It’s tough out there.
Gary:
You know, on the motion graphics, are you hoping that whoever you hire has a little bit of that in it, or were you just bringing it up just as like a case in point? And the reason I ask is because I think we need to be teaching more of it in design education but not…I think the way we do it now, we do it as like, oh, let’s design a movie trailer; let’s make a motion graphics for a video and I just don’t think that’s quite what the industry needs.
Jay:
Yeah, not necessarily, I mean I think animation, and you and I could talk about this for a long time in terms of what designers are expected to know nowadays, which is this increasingly ridiculous list of things, but when we talk about interaction, I think most people in our position talk about interaction, I think we’re talking about sort of these little nano-interactions in a website or in an app context, so like instead of just clicking into an input field in a form on a website or in an app, there’s some little bit of motion that happens that indicates what’s supposed to…what the action the user’s supposed to take, or sort of smooth out the rough edges in a specific interaction or call to action, something like that on a website. It’s not really this, as you mentioned, it’s not really make a movie or draw a cartoon, it’s what happens when you click this button? What little thing can you add, either from a form perspective, from a function perspective, that adds a little something to this interaction that the user’s taking. And sometimes it can just be fun, it can just be like, oh, there’s a little bit of…there’s some color gradient that happens when you click it or something spins around or some icon animates into a different icon. And it might just be something relatively trivial like that, that doesn’t really make a big difference in the function of it but it adds just a little moment. That I think is more what we’re looking for and when we throw it in something like a job description, it’s really just like if you have this too: great, but if you don’t have that, it’s not the end of the world because, as we’ve been saying, and as I’m sure we’ll say many more times in this talk, it’s the things that designers are expected to know or at least know something about nowadays is getting ridiculously long.
Gary:
So, you also mention in the ad that you wanted someone who could design systems and pattern libraries and you rambled off marketing sites, dashboards, on-boarding flows, icons, maybe even illustration graphics, branding identity and app design. I’m more interested in those first two. But before I get in on those, do you think all those skills are the norm or do you feel like because of the size of your company that you do need a broader person?
Jay:
I think the person that we’re looking for has most of those skills and I think that those people definitely exist. They may not exist in Pittsburgh where we are! We know who most of them are, we know where most of them work, and there’s…although we have big tech companies in Pittsburgh, it’s mostly developers and engineers; there are very few designers that work there. Those people, most likely are concentrated in San Francisco or Seattle or maybe even places like Austin or Brooklyn or something like that but those people are out there, those sort of mid to senior level design people who work at…maybe they work at Pinterest or they work at Airbnb or they work at Stripe or something like that and they’re on a larger design team and they have amassed a pretty wide, a pretty broad range of skills in the time that they’ve worked there, maybe they’ve bounced around between a few different tech giants and start-ups in their time, so they’re used to that sort of language, they’re used to producing those sorts of assets or working through those sorts of flows and things like that.
Gary:
OK. There’s an amazing one that would fit this bill, it’s a previous guest, Joni Trythall, but she’s over in Delaware, unfortunately.
Jay:
Yeah, for sure, for sure.
Gary:
She hits all those. Anyway, that aside, so how, as a company, would you use a design system and a pattern library, because those words are bandied about quite a bit but I don’t think…I don’t think as educators we know exactly how they’re used.
Jay:
Right, so you know they’re relatively synonymous and other people have different words for them. This kind of goes back to the sort of Interface Designer, UI Designer, UX Designer, Experience Designer kind of vocabulary quandary but pattern libraries, design libraries, design systems, whatever you want to call it. What we’re all building nowadays is increasingly complex and it goes…in trying to build a cohesive experience across a wide range of devices and mediums, things like that, whether you’re on a native app on a mobile phone or whether you’re on a web app on a mobile phone; whether you’re on a tablet, whether you’re on a laptop, a big screen, people are trying to design consistent experiences across all of those interaction models and it’s not just building a website any more. It’s not even really just building an app any more, even though that’s pretty recent too. So, the importance for tools that allow us to build consistently across all those mediums has become more important and thus the idea of a pattern library’s popped up. And basically what that means is, rather than designing a page as the sort of final product, you’re designing bite-sized pieces of that page. So, here’s what a form looks like; here’s what a paragraph looks like; here’s what a small button looks like; here’s what a medium button looks like or a big button; here’s what a drop-down looks like; here’s what a headline looks like; here’s what horizontal navigation looks like, or vertical navigation. The logo always goes in the middle or the logo always goes on the left; things like that, so you’re designing pieces that can be put together.

If you design kind of larger constellations of those pieces, so that when somebody is laying out a form style in a native app versus a form style on the website, they’re picking from the same menu, the same consistent menu of interface elements. and it helps with scalability; it helps when somebody says, oh I need to build this new page in this app or I need to build this new section of the dashboard in the back end of the website. Instead of designing something from scratch or feeling like they need to come up with a holistic composition of a page, they’re sort of picking and choosing the elements they need and putting it together. It helps, like I said, with scalability; it helps with design debt, so if you need to kind of go back and change something, you’re only changing one element that gets propagated across the entire system. That’s what we mean when we say design systems and pattern libraries and for our own part, Cotton Bureau, we’ve done an OK job of putting that together, but we’re still, we’re a little bit old school in that we haven’t even really necessarily sort of changed our thinking over to truly one hundred per cent buying into the idea of a pattern library where we’re not just…one of us says, we need this kind of a page: still, my first inclination is to open up an image editing software like Photoshop or Illustrator or Sketch or something like that and try to design a pitch rather than saying, what are those elements? Let’s break that down, or let’s see what we already have and see if we can just snap some stuff together.

Gary:
Yeah. You know, this is for the print designers out there that…I guess when I hear style guides…
Jay:
What’s a print designer?
Gary:
Yeah! This is a print design educator, I kid, I kid. I’ll phrase it that way, it’s for the old-school educators. The reason I ask for clarification, because pattern library, design system, I think of how you just described it, but when I tell it to other people they think of, so it’s like a branding guide and I’m like, no, it’s not a branding guide.
Jay:
Exactly right.
Gary:
But listening to you speak it just reminded me, I taught a History of Design course and Massimo Vignelli did an amazing design system for the National Park Service where it was a system of…these are the elements that you’re going to have, now you could use these elements in a brochure, you can use these elements in the signage that would be actually at the Park and it was really…yeah, it was like a series of components. OK, you need to talk about this historical fact; this is how you display that historical fact and you can plug it into these different use cases, so I think that’s a…I’ll have to dig that up to show people what I’m talking about when we have this question.
Jay:
Yeah, and I think in the past it might have been for, if you’re handing over, if you get hired to do some design, whatever it is, whether it’s Massimo Vignelli designing a park or somebody designing a website, in the past I think it was sort of…here are the pieces and here are the rules that dictate how you use those pieces so that people who aren’t Massimo Vignelli can figure out where to put a sign in the future without having to hire Massimo Vignelli again in the future. In our case, I think it’s more about how to quickly…how to build quickly and how to build consistently and sort of smartly because things are changing all the time and interfaces are changing all the time. The expectations for what they have to do are changing all the time and having a ready-to-go menu of pieces that you’ve already vetted, that you already know how they work, is a lot simpler than just designing something from the ground up. I mean, I know, just for our part, not only with Cotton Bureau but with out web studio in the past and other projects that we’ve had, my business partner, Nathan, every once in a while will be like, six weeks into a project and he’ll say, why do I have four different hex colors for the same red? Or why is this form input two pixels taller than this other one that you designed and they both kind of do the same thing? It’s to solve those problems; it’s to round off the rough edges of designers like me!
Gary:
Yeah, I know, I noticed for the first time the other day, I finally noticed I was doing that, I was looking at a website, I’m like, wait a minute: I’ve got a different type of typographic hierarchy on this page. It’s the same site: what the heck am I doing? I was like, urgh, OK, gotta go back, do it first, do the typographic hierarchy first, then plug it in. OK, so before we get to actually talking about applicants, to the letter of the law that you can, in the ad you also mention that you wanted someone who could turn their designs into live prototypes of some fidelity, but if they could crank out production-ready code, it was even better. So I’m not going to even ask about designers should code. Rather, I’m curious about if you could expand on what is a live prototype of some fidelity? Is that something like through the InVision app or plugging into Bootstrap or Zurb…
Jay:
Could be, could be, yeah, it’s…we left that intentionally vague, so I’m going to give you a vague answer.
Gary:
Fair enough!
Jay:
It’s less about…I think when you read that sentence back, it sounds like what we’re looking for is somebody who can sort of get their design further down the road to completion than just a flat picture of a website that somebody designed and that’s true to some extent, but we’ve seen, I think a lot of people have seen, I don’t mean to sound like Donald Trump there, but many people have told me, we’ve seen our own process unofficially get a lot more collaborative and a lot more prototype-driven rather than designing a flat image or flat images of websites and then translating them into code, translating them into production level code, instead of that sort of very segmented process where it’s one person designing and one person developing, a lot of times it’s us sitting together on a couch, looking at a screen together and saying, tweaking the screen a little bit narrower or a little bit wider and just seeing, OK, at this break point does this make sense and let’s make that button a little bigger; let’s make that form input a little smaller; whatever. And it’s a lot…it’s designing on the fly a lot more than it’s coming up with a pixel perfect image of a website and then trying to translate that into code, so it’s more about the process of designing, what the process of designing kind of looks like now, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be collaborative like that but I think even when a person is designing by themselves, being able to see it live and interact with it on the fly as you’re designing, before you maybe even thought about style, so it’s just…it’s all about size and proportion and the sort of interaction that you’ve chosen to design. Seeing how it functions live is more important earlier in the process than it’s ever been before, so that’s kind of what we talk about when we’re talking about designing some sort of prototype: it’s less about the form the prototype takes and more about what the prototype helps you do in the process.
Gary:
And that’s why I asked the question, because I struggle with that. I struggle with…I want my students, when we’re designing something, to be able to make their typographic hierarchy, but then look at it on across all these different devices to make sure that they are making the right choices, because when they do their static ones on their screen on their laptop or whatever, it’s not accurate and there’s just really not an easy way to, unless you can do some live coding, to really get grids to see how they break, to see your typography, how does it actually look on a large device? How does it look on a small device, etc, so that’s what I was asking kind of…that’s why I was asking the question.
Jay:
Yeah, it’s really hard and I don’t mean to revisit territory we’ve already talked about on other podcasts but the tools are always changing and it was Photoshop for the longest time and then InVision started to gain a lot of ground and Sketch is obviously out there for interface design and just today, Figma launched, it kind of came out of Beta and Figma has the potential to change the game in a way but who knows what comes after Figma?
Gary:
I’m very wary as an educator of like, I mean, I signed up for the Beta, I’m very fascinated with Figma but at the same time, I’m wary of these kind of things because is somebody going to immediately buy it because they don’t want it as competition?
Jay:
Of course, what happens when Adobe by Figma or whatever.
Gary:
OK, so now onto the reason that I actually reached out to you in the first place. Recently you tweeted an animated gif of Yoda when he basically…that is why you fail when he tells Luke and Dagobah and you made a comment with it, when you advertise a job opening for a modern interface designer and half the applicants’ portfolios are on Wix. First, I agree that that makes me very sad too, but if you don’t want a Wix or a Squarespace or any of the other pre-fab website portfolio things out there, what do you want to see? What are your expectations?
Jay:
Right, well I want to first say, I don’t know that I would lump Wix and Squarespace together, because in a way, that was part of the statement I was making. So, Wix to me, yes it’s a website builder that’s out there, but I think choosing Wix over something like Squarespace is a signal to me that maybe your taste is off. And look, I don’t want to get too judgy about that sort of stuff because it could be that like Wix is free and if you’ve just graduated from a student, you don’t have any money to spend on a Squarespace site, but at the same time, Squarespace is like eight bucks a month or ten bucks a month, then I think investing in your career I think is a choice for many people. But anyway, going back to the Wix thing, it’s more of a…I mean, obviously I would like to see if you make your own website, if you are applying for this sort of a job. That said, there are plenty of other choices that you can make out there, whether it’s Cargo Collective or even something like Behance, which is…whatever, but…or Dribbble, or as you mentioned, Squarespace where you’re putting your work out there in a better medium, in a medium that’s a lot more true to the culture of the companies that we like to keep company with. Squarespace is a lot closer to our ethos than Wix is and I think a lot of people would look at a site like Wix and sort of turn their nose up at it, rightly or wrongly, but I would probably put myself in that camp.
Gary:
From a UX designer, yes! From a third grade teacher? Wix might be the right tool!
Jay:
Yeah, right. Wix is just sort of like Wal-Mart-y to me and it sort of belongs to a class of internet service that we don’t think we belong in. When I see people submitting their portfolios and it’s whatever, JayFanelli123.wixsite.com it’s like, come on…come on! At that point it’s almost like an instant disqualifier. Your work has to be very, very good on the inside in order for me to look past your portfolio on Wix, so that was the statement about Wix more than anything. It’s like, yes, it’s a website builder and if you’re applying to be a website designer, chances are you should be showcasing that on your website. There’s also sort of the cobbler’s children have no shoes situation happening with that where a lot of times you’re just working at your job or you’re working on your own clients’ work and you don’t have time to make your own website. I’ll accept that, but at least try to signal your taste level with the website builder that you do choose, if you choose a website builder.
Gary:
OK, and that gets to the heart of the question then, so it’s not necessarily…so, pre-fabbed website…I don’t know what you would call, I don’t know how to define the service of Squarespace or Cargo Collective or Virb but those aren’t necessarily good or…they’re not necessarily bad.
Jay:
They’re not necessarily bad, right. You’re missing…I would say you’re missing an opportunity.
Gary:
Yes.
Jay:
To showcase what you can do but I don’t necessarily hold that as too big a strike against you.
Gary:
OK, that makes sense. Like you said, somebody who’s changing jobs and this one pops up, even though students should always have their portfolio ready, regardless of what they have going on.
Jay:
I look more at what’s in your portfolio more than what’s…because like you just said, people are busy, even students are busy with student work and if your website isn’t part of your student work, chances are it’s tough to find the time to squeeze that in and make something that’s impressive so in that case rather than hastily throw something together, like you said, if you already have a job and this pops up and you’re not even looking but you see this and you’re like, oh that sounds like a cool place to work, maybe I’ll apply; it’s better to pick a really nice, really well executed Squarespace template for your site than it is to hastily toss something together in a night.
Gary:
OK. All right, so besides the Wix portfolio site, what are some of the worst mistakes that you have seen from the applicants that design educators should be addressing in the classroom? And I know this is a more senior position, but…
Jay:
Sure, sure, there’s definitely some things we could talk about with this. I would say the most prevalent mistake, as it relates to UI work, is…and everybody does this at all levels; junior, middle, senior levels, is showing me a picture of the interface. I understand for a lot of reasons like the interface may be behind a log-in or maybe in an app or it may be under NDA, whatever. I see pictures of interfaces so often and it’s like, what am I…I can see it looks nice but it’s like, how does it work? What happens when I mouse over this? What happens when I tap that? What happens when it’s big? What happens when it’s small? What happens when I look at it on a device? Seeing an interface live is so much more valuable than seeing it in a static image because, you know, for obvious reasons, but websites aren’t static: you’re not looking at it in one context. Evaluating a designer’s ability in a static image today is a lot harder than it used to be. But there’s still that…I think there’s still that desire to design your portfolio and squeeze everything into the same sort of format, so whether it’s…I designed this magazine when I was a Junior, or I designed this print piece for my last client job and I designed this set of icons and I designed this logo and I designed this interface: how can I put them all together into the same visual package? And so the answer, more often than not is, here’s a picture of the interface, here’s a picture of the print piece, here’s a picture of all these icons and it’s not that appropriate, necessarily, to see an interface in a picture.
Gary:
So, how do you feel about animated gifs? Because like you said, sometimes you just can’t give you access to live code but what if it was like an animated gif for a mov file that you could then see like the mouse or the finger or the gestures interacting with it that way?
Jay:
Sure, sure, anything, any step that you can take along the path to actually showing me the piece, whether it’s sort of cloned on your website or whether it’s still live and I can see it or whether it’s an app that I can download is better than just a picture.
Gary:
Yeah, and I found this happening to myself a lot, back when I was doing freelance work a lot more, I have sites that clients, a couple of years down the road, they abandon and they get some kind of intern and God knows what happens to it!
Jay:
Oh yeah, we get a bunch of those sites in our graveyard!
Gary:
Yeah, so it was valid work at the time but all you do have is that screenshot!
Jay:
Yeah, and something to think about is, in the same way that people are using that app on a variety of devices, I’m looking at your résumé and portfolio on a variety of devices. Two hundred and fifty people applied to this job, and I wasn’t sitting down at a twenty seven inch Apple cinema display every single time, every time I was evaluating somebody. Sometimes it was just I’m on my phone and I’m out and I’m at the grocery store and I see that this thing came in and I open up the pdf that’s attached or I open up their website and there’s some tiny picture of an interface and that’s my first impression and to be fair, I don’t think there’s anybody that I’ve made a call on based strictly on, I’m at the grocery store on my phone, but at the same time, that’s a use case. I’m busy; people who are hiring are busy and they might not always be in the perfect setting to look at the pdf that you sent along, or to look at your website, so that’s something to think about when you’re applying for, particularly like a web app or interface sort of a job.
Gary:
Well also very specifically for Cotton Bureau, because I can’t tell you how many T-shirts I have signed up for through Cotton Bureau. Hey, remind me the thirty six hours before it’s due, before it closes; nine times out of ten I’ve checked that, I get that email, I’m on my phone, I’ve completed the purchase and I can see everything on my phone, but I’ve signed up for it on my computer, my twenty seven inch iMac.
Jay:
Right, for us at Cotton Bureau; for any company nowadays, it has to work as well or better on mobile devices than it does on a desktop, because everybody’s seen their mobile and tablet usage rates sky-rocket in the last few years so you ignore that at your peril and I would say that’s a lesson you can take to your portfolio design and résumé design and whatever else as well.
Gary:
So, any other major, re-occurring bad, badness that you’ve seen from this?
Jay:
Not necessarily. It’s important to know, most people are not exceptional; that’s the definition of the word exceptional! Exceptional people are the exception and we’re really looking for somebody exceptional and so most people who’ve applied, there are a lot of people who were very good but just didn’t check some very necessary boxes for us and it’s a shame, whether it’s they’re remote and we’re not ready for remote workers yet, or just like they’re a really great graphic designer but this is kind of an interface first position. Those people got ruled out for those reasons but a lot of people just have sort of mediocre work in their portfolio and I found a lot of mediocre portfolios were mediocre in the same way; I’m not sure that I can exactly…
Gary:
I know what you’re getting at.
Jay:
There’s sort of like a lot of style that I see repeated across portfolios and things start to look a little same-y after a while but also not executed in the right way. I’m in a position where I look at a lot of design; it’s literally a part of our job at Cotton Bureau to evaluate design and to reject most of it and so I’m kind of taking that mindset into applicant evaluation as well.
Gary:
That makes sense. So then on the flip-side, was there something that just was amazing to you that you’ve seen that you would like other designers to do, was there something that pleasantly surprised you and hopefully it doesn’t give away anything in the hiring process?
Jay:
Was there anything amazing that I saw? Not necessarily. A lot of people went kind of above and beyond in their own way. I think that works for some people; I’m not sure how susceptible I am to that. I’ve seen in the past, not necessarily for this job, but for other people’s jobs, people really go above and beyond in an appropriate way that has put them kind of on a shortlist, whereas if they’d just applied in the standard way, it might not have, but at the same time, no amount of above and beyond-ness is going to overcome a lack of skills or a lack of experience or a lack of talent or whatever it is. I think a lot of times, that enthusiasm comes from people who aren’t qualified in very important ways and so those are the tough people to say no to, because it’s like look, you’ve really put some time into this but it’s still not going to work for us.
Gary:
Well I think that’s also, because students are always…they fall into two camps: they either just, when the graduate, they basically do everything like it’s a cookie cutter, or they go to the other end of the extreme and go all out, over the top, and they don’t quite, like you said, have the chops to back up the enthusiasm at that stage in their careers.
Jay:
Right, and we’ve had a couple of people who are pretty junior who have impressed us, but it’s just not…this isn’t the kind of job for them, they’re not who we’re looking for, and I think it’s…you can still, even if, I guess this is kind of an important lesson, that even if a job is looking for someone more junior…I’m sorry, more senior, and you know that you don’t have the experience, if you impress somebody, they’re going to remember who you are and they might sort of make room for you.
Gary:
OK, and I get that question from students a lot. The real one where it really falls into is the person that’s looking for around three years of experience but they’ve only got like, one and a half to two. And you know that they’re so close and I never know what to tell them because I think it is kind of like personal to the person who’s hiring, because some will just be like, you didn’t follow directions: no, and I will never talk to you again, but other people are like, you are like, wow, this person is not quite right but you could tell they’re talented and tell they’re close.
Jay:
Yeah, and if…what’s important to know, and it’s touch to, because I’ve been in this position too, and it’s tough to keep this in mind, but not every job is right for you and there are a lot of people who go to, there are a lot of either recent college grads or people who maybe got laid off or just between jobs or whatever and they go to Designer News jobs and they go to Dribbble jobs and they go to Authentic jobs and whatever other job boards there are out there and they just apply to everything; they apply to as many jobs as they can. Not every one of those jobs is going to be right for you; you’re not going to be a fit for everything, and even if you get rejected by one in that fashion; look, maybe that’s not the kind of place you wanted to work anyway. It’s easy for me to say that in my position. I’m not looking for a job, but it is important to note that, just because you get turned down by a place doesn’t necessarily mean it was what you wanted anyway.
Gary:
Yeah. No, no, I tell them that, I say, you can’t take this stuff personally; you don’t know what they’re looking for.
Jay:
Right and you don’t know the…speaking from pretty recent experience, you don’t know the situation under which your stuff was evaluated; the person might have been having a bad day or they might have been busy or they might have just been trying to…like I said, in my case, almost two hundred and fifty people have applied for this job. I’m not actually sure of the number but it was two hundred as of about a week ago. That’s a lot of résumés to sift through and in different circumstances, if only thirteen people had applied, your application might have gotten a lot more scrutiny or might have stood a better chance, but maybe we received twenty two other applicants who looked just like you in some way; their work looks just like yours or they have about the same amount of experience or whatever the case it; your profile looks the same as seven other people, you almost kind of rule all seven of those people out at once.
Gary:
Yeah, that happens. All right, Jay. So, before I let you go, do you want to talk to us a little bit about…I know you’re hiring this position and I don’t know if you’ve filled it yet, but you’ve got other ones coming up and you’ve got some other things happening at Cotton Bureau too. Any of those things you want to share or talk about?
Jay:
Sure, yeah, it’s a pretty big period of change for us. I’m actually not sure when exactly the last time we talked was. I know we recorded it…
Gary:
Almost a year ago.
Jay:
Was it that long ago?
Gary:
Yeah!
Jay:
But I know the actual episode launched a couple of months later but last time we talked, I think we were only probably four people full time; it was three partners in the business with a product team: designer, front end dev, back end dev and then somebody who handled customer service and fulfillment full time; well, since then we’ve added two more people full time, full time salary. Actually, two people at the beginning of this year, one person very recently who’s handling marketing for us and also secret Project X that I won’t get into at this point.
Gary:
No worries!
Jay:
But we’re hopefully lifting the lid on that, let’s say, early next year.
Gary:
OK.
Jay:
But after years of hemming and hawing, we decided to raise a little bit of venture capital money from a very, very unique venture capital program, probably the only one that fits with us culturally, we kind of went down the path a little bit with them last year and made it pretty far but it didn’t quite work out and then we went back to them this year and it did work out so I’m pretty ecstatic about that. For the first time in seven years of being in business, we actually have a little bit of operating capital, as opposed to being month to month, which is what we’ve been to this point, so it allows us to make some bigger bets; hiring and moving into a little bit of a bigger facility here in Pittsburgh and taking some…investing in some product decisions that we otherwise wouldn’t have had time for and advertising, things like that. On the hiring front, like I said, we sort of filled one position from a marketing and products standpoint; we’re hiring for this designer position. The position isn’t filled; we have a handful of people on a shortlist, some people are kind of pipe dreams who we wish we could hire but probably aren’t going to be able to. One of those people actually turned me down today which is kind of a bummer but it wasn’t all bad news but it was…
Gary:
Then why did they apply if they were going to turn you down?
Jay:
Well, we went after them, not the other way around.
Gary:
OK. Fair enough.
Jay:
So there are a couple of people like that who are kind of on our wish list but probably aren’t going to work out for one reason or another and then a handful of applicants who we think are pretty strong but we’re kind of working through some of the questions or limitations. A lot of people applied for this job from outside Pittsburgh, as I mentioned before; there’s a very limited number who cross off, who sort of check all the boxes we’re looking for in town and they pretty much already work for one big start-up here in the city, so we either need to try to prize somebody away from them or import somebody from a different city, so we’re going through those questions with a handful of people. So that’s on that front; we’re in the process of trying to hire a more senior engineer, back end developer as well and that’ll probably be it for a little while. We may bring on an intern or two, either from a design perspective or from a development perspective in 2017 but that’s kind of up in the air at this point but that’s what’s going on. A lot of change, a lot of change. It used to be, I think the last time we talked, it was more we were just going to kind of hold steady for a while and work on the products, but now it’s more about staffing up and going for it a little bit more.
Gary:
Yeah, and you’ve written most of that on your blog so I’ll include links to all of that so people can see about it.
Gary:
All right, well that’s all we have time for today on Episode 33 of Design Edu Today. That’s all we have time for today on episode Thirty-three of Design Edu Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Jay Fanelli for being so generous with his time. I want to thank the audience for listening and I want to thank the Design Edu Today hosting sponsor DigitalOcean and CDN sponsor Fastly for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. I also want to thank the AIGA and the AIGA Design Educators’ Community for their generous support of my research that lead to this podcast series.

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