…. ooooh, I can feel the hackles springing up now.

Have you ever heard that? Forget that I wrote “Designers” for a second. Imagine if it said “Doctors…” or “Human Resource Professionals are a dime-a-dozen!” Or insert your profession before “…are a dime-a-dozen!”




Sure. That was my first reaction as well.

It was like a scene from MadMen. My employer at the time was a gregarious entrepreneur with a bit of an ego. He was certainly energetic and confident. Hell, he could sell cotton back to a sheep. But that’s about as far as it went. He sold. He caroused and baited the clients. He’d do anything, short of murder, to get a client “in the sack” (his euphemism, not mine), and it would be my job to fulfill the promises he continually whispered over countess tee boxes, bar napkins, and, yes, pillow cases.

I was just a couple years out of commercial art school and I’d really thought I had a grasp of the creative process. I knew design, production, and held my own writing copy for everything from print ads and brochures to television spots and radio. As the years passed, the projects presented to me started to resemble ones I’d seen before. They started to blend into a technicolor mass of “bigger logos and less white space.” The work was always there, but the clients never seemed to change… or was it that the solution never changed? Did the clients really want the same ‘ol used car ad every Sunday, or were they being sold the same solution every Tuesday?

So, after a couple of years, a friend came to me with a solution to create a new print production division for the company he owned. Opportunity knocking? Of course.

In my resignation letter, I chose my words carefully, but definitely didn’t veil my disdain for the atmosphere created by my “Sterling-esque” taskmaster. I made sure to point out the lack of respect shown for the process and for the work done on behalf of our clients. I pointed out that relationship-building was less about the conquest and more about a growth process… When all was said and done, I blamed him for literally sucking the creativity and inspiration out of the company in trade for some ego stroking and a plaque or two on his office wall.

Okay, not the best career move, but I felt vindicated.

“Designers are a dime-a-dozen. Get the hell out.” was his response.

Wow. That one stung.

As I settled into my new position, I continually went over those final moments in my mind, and likely drove my new coworkers nuts with the story and continual what-ifs and whys… But as I reviewed that day and evaluated my transition, I realized the truth. Designers ARE a dime-a-dozen… as long as they don’t treat the next project as a challenge. As long as they are content doing tomorrow what they’d done yesterday, or the day before… of even years before, then they have become a commodity and Mr. Sterling is right.

In a recent blog post, the question was posed, “Can we outgrow marketing?” Well, after some thought, my answer is a resounding “NO,” but with one simple stipulation… as long as you’re growing. If you stop growing any industry will outgrow you. Then you’ve become a commodity and can be easily discarded.

So, my final reaction to “Designers are a dime-a-dozen” is inspiration. Hell, even a phone call costs more than a dime these days. And yet, stagnation is free.

(photo credit – istock.com)