Success Ideas and Tips from Master Graphic Designer, Steve Wedeen

Success Secrets From Steve Wedeen:

  • What is your measure of success? It’s important to be clear and articulate rather than just having vague ideas.
  • Putting together a plan and really thinking through a vision for what you want to accomplish is crucial.
  • Setting high standards for yourself, being honest with yourself, pushing yourself, learning from others, and listening to others so you can grow your abilities are important keys to success.
  • Passion goes a long way.

Steve’s thoughts on going into business:

I never thought that I would go into business for myself. It just sort of happened. When I came out to Albuquerque, I played for the first eight months. I was thinking that my life savings of $1,600.00 would allow me to never have to work again. (Laughter) I figured that $1,600.00 should last maybe 40 or 50 years. But when my funds got down to $800.00, I realized it was time to get a job. So, I got a job with a computer company, and it turned out to be an incredible gift. When that shut down I found a job at a little ad agency, which was really boring. At one point, I proposed that I do their work on a contractual basis. So, they paid me a monthly fee, and I transitioned my job into a retainer. I guaranteed that they would get their work done, and I gave them a little savings on my monthly salary. This way, I just kind of started on my own. It was a pretty easy transition.

On self-confidence:

I think the key to my success is that I believed in myself. I have a real drive to do work that inspires me. I have a great passion and that’s what drives me. My father and grand father were both printers. I had worked in print shops as a child, and my mother was incredibly encouraging. She always told me to do whatever I liked. She believed in me. I had great role models, and I never really doubted myself.

There were times that I stared at a blank sheet of paper, not sure what I was going to do, but I knew it I could figure out something. And after all these years, it’s getting harder to come up with something new, but my creativity never fails me. Thank God I’m determined and embrace the idea that design creativity is constantly growing and evolving.

On finding creative balance:

Design and creativity are a combination of new thought and classic thought. You don’t have to keep on top of everything that is new, but you shouldn’t be stuck in the past either. To me, to keep yourself fresh and vibrant, just embrace the classic principles of design creativity and originality. And then learn to rely on a creative community that provides a collective vision and inspiration. That’s really what we’re doing now. We’re working a creative community of young folks who have less experience. There’s freshness and vitality there.

Steve’s views on personal accomplishments:

My greatest satisfaction and my biggest frustration is this Firm. Our team of 17 great people is a wonderful group, with spirit and talent and synergy. Somehow we figured out how to walk the line of encouraging people to tap into their own deep creativity, and be really imaginative and original, while solving client problems at the same time. I am very proud of that.

On challenges, victories, and defeats:

We strive to give the client what they need and do work they’re proud of. We’ve been around for 25 years and have survived adversity, challenges, and victories, with both joyful moments and defeats. We’ve had a couple bruises here and there, but overall, we’ve had great accomplishments. I am very grateful. I know very few people can say that.

Thoughts on business:

After 25 years, I would say that having a partner with strong business sense is very important. That wasn’t the case for us in the beginning. Had it been the case, we would have used our capital differently, maybe invested differently. It might have allowed us to accomplish more, or we might have developed differently. This is not really a regret, but I certainly can see the benefit of it now.

I have learned a lot in the last 25 years. I now belong to a business peer group.
We meet once month and I learn a lot from them. I still think it would be nice to have an COO-type who would manage the business for us. Not that we’ve done such a bad job, it’s just not what fuels our passions or interests.

Steve’s thoughts on creating a team vision:

About six months ago, we started something new. We’re calling it “DreamWork.” We began with a brain-storming session with all of our creatives. I asked them “What do you really want to be doing? What kinds of projects and clients do you think we should be pursuing? ” The criteria were personal interest, passion, and financial potential, and we tied it in with building the strength of the business, what would be good for the company, good for the person, and good for the client.

It was a great project. Of course, at first the question was, “Why we are doing this?” But once the initial resistance broke down, the team understood the intent. It’s turned out to be a tremendous project. We had weekly sessions for about 6 weeks, each person had to come up with their own presentation in terms of what their vision was. We made a presentation to the account executive team. It really opened their eyes. They began to understand what the creatives were saying they wanted to do. They took the ideas, and about a month or two later, they responded with a marketing plan. We have been implementing it for about 6 months now.

It’s the first time we’ve really have a focused and directed, pro-active business development project that has the creative input. It is great. Everybody is into it. It’s really kind of unified us. Because during the last 25 years, it was just Richard (Kuhn) my business partner and rainmaker, going out, doing things, bringing business in, and we never asked him, “Why did you bring us this?” (Laughter) Now we’re more synergistic, and it is really cool.

Steve’s views on personal balance:

You need to balance work with an other-life. Although I’m always thinking about design and creativity, I make sure I have a personal life that has nothing to do with my life’s work. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 17. My wife, Linda and I both have Harleys and New Mexico is a great place to get out on the road. Riding bikes combines camaraderie and socializing with personal solitude and reflection. A bunch of us go out on the weekend, take a ride, have breakfast, and just hang out together. I’ve become obsessed with wine, which is a catalyst for friends and get-togethers and a good excuse to drink. I also read voraciously: predominantly non-fiction, personal and professional development. And my wife and I love to travel. My daughter, Lissa is the love of my life and she has been my beacon of balance since the day she was born.

On working with consultants and business trainers:

I’m part of an executives group. We meet once a month, so there are twelve sessions yearly, eight have a guest speaker and four don’t. It’s very effective because we are a small group of about 14 individuals. When we have a guest speaker, it is like a small seminar. I’ve experienced a lot of personal and professional growth through that. I’ve been doing this for about 4 years now, and it has been very helpful. It has taught me how to be a better businessperson, a better leader, and a better person in some ways. I have learned how to empower others, how to trust others, and let the business grow.

Thoughts on getting started:

I would suggest that putting together a plan and really thinking through a vision for what you want is crucial. What is your measure of success? It’s important to be clear and articulate rather than just having vague ideas that are not thought through. For years, the partners had a mission statement that we never ever questioned: “Do great work for great clients who will appreciate it and benefit from it.”

Then about 8 years ago we had a session where finally we articulated what a great client and what great work was. We realized we all had very different ideas, even though we had a unified vision. We had very different interpretations, and looking back, we realized that worked against us.

Advice for people just starting out:

Love what you do. And be aspirational. Be honest with yourself. Don’t fool yourself. I think some people set their “carrot” way too far out, and that is a good way to set yourself up for failure, because you can never grab it. However, if the carrot is set too close, you are fooling yourself into accomplishing less. Maybe that is the reason that so many people do mediocre work. Setting high standards for yourself, being honest with yourself, pushing yourself, learning from others, and listening to others so you can grow your abilities are important keys to success.

We have a communications business. It’s about acting on behalf of other people to connect with others. Listening, really listening is very, very important. It is not hard to do, but it requires a real conscious effort. I think most people listen to others through the filter of what they want to hear, as supposed to what the others are really saying.

I am a big believer in establishing a thorough strategy at the onset of a project. Once you get your strategy and purpose articulated, once you have a deep understanding of your audience, along with a variety of other factors, you will be really well-grounded and well on your way to achieving your objectives.

Have fun. Dammit.

About Steve Wedeen:

Steve Wedeen is a principal of Vaughn Wedeen. Born and raised in New York City (da Bronx), Steve grew up in a printing family surrounded by metal type, rivers of fresh ink and mountains of paper. His formal creative training began at the age of five by attending a summer art program at MOMA. He worked two years as a senior designer for the company that invented the first home computer, which was also the birthplace of Microsoft (which subsequently became one his first freelance clients when he went out on his own.) Four years in advertising agencies and freelancing followed as a designer and writer, and then he hooked up with Rick Vaughn, his Texan partner, in 1980. Richard Kuhn joined the firm in 1986 and has been a full partner for the last 18 years.

With a passion for excellence and originality and a compelling need to be recognized on the national design scene, Rick and Steve set out to put Albuquerque, New Mexico on the design map. Steve’s unparalleled strategic thinking, holistic approach to problem solving and his commitment to being authentic and ingenious with every client have propelled Vaughn Wedeen into the fast lane of design.

This article is published by Will Sherwood | The Sherwood Group |Website Design | Graphic Design | Marketing Communications: The Sherwood Group has over 30 years of experience working with all sorts of companies, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 firms, in nearly every business sector, from across the street to around the world (and yes, even Europe, China, and South America). Our goal is to create advertising,  graphic design, website design, and marketing communication that still looks fresh and relevant 10-15 years later. Our mission is to stir your imagination and leave your competition shaken and wondering,  Now what do we do?”  We are located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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1 Comment:


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