Striving for reward-winning work

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Pondering the chase for industry awards and intangible rewards. 

Recently, I read an article* that Delia shared with me, in which an anonymous creative, exposed the rat-race-for-recognition culture in an unnamed Singaporean agency. I was shocked and disturbed to read the negative impact it had on the writer and the other young professionals involved. This made me stop and think about the difference between chasing awards and accolades, and working for causes that are more gratifying. I can safely say, working at Bubblefish has taught me, that striving for the latter is more rewarding and I’m happy to tell you why. 

The best work is hidden

I don’t know who actually said this, perhaps it’s a misquote of something Dieter Rams said, but have you ever heard, “Good design is invisible”?

As a designer, I would have to agree. I’ve noticed, the best design is the kind that serves its purpose without people noticing because it’s actually satisfying a lot of people. Only unsatisfied people complain. I believe, the satisfaction of the silent is louder and more important than that of the ones who will rave noisily (positively) about something. 

For example, people in Sydney will know that the city circle train station Wynyard is being redeveloped at the moment. This means a slight interruption in the daily commute for thousands of people because of the traffic redirection i.e. blocked off areas, temporary signage, new ticket turnstiles etc. Sydney before 9 am can be a bit stressful, but this necessary inconvenience is making it a little more so, especially if you become slightly disorientated. When the redevelopment is complete, a great mark of good design on the part of the city planners and engineers is if I and countless others, can walk through there in our usual humdrum weekly routine, undisturbed. The monotony will be telling. I’m sure the city planners and engineers will be patting each other on the back for a job well done. 

While we’re not a design agency, nor one that strives for awards from the outset like the extreme case described in the article that I read, we’ve actually won some industry awards ourselves. The difference, is that we’ve just carried on focusing on delivering our purpose, which is: Scaling up your business. This is our goal and accomplishing it for our clients is our mighty reward. This means, striving to do good work, day in day out, which is largely hidden and unnoticed. However, there have been times when we were quite proud of what we had done (our clients enjoying success because of the care and effort involved) — enough to enter ourselves in industry awards. And there are plenty of agencies out there who do the same. It’s just a shame to read about young talent growing up in such a toxic environment. 

What I like about working at Bubblefish is that I don’t simply work for an award. The awards that we receive (including the successes of our clients) are merely a fruit of the consistency of our undivided dedication. Our hearts and minds aren’t distracted by trying to impress someone. Therefore, our clients come first. Their growth is our shared success and if we win awards while doing this — it’s a bonus. 

Persistence, promise and purpose

At Bubblefish, whenever we work together to solve a creative problem, we always ask ourselves whether the decisions we make are based on scaling up our client’s business or acting on our own ego. I’ll give you a practical example. 

Recently, we launched a performance specialist company called Orbiz. After the strategy had been developed to position the new business in the market, a name had been carefully crafted to reflect the business aims (with a tagline which described its promise) we were ready to translate this message into visual communication. I spent many hours (days in fact) and many pages sketching and re-sketching concepts. We as a team would look over them, comment and push forward a few for refinement. What I like about our process is we always work together and our design is extremely strategy-driven. Therefore, no visual mark, no colour, no typography escapes Bubblefish scrutiny especially if it isn’t sufficiently justified. But this process could easily have become arduous and never-ending if we didn’t have our goal firmly in sight.

I have to admit, it was frustrating at times, especially when I felt I wasn’t hitting the mark. At Bubblefish we like to say, “Is it on-brand or not?”. Were my ideas truly reflecting the values of the brand or was I just putting forward reflections of my personal visual taste? What kept me going was the support of the team and our collective desire to only put forward an idea that met the goal. 

Later, we presented something we were all very proud of. It wasn’t rushed or half-baked. The reaction and satisfaction of our client because of the ability to do their business now realised, was enough confirmation for us, that we had done our best. 

That in itself was sufficient reward.

Collective excellence

One reason why I think we work so well together is because we all believe 100% in the values of Bubblefish and truly desire to deliver on the promise. As a company it can be difficult to get others to buy into your values, clientele and talent alike. However, one way we achieve this unity is by the mentor/mentee relationships we foster. It’s a great opportunity for us to align and realign ourselves to the purpose of the business. It’s not an official program, but an unwritten way that we deal and respect each other professionally. 

Delia is my mentor and in turn she is mentored by Mahesh. Every week, Delia and I sit down for a one-on-one where I can bring up any concerns I have about my design practice, client work, frustrations etc. Then I can ask Delia if she needs help in certain areas too. I’m held accountable for my responsibilities but we help each other improve by giving constructive feedback.

When we strive to be of one mind, we keep our egos at bay. We can reflect on past projects and the tasks at hand. When we allow ourselves to be guided we also get to see our potential from another person’s perspective, usually someone with more experience. For example, whenever Delia suggests I try something, I would never have thought I could do it or it never crossed my mind to explore it. However, Delia believes I can and I’m glad to be shown a new possibility, especially if it means learning a new skill set I can put to the aid of the company’s goals. 

The reward is collective excellence, meaning not only do individuals win, by reaching personal professional goals, the company wins because people are working effectively together and performing at their greatest potential — not ploughing through in a frustrating manner because of unresolved issues or unrealised dreams. Also, the client wins because we always have their goals in mind and we’re working at our best for them.

We strive for excellence but we’re not perfect. Maybe we’re idealistic, but we genuinely believe that our work has social good. And I’m sure there are a lot of the quality of projects in the works being done by many publicly unrecognised agencies. But when genuinely good projects get recognised and affect genuine results (not when they’re delivered in a frenzy and only serve to paint an illusion) it adds to the excellence of the whole creative industry.

What are you striving for?

If you’re a designer like me, my advice is to get out of the kind horrible environment described in the article, if you have the power to do so. I understand people keep jobs to make ends meet, but if you’re sticking around because you’re comfortable with the pay cheque but uncomfortable with its practices — get out. You’re a problem solver and creative for a reason. You have personal pain points that need addressing. 

If you’re young and looking for an opportunity to build up experience, don’t be afraid to question organisations and people on top about their company culture. Do they only chase lack-lustre trinkets or do they work for a worthwhile purpose you believe in? Even if they see you’re not a right fit, well maybe they’re not a right fit for you. Have you ever thought about that? People leading agencies will at least see that there is a whole wave of young talent that won’t stand for mediocrity and abuse, and will stand up right from the first meeting, not just when they’ve come to occupy a desk and chair. Job satisfaction and happiness makes us more effective creatives anyway!

Every agency is different and I’m certainly not trying to paint a perfect picture of Bubblefish but the reason why I love working here is because we don’t chase public recognition. Knowing this makes me a better team player and at the end of the day I’m proud about all the work we’ve done — and I haven’t even been at Bubblefish for very long! There hasn’t been a job where I’ve felt I’ve failed because there wasn’t a jury pronouncing judgement.

By Bernadette Bucalon, Designer Problem Solver, Bubblefish

*The Mumbrella confessional: 'What it’s like to work at a scam agency’ by Anonymous, published July 4, 2016 on

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