Out of nowhere, a while back, I received an e-mail from John Pletsch of Electric Pen. I’d never met the man, but our firms had crossed paths once when we were both asked to respond to an RFP (Request for Proposal). His e-mail came with a proposal – one I’d never considered. 

After a speed dating-style meet-and-greet and, later, a summit lunch, John’s proposal was this:

We would come and work out of the Electric Pen space. In exchange, I would art direct a few projects, in lieu of rent.

I don’t think there could be a more collaborative idea engineered – not only were we to be working in the same place, but actually designing together, as well. No money exchanges hands, only designers getting to collaborate and executing pieces that may never have been created if it weren’t for the special Electric Gypsy hybrid. (Jimi Hendrix, anyone?)

Pure genius! But would it work?

Here’s possibly why it wouldn’t. Art directing requires knowledge of the client, and stepping into a situation where the clients already have a relationship with John wouldn’t make much sense.  I also couldn’t have first-hand conversations with the client since I’m a temporary employee. It’s a difficult proposition to take on. I’m also to art direct designers who know I’ll be gone in a month – who’s to say they wouldn’t just blow-off my direction? Perhaps most important: There has to be a large amount of trust among all the parties involved, not always and achievable goal with humans being involved.

Here’s John’s ulterior motive. His office is growing and he needs to see if he can step back from projects and allow another art director to take over that portion of his job. This would allow him to concentrate on business development. I would come in and be his little Guinea Pig. John could see if he was comfortable stepping back from the front line of design, and also see how his employees react to working with another art director. If it all works out, when we leave, he can hire a permanent art director. If the whole thing comes crashing down, he can kick out the Gypsies and go back to status quo. I’m crossing my fingers….

Fast forward one month. I’ve been able to work with three great designers (James, Jeremy and Elias), creating five collateral pieces. It’s been inspiring working with new designers and we’ve shared a few tricks along the way. The designs we’ve created have come out well, and I in turn have learned a fair bit along the way. I think both sides will walk away in better due to this experience. Which leads me to ask, are you Experienced? Well I am….