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Cognition

We know where passion comes into play and where to put it in check.

One day a phone call came in from a large, amazing hospitality brand. They were preparing for their annual shareholder meeting and needed some environmental and wayfinding work done in a hurry. It was 2004 and I was a designer at a studio in Southern California. The studio was small, and the team was small, but we had a big passion for great work and cool brands. There wasn’t much that we couldn’t handle.

Our passion for this particular project was pretty intense. We were collectively excited; not only by the type of work, but for the brand as well. Nights and weekends be damned, this project was going to kick ass. And it did — but not without its bumps in the road and small anxiety attacks. Communication started to breakdown and frustration started to take over. The client’s trust in our ability to see the project through started to evaporate.

Meanwhile, our frustration level started to climb. The work we were doing came from our passion for the brand and the excitement for the big changes they were about to make. We knew what was needed, and we were more than capable of doing the work.

So, we asked ourselves, why can’t they just trust us?

We’ll come back to that.

Joe Rinaldi and I were talking about the necessary transition we all have to go through when we get to work with brands that we love. He put it this way:

You go to bed with the brand, but you wake up with the client. You have to be ready to strip away the fantasy of what the product is, what the people there are like, and get the work done. You have to strike that balance of “fanboy” and “get the work done.”

Fast forward to 2013, when Ben & Jerry’s reached out to Happy Cog to help them redesign their website. Though the redesign they were about to undergo entailed a complete evolution from design, through code, and finally into backend implementation, Ben & Jerry’s was only interested in hiring Happy Cog for the user experience portion of the project. Sadly, based on their previous experience with design partners, they didn’t feel anyone outside the company could understand the brand well enough. So we put in the extra effort to collaborate everywhere we could. Travel to Burlington was so valuable—being in person always is—that we conducted a second, design- and brand-focused full-day workshop with their team. Isolating brand and design thinking armed us with more of the context our design work needed.

In the end, we were able to demonstrate that we understood the brand, their purpose and mission, and how that translates into digital design. Passion, though we had it in scoops, would never have been enough by itself to earn their trust, their respect, and continue the relationship successfully.

It’s a lesson I learned from that hospitality project ten years ago. In that situation, despite the downturn, despite how things started to go, diplomacy won out; the two teams talked things through and addressed growing frustrations that had festered into mistrust (on both sides of the table). In a flash, the trust was earned back, and the project was back on track. It shipped, we celebrated, and moved on to the next project.

Every week, during morning status, Joe provides a quick update on the state of business development to everyone in the company. He tells us about projects that we won or lost, the status of proposals that need to go out, and new leads that came in since the last update. At the end of his update, Joe reminds everyone to keep sending suggestions about brands and companies that we want to work with. Companies that we have a passion for. We’ll pair that passion with what we learned with Ben & Jerry’s — and what I learned way back when — and continue designing victories.

P.S. Marvel Comics, If you ever want help from an outside team who loves everything you’re doing, from the Developer API to Marvel Infinity, please let us know…

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