Lone Ranger needs Tonto

International design maven David Airey asked those who’ve been/are out on their own to submit FAQ-style answers to questions young designers might have about going it alone. Here’s my contribution:

Can I do this on my own?
Yes. But even a Lone Ranger needs a Tonto.

Some people work best in a crowded, noisy sandbox. Others, like me, prefer a room so quiet you can hear the clock ticking. This advice is primarily for the latter type: the ones who would prefer to just as well do it all themselves.

Don’t.

For close to five years that’s pretty much what I did. Live on the side of a mountain in Colorado, spending tons of time with my kids and mountain bike, and then throwing concepts and copy at my go-to art director (Here’s the idea, the copy and the deadline: get it, good.) And that worked—sort of. But over time, the Lone Wolf thing will kill you creatively.

The Intertubes have changed that some, but text to text or Skype to Skype will never replace face to face for generating the kind of “yeah, that’s cool, but what if we…” excitement of true conspiracy.

Conspiracy—that might seem to be an odd word to use (why not, collaboration?) but the quality I’m talking about is contained in the original Latinate roots of the word (con: together with, spirare: to breathe). To be in the same place, breathing the same air, conspiring to create concepts that exceed your personal ability? That’s the stuff.

I’m not talking about all day or every hour. There does come a time when I simply have to go back to my word hovel to type (and you to your studio to do, whatever you do). But for God’s sake (and the sake of your creative-quality and -sanity), if you want to run a lean shop, build an extensive crew of outside conspirator collaborators. A “best at what they do best” cadre of creatives that can inspire/conspire you. If you don’t, you’ll only be as good as you actually are—and what intellectually honest creative wants that?

– D.P. Knudten, 3.25.2012

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