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Design is a Job Review

Design is a Job Review

I just finished Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job – the 7th book in the A Book Apart Series – “Brief books for people who make websites.” I loved it. I hated it. – I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you buy this book.

As Sarah Parmenter elegantly put it

This book is basically all the mistakes I learnt over 10 years of business, rolled into something you could read in a day or so.

Atilus hasn’t been in business for a decade (I like to say  – “for nearly a decade“) – but Sarah (founder of YouKnowWho) is right on the money.

I wish I could have just picked this book up back in 2003/2005 (when I started my career in Web/when we started Atilus) and read through this.

Which brings me to why I hated the book…

If Monteiro is to be believed web design/development has been an easier business to run for him than it has for my business partner and me. We’ve experienced dozens of clients who haven’t paid; battled a consumer culture that demands the service provider is wrong and the customer is always right – even in a business as technical, diverse, and collaborative as ours; we’ve been sued (baselessly) for nearly a half a million dollars – only to have our work essentially stolen because we didn’t have enough money or time to hire the better legal team; we’ve made hire-after-hire that misrepresented their skills;had employees throw chairs, steal equipment, and had our lives threatened by our competitors.

Don’t get me wrong, the good has far outweighed the bad, but in (nearly) a decade a lot can happen!

I hate the book, because – at least for us – this business has been a ton of work! We’ve had to scrape and scrap for every dollar we’ve made. And Monteiro makes it sound easy! (Basically I’m jealous 🙂 ). Which speaks to what may be the only downside to the book – at least for me (and in some ways it might have to do with the very origin of the business) 2 of the biggest realizations I’ve had over the years in business are:

1) Everything is Money – Ultimately you can’t do your job, provide a service/experience/website – without a sufficient amount of money. Start with money, then concentrate on your product (or start with your product and make damn SURE you charge enough to cover your expenses, growth, downtime/bad periods, etc.).

2) Business People Play by Different Rules – As a consumer/employee you’ve come to expect (and in some ways take for granted) the rights and protections you receive in these two roles. As a future employer or vendor/service provider – you don’t receive these luxuries. There is literally nothing that protects you except those things you know/do to protect yourself (contracts, intuition, experience).

The Good

I recently attended the Less Money conference in Tampa and feel from a strictly technical business perspective that this book was more valuable (or at least AS valuable) as the two day conference. Now, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I LOVED the conference, the people I met were awesome – and the actual connections I made were unbelievable – hopefully they were with people I’ll be working with for years to come.

But, from an operations perspective I found the advice most of the firms extolled to not really fit our business or model. We deal with many local, small and medium businesses – and that is a completely different world than those that hire the most talented dev shops in the world.

Monteiro’s portrayal of the process is much more in-sync with how we already do business and he answers the questions and addresses the problems we’re actually dealing with.

I want to use Monteiro’s section on “the role of a designer” as an introduction for our company (and really for any creative industry to a client…) it speaks to our responsibility to our industry, and to the person(s)/client in front of us – we must all be role models for our craft/industry. I also loved Monteiro’s writing, he kept things easy, light, and he really has a great sense of humor that comes off in his writing.

Today I even thought of the book as I had to address a sticky billing situation – as he puts it – you must be pleasant – not nice. As a current or future business owner, you must stand up for yourself, your business/practices and if an uncomfortable situation/disagreement arises, address it kindly, be pleasant but don’t be “nice” – aka a pushover.

The book is a near-perfect combination of design and business. The only thing missing would be more on the above two breakdowns (if Monteiro has had similar experiences) and a chapter or two on the more technical elements of running the business (book keeping, accounting, planning, administration, management/leadership) and you have the complete formula for starting and running a successful web shop.

9/10 – HIGHLY RECOMMEND – if you’re thinking about starting a web design shop – read this book. (and then call me and we can talk about more of the stories I started to talk about above… 🙂


Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier is Atilus' Director of Operations and helps to oversee all client accounts and day-to-day operations. Kristen also has a background in digital marketing, and has been working in the digital marketing space since 2012.

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