I was lucky to come on board as N2 Publishing’s first graphic designer in the summer of 2005. The following January, I was joined by then-designer Robb Hotchkiss (now our director of product development), and by Erich Nickens shortly after. For a few years, the three of us made up the Graphic Design department (which has since grown to include 85 team members). So, to say things were much different back then is an understatement. Think no procedures, no deadlines, no real structure.
I will say this, though. Even while things were quite chaotic early on, we learned a few very valuable lessons that, in my opinion, molded what our culture is to this day. Here are examples of attitudes and behaviors found in our current Culture Deck that we’ve lived out since day one:
- OUR TEAM MEMBERS NEVER THINK “THAT’S NOT MY JOB”
Early on, we absolutely had to work together and wear multiple hats. For example, when we bought our first printer, we didn't have a print department so Robb and I did all the printing ourselves. And when one of us was bogged down with work, the other would jump over to help out. When the paper delivery people decided to leave all of our paper boxes in the parking lot right before a storm, we rallied together and carried each box into the building one by one.
- THERE’S ALWAYS A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM I ENCOUNTER
We had to figure things out as we went along and this led to a lot of troubleshooting: how to get an InDesign file to export due to a corrupt image, how to organize our server, how to make sure the printers ran through the night without stopping (we rigged it so the printed booklets would fall into a box instead of jamming up the end of the finisher, causing it to shut down), and even how to implement deadlines and some procedures to help us be more efficient. If we didn’t have the mindset that there was always a solution, there’s no way we would be here today, 12 years later.
- ALL TEAM MEMBERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO (AND ARE ENCOURAGED TO) VOICE THEIR OPINIONS TO THEIR LEADER IF THEY BELIEVE IT WILL BENEFIT THE COMPANY.
One of the things I appreciate so much about N2 is that we are all very open to feedback. Since day one, I have felt as though I could voice my opinion or ideas that I believe could make things better. Sometimes those ideas were put into place; sometimes they were not. It's just really nice to know that I am heard and valued.
- FUNCTION OVER FLASH
Wow - we've come such a long way! Hard to believe, but our office now is fancy compared to what we started in. N2 has always had the "function over flash" mindset. I remember the first office I worked in. I had this really old, falling-apart, enormous desk. On it was an old dell that had no CD drive to back up data (that’s a whole other story) and a tube monitor. There were no blinds on the windows, so Duane made some out of cardboard... and it actually did the trick! The walls were blood red with burgundy splotches (hence the name “the stomach room”). So, this place was definitely not fancy... but it gave us the space to get the job done, and that’s exactly what we did.
- WE HAVE ENOUGH TO WIN
We've been through A LOT of growth. We’re talking doubled in size two years in a row. Basically, we went from 15 publications back in 2005 to nearly one thousand. We’ve been able to create more leadership opportunities even just within the Graphic Design department (Creative Director, Design Director, Assistant Creative Director, etc.). And, of course, we’ve had our share of challenges (example: having 53 new pubs launch in December – our busiest time of year). But we made it through! Despite all challenges, our team rolls up their sleeves, works hard, and gets the job done, because we have enough to win.
I believe that most of the values in our current Culture Deck were very much embodied here at N2 since the beginning. So, I can truly vouch for the fact that we keep a clear distinction between "what we stand for" (which should never change) and "how we do things" (which should never stop changing). We are so lucky, more than a decade later, to have a large team of mentally tough and emotionally healthy individuals who, just by being themselves, live out our unique culture each and every day.