A short guide to working at Upperquad & beyond

Phil Ruppanner


Illustration: Bryan Couchman

There are many different kinds of truths. Some are absolute. Some are not. Some truths can be true and their opposite is inherently false. The sky is blue and certainly not red, right? But, some truths can be just as true as their inverse. Someone could tell you that life is short and then also tell you that life is long, both being contradictory and absolutely, completely and undeniably true.

Below you’ll find a lot of these truths. You may need to hold these opposing ideas in your mind and figure out for yourself which applies in the situations that you are presented with. It is a guide, and not a series of rules.

There are no absolutes here. Filter these ideas through your mind, think deeply about them and take from them what you want. Leave behind what you don’t.


You can’t fake this.

Seriously, you can’t. If you are stressed, tired or just not feeling it, it shows in the work. You can’t fake your way through creative work. Not for very long.

This is a marathon, not a sprint

You might need to work quickly and/or late, but it’s the exception, not the norm here. We might need to grind it out, but let’s not make this a grind. We work normal hours, not because we are indifferent, but because we are focused. Every day.

Take time for yourself

You should work an 8 hour day, including lunch. And, be sure to take that lunch. Get away from your desk and out into the world. Take 8 hours for yourself to do the things you love. Read, take classes, watch TV, see your friends, spend time with your family. Get 8 hours of sleep. Stay rested.

Find love for what you do

There’s a reason why you got into this game. Stay connected to that passion. There’s a million things that can be frustrations in the day-to-day, but don’t let them blind you. Enjoy what you do.

Be curious

Keep a beginner’s mind when you are approaching new projects. Use projects as an opportunity to try something new. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop pushing. Don’t stop creating.

Also be

Human, Kind, Honest, Approachable, Humble, Hard-working, Collaborative, Nice, Responsible, Open, Yourself

Family first

Take your job seriously and treat it with importance. But, it shouldn’t be the focus of your life. Your friends, family, loved ones and health are way, way way more important than anything you do here. You may need to take time out of your work day from time to time and that is totally expected. Make that happen.

We’re in this together

Allowing everyone to have a balanced life means that we sometimes have to put in a little extra to make this happen for someone else. We pull together and support each other.


You’ll feel better.


Everyone’s job is hard.

Yes, everyone’s. The person sitting next to you, the person you buy your coffee from every morning, the person with a dream job. Everyone is struggling through their day and the stresses of their jobs. You will find no Shangri-La. Understand that and proceed.

Have empathy for your client

That crazy deadline you got? It’s not because your client is out to get you. It could be that their boss’ boss’s boss mentioned it in passing in a meeting and now it became their job to get it done. Understand where they are coming from and see where you can make their lives just a bit easier.

You are not your work

Taking critique without feeling like it is criticism is one of the hardest thing to do. You work hard and put a lot of effort into what you do. Push for good work, but listen. Seriously, listen. See if you can find a way to incorporate feedback into your work and still make it awesome.

Don’t burn out

People can work long and hard if they are excited about what they are doing. But, if the work starts feeling monotonous or uninspiring or makes you resentful, you’ll burn out quickly. Recognize this, raise your hand and we’ll do our best to adjust the situation. We always actively move work around so people get new projects or clients and aren’t doing the same thing over and over.

Relationships matter

It’s a small world, design is a small industry and you’ll meet the same people more than once. Be nice to people no matter what role they are in or what role you are in. You’ll probably see them again. And again. And again. And again.

The creative process is wasteful

There’s a lot of trial and error in making things. Don’t be afraid of trying something out only to have it not pan out. Be open to making a couple versions of something and not focusing on making THE version. We build in time in each project to allow everyone to experiment and find something great. Take the opportunity to fail. It’s the best way to succeed.

Hire people, not positions

We hire talented people when they are available. We find positions for talented people. We don’t fill seats. Ever.

Time & space

You should have the time and space to do amazing work. Everything here is geared towards that: projects, budgets, work environment, team structure, work week. Upperquad should provide you the parameters to get things done and do great work. If this isn’t the case, let us know.


The audacity of yes.

It’s the most powerful word in creative. Find a way to say it.

Ignore all the reasons why

There’s a million reasons why something is going to suck. There’s not enough time. The project is boring. We don’t have all the information we need. All these sound like great reasons and, if you believe them, things will indeed suck. But, you need to find a way. You need to make audaciously good work despite all the reasons. If you can do this, the best projects start finding their way to you.

Find your opportunities

Know what you want to get out of this. Is it a better portfolio? Experience working with bigger clients? A chance to develop new skills? The ability to work with a new technology? If you have an idea of what you want, and it’s easier for you can find the opportunities to make them happen.

We want your voice

We don’t have a house style that needs to be applied to every project. We want your style. Develop your style. Find the things that work for you. Make something that is meaningful to you.

Embrace restrictions

Sometimes restrictions can actually be a good thing. If we have a quick turn, this might allow us to get a concept through to design with less revisions. There might be limited type choices or code libraries, but see if you can find a way to use them to do something creative. On the flip side of this, sometimes a lack of restrictions is a bad thing for a project. If you are spinning in the world of possibility, you can always create your own restrictions to get things moving.

You get back what you put in

If you approach a project like it could be an award-winning shimmering slice of awesome, it might well be. If you approach it like “just another project”, it will be. Shoot for amazing. You won’t hit it every time, but, even if you miss, it’s still going to be pretty darn good.

Things that are somewhat meaningless if you really think about them but do actually matter in some regard so we treat them as such

Awards, job titles, twitter

The problem with creating

When you look at your work, you always see what isn’t there. The really great idea you didn’t get to add because you ran out of time. The thing that you wanted to rethink slightly. Remember that you see the 2% that could be, while the rest of the world sees the 98% of amazingness that is.

Know the other most powerful word in the English language

No. Use only when needed.


Let’s go.

You should leave here better than you came. You should find the space here to grow. You should find opportunity here and you should create it for the people around you. It’s all our jobs to make sure this isn’t just a job.

This our studio. This is your studio.

Illustration: Bryan Couchman

Upperquad is a growing team of designers, developers and producers brought together by good fortune, great clients and a shared drive to make amazing things.

Phil Ruppanner is the founder of Upperquad, works hard and is generally a pretty nice guy I hear.

Also, Upperquad is hiring !



Phil Ruppanner

Working with forward-looking teams to build strategic visual systems, digital experiences, and brand identities. Founder of @UPPERQUAD.