Designing Motivation

Excerpt from Comic Wars, a book on Marvel Comic’s near bankruptcy and uncanny recovery: “[Jim] Shooter had a […]

Excerpt from Comic Wars, a book on Marvel Comic’s near bankruptcy and uncanny recovery:

“[Jim] Shooter had a huge impact during his nine-year run as editor. He pushed Marvel’s corporate owners to introduce good medical insurance and a system of royalties, sharing the wealth if a comic book sold more than one hundred thousand copies. The quality of the books noticeably improved, as did sales. Marvel commanded 70 percent of the marketplace, and some of the writers and artists were earning over half a million dollars per year.

Shooter said that the old way, simply paying a set fee per page, discouraged anyone from taking more time and care to produce a terrific page “I started finding ways to get people more money, to find better creative people and hold on to them. Because the problem is that an artist started to get good but he couldn’t make enough money in comics, so he’d go off into the advertising business. And you’d loose them.”

Why should a designer or IA learn about business? I can hardly think of a better example than the one described above. Without an understanding of business practices, a terrific creative (like Jim Shooter’s predecessor Stan Lee) can’t make meaningful change in the quality of a product.

Making good work isn’t just about loving what you do; it’s also about feeding your family while you do it. Stress about health insurance, making rent, paying your bills can drive even a fierce comic fan into a new line of work. What is so impressive about Shooter’s model is it not only rewarded good work, but created a star system which fed the dreams of young artists, encouraging them to starve awhile until they could make it big. The promise of a big payoff is critical to a talent-based line of work.

How are people motivated to do excellent work in your company?

Are they?

Is excellence rewarded or reliable mediocrity?

1 Comment

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  1. 1

    I think we have the problem (in the UK at least) that efforts
    to bill on a value-based metric (rather than billing by
    time-and-materials – the IA equivalent of $-per-page) is seen as
    slightly unprofessional. Whilst I can understand that the legal and
    financial implications of such a relationship might prove difficult,
    time-consuming and costly, the benefits the approach might bring seem
    fairly clear.

    The situation reflects back on a wider issue: that whilst designers
    are thought of as production (generally the lowest position in the
    business food chain) it remains difficult to add any degree of
    sophistication to the methods by which we bill for (and, by virtue,
    value) our work. Whilst you still have the word “Design” in your job
    title, you’re going to find your salary capped sooner than you’d prefer.

    Apologies for the (enthusiastic) use of parentheses!

    Posted by Chris Ford at January 11, 2005 04:05 AM


    There’s an alternative to “designing motivation” as described here. Inspiration.

    Posted by Manu Sharma at January 11, 2005 07:20 PM


    Yeah, but let’s remember this is Jim Shooter, who gave us Secret
    Wars, The New Universe, and other unrelentingly shitty comicbooks in
    the 80s…

    Posted by Matt at January 13, 2005 03:08 AM



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