This is a slight rant on something I have been experiencing in the past few weeks.
I started out in this design/design business thing self taught. I learned to use the software and I’ve been sloughing away at it ever since. In the 7-8 years I’ve been doing this, I have probably designed up to thousands of pieces and artifacts – logos, mailers, flyers, websites, etc. Over time I have gotten good at delivering visually pleasing work quickly and within the chaotic constraints of the typical client service business.
For most creatives, the most exciting part of our work is the actual creative part, making the thing, the logo or the booklet or the poster. Many times I have fallen into the trap of becoming nothing more than a tool for the client, a pixel pusher. Do this, do that, move that there, without much regard for my opinion or ideas on what works. That was entirely my fault. I did not understand the value I brought to the table nor could I communicate that effectively.
In the chaotic landscape of client services, things tend to be frantic. Everything is always due yesterday. There is often not a good enough understanding of the connection between design output and business objectives. Design becomes a last minute exercise quickly producing pieces of communication without any form of strategy or intent.
This is a mistake.
Sure you can get a nice looking design out of a competent designer working this way. But creating design that actually works, design that clarifies your intentions and aims your efforts, design that sets u up for greater success beyond the project at hand, that is something else entirely. That is the love child of good process and talent.
The Design Method outlined by Eric Karjaluoto in his book goes as follows: Discovery – Planning – Creative – Application. Newbie designers and most clients are happy jumping right into the creative. However they miss out on the many benefits of engaging the first two steps.
Discovery allows you to fully understand the problem at hand, it gives you context. Ideally, the designer should be able to immerse himself/herself into the world of the client and understand how the business works, what the problems are and how the audience interacts with them. Discovery has the benefit of helping the client understand what’s really going on with the business. Are there gaps in the communications? Do you understand what you really do? Do you understand what you are selling? Do you have objectives, and do you know how you are going to achieve them?
Planning helps connect the insights from discovery to the nitty gritty of execution. It provides a plan of action of what needs to be done, targeted to whom and by when. It gives purpose to your efforts and ensures you don’t waste time going down rabbit holes.
Respecting the process transforms a simple brief for a website for a bus company to a holistic communication solution geared at increasing online sales. Instead of just a website, the client is steered towards adopting online marketing, referral campaigns and developing e-commerce solutions. A directive to design new labels for a budding craft beer brand now turns into the task of the defining and refreshing company brand in light of their new investment, offerings and aspirations. Instead of just labels, the brand is rewarded with a deeper understanding of itself and a roadmap for handling communications moving forward.
Rushing through the design process to the production bit might be satisfying in the short term, but you miss out on a ton of value left on the table in the long term.
One of the most dangerous things that can happen to you as a child is to be fawned upon and told that you have great potential. Or to come into the awareness that you are ‘special’, ‘gifted’, ‘intelligent’, etc.
For some people, such attributes cause them to work hard to pull out that potential. For others, it creates ‘unrealistic’ expectations of achievements. Once you are branded with the idea that you are ‘gifted’, you begin to think that you are naturally smart and if something is difficult, you get disappointed. If you make a mistake, it crushes you, makes you feel like more of a failure…the great YOU made a mistake. It’s a very destructive idea; I’ve fallen to this trap.
The universe balances shit out. If you are not blessed with a lot of obvious talent at the beginning, you learn to compensate by simply thrashing it out and working your ass off to survive…and surprise surprise, you actually get better and get some shit done. If you are blessed with talent, you tend to fall into the trap of being lazy and not pushing yourself.
The thing to do…if you think you are ‘gifted’ is to stop thinking you are. Believe the fact that you are no better than the average man, and you are not exempt from the grind and hustle of making something happen. Sit your ass down and do the work, just like everyone else…hell even more than everyone else.
There are no natural geniuses…okay fine, perhaps there are, but the only ones we remember – Edison, Da Vinci, Ali, etc., are the ones who put in a mean grind, working hard for years, day in, day out, making shit happen.
So fuck your potential. Just do the damn work.
I’ve never felt like this. In my entire 24 years and 28 days on earth, I have never had this feeling. For the first time since I started designing, I don’t want to design. I’m actually avoiding clients, avoiding their payments too. I don’t want to be in that system, I don’t want to be enslaved. I don’t want to HAVE TO design.
I don’t mind designing, I just don’t want to have to do it. I want to play again. I want to have fun again. Its crazy, I’ve avoided so many calls, I’m actually having clients rock up at my door to see if I’m okay. Usually I can sit down and bear it and get the work done. Now though, it feels like death. The only way I can work is if the client is there with me physically and I’m under the influence. That way I don’t feel the pain.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, talking to people as well, trying to figure out what’s happening with me. Most people say ‘take a holiday’, and that option sounds great…I proceed to daydream about chilling on some secluded beach, or roaming the streets of a sleepy small village town talking to craftsmen and artisans. A month to do nothing would be great. Because that is what I would love to do…nothing. Wake up, eat, do nothing, sleep. This never-ending torrent of productivity is breaking me. Why are we so busy?
A lecturer of mine once remarked’ “the human race is far too productive”. I agree with him, we create a lot of worthless things. But I guess that’s the process to eventually making great things. Last night I read a line by Hugh Macleod, ‘Success is much more complex than failure’. To succeed, you actually need to try, you need to make calls, schedule meetings, move up and down, create something, sell something, work long hours, and so on and so forth. On one level, it feels like madness, put in all this effort, get to the top and then what? Why not just chill and enjoy life, do the minimum required to get tokens (money) and just enjoy the simple pleasures. I envy the bum on the street sometimes, that guy has no care in the world (well, except for deteriorating health and possible death from exposure to the elements). But, beyond his next meal or his next drink, he seems to have no care in the world. That’s pretty legit.
We are not wired that way though, or at least we are not programed that way. We need to succeed, we need to do more, be more., We need to be moguls, juggling 15 different projects at a time to feel successful, to feel like we are keeping up with Kanye and the Kardashian. It’s a delusion, a disease, admittedly one that is useful, one that has gifted us with so much as a race.
I don’t know, I don’t know what my point is writing all this. I am just ranting. In conclusion, I would remind myself that success is relative, and it is best to prescribe my own definition for my life. A definition that makes sure I strive as hard as I possibly can to tap into my potential, and also makes sure that I truly I’m happy from the depths of my soul.
Last night, I took a critical look at my life and my efforts and realized something very important. I had inadvertently given all my energy, creativity and time to furthering other people’s dreams. Everyday, people come up to me wanting my help in furthering their vision, a magazine, an ad agency, a club, a clothing line, and so on. I don’t mind, I have a gift; I can use it to move people’s dreams forward. It’s a problem where I begin to neglect my own dreams, my own ideas, and the things I want to create because others are more urgent or more convenient or more quickly profitable than mine. The fault is completely mine, and somewhere inside me, a part of me has rebelled and won’t let me design anymore until I create the things I’m supposed to create.
I guess I have no choice then.
“I have learnt that even when you are have found and are living your so-called passion, it is still a struggle to live the life you were meant to live and do the things you were meant to do in a world that doesn’t understand what it means to live inspired.”
The problem with being a designer, well at least for me, arises from the fact that I chose design as a path as an expression of my self. I am a creator; I spend most of my time in my headspace, a place of ideas, concepts, and possibilities, things that could be birth on our actual physical plane. When I design, like most people who create, I am drawing from a plane higher than our reality. This takes energy, it takes time, and it takes trial and error. It is usually an exhilarating and enriching experience. It’s best done when you create for yourself or at least you create as true as you can to yourself.
Creating is like living with an exposed heart or nerve. Most people can do work in things that have no connection to who they are fundamentally and successfully compartmentalize. Designers and artists don’t have that luxury. Sure there is the reward of being constantly connected with your true self and feeling like you are doing something that matters, something you are passionate about. But the problem arises when you have to create in ways that violate who you are.
You work on projects that hold no excitement for you, you work on things that are ethically questionable, you are sucked into using your skills in service of the military-industrial-socio-economic-machine and by so doing neglect to create the inspired things that would benefit mankind and move us forward. The thing you loved becomes the thing you dread.
You are forced into being hyper productive, churning out design after design after design everyday. Eventually, your quality suffers, or worse, you stagnate, rehashing the same ideas, same techniques until creating becomes one dull, life sucking process. The thing you couldn’t wait to do in the morning becomes the thing you now run away from.
It’s a perpetual struggle to strike the balance between the work you do for money and the work you do as an expression of your soul. It’s a perpetual struggle balancing the expectations of the many people who rely and demand of your skill and your expectations of your work quality and content. Even when you fight for and acquire your dream, you still have to fight to protect it against the forces that would derail it.
The problem with being a designer (or any creative profession) is the fact that we inadvertently invest of ourselves in every project. There are strands of our DNA scattered all over our work, our process, our spaces. If those are violated, so are we. If we disrespect the gift, we disrespect ourselves.
I had a thought tonight, somewhere in between designing a flyer, a website layout and then another flyer…a flyer I was designing for the third time. The first time, the client (a friend of mine who I’ve worked with for 3 years now) wanted a demo flyer for his event. The second time, I had to make it more ‘blingy’ or something because of the venue it was moving to. Now i must redesign it because the venue manager doesn’t like it and thinks its to similar to the other fliers I did for the club last week. And this is after we decided to have a general set format for fliers a few weeks back. You know brand consistency and all…
Today, I hate being a designer.
Thats what I said to Khanyi tonight in the middle of our word association game on BBM. She then proceeded to write this inspired from that sentence.
A few hours earlier, I had tweeted another thought ‘All of a sudden my entire life feels like an elaborate trap‘.
I’m trapped in design. I design all the time. All the freaking time. I wrapping up my architecture degree…I have to design buildings. Things can get pretty fucked up really quickly. Architecture for me is as much a test of my psychological state as it is a test of my actual design skill. I have to deal with resolving all my negative emotions surrounding school and my experience years ago while navigating the design process and engaging in the minefield that is architecture. Architecture is like designing on 6 different fronts simultaneously and still not knowing where the hell the design is going to end up. It is emotionally exhausting and it requires complete immersion.
I work as a freelance graphic designer. I used to love graphic design. I still do. However the kind of work I would like to create and explore is hardly the kind of work the clients want done. Everyday, I get emails, BBMs, smses. Everyone wants a piece of me. Everyone wants a piece of my gift. They want a flyer, or a logo, or a business card, or a website. Some people just want a pretty picture of themselves designed by yours truly. It’s nice to be wanted…it also sucks. The gift is a curse. Many times the client is ignorant, they just want something that looks cool to them. I have no energy to time to argue or educate. I sense the anger flash within me, I let it go, I smile, I make the change. I don’t care, I just want your money. This is my bread and butter, this is how I pay the bills. This is how I make sure there is something to eat and the lights stay on. Spending 80% of the time doing work I never want to lay claim to. Because I’m long over the rush, the validation, the 5mins of recognition of ‘oh what lovely work’. I just go through the motions to get to the money. This is how I live.
And everyday, I feel like I’m dragged deeper and deeper into the trap that is my life. I’m a puppet, I have to dance for the ones who hold the strings. Somedays its the lecturers, other days its the clients. I don’t hate the lecturers yet…most days I hate the clients. Because of the demands they make, because of how long it takes them to pay.
So to escape I hold on to the things that make me happy. The designers that inspire me, and the websites full of cool, awesome things. I hone my ideas and work on my personal projects (my book, my idea for street wear, my graphic experimentations) far away from the public eye. I indulge myself.
and keep threading these treacherous creative waters…hoping eventually I can get more of the gift and less of the curse.
There is a kind of greed that envelops us all – the greed of achievement. We all feel the intense pressure to achieve something, to make something of ourselves. We have known it all our lives, so it feels normal.
This kind of greed is useful. Because of it, we have everything that we have, the society around us, the jobs and professionals, the gadgets, the technology, and so on. The greed has given us movies, books, music, cultural artifacts and all the experiences that add that intangible etheric value to our lives.
But in a time of over abundance of everything, perhaps we should question this greed; rein it in a little bit. I walk into my local bookstore and I see thousands of books and publications. And I always think to myself “Where did it all come from? Why are people writing so damn much? How many of these would be read? How much of this is just going to end up in landfill? How much of this is even useful? “
It gets worse when I go into a place like a Christian bookstore. I see thousands of books on so many different ideas and ‘revelations’ and doctrines all stemming ‘supposedly’ from one book (The Bible). And this one book itself has many translations, sizes, kid versions, teen versions, family versions, ad infinitum.
There is just so much stuff.
And we feel like we should do so much stuff as well. Especially if you have the fortunate misfortune of being told how special and gifted you are, or how much potential you have. Then you begin to feel like you ought to start a few companies, write half a dozen books, build a foundation, launch a clothing line…do this and do that.
Because this is what it means to be successful? Because our idols have done the same, so we must follow suit? Such extremely high standards may have the potential to spur us to great action, but it has the high risk of significantly adversely affecting our happiness.
Because the motivation is all wrong.
So people begin to set all these arbitrary goals and targets for themselves. If they are not millionaires by a certain age, they are failures. If they are not like Mr. Mogul with a real estate empire spanning all 7 continents, they are not good enough. These are reasons of pride, envy and covetousness. It is so easy to fall into this trap. We live in the society of the spectacle. Media exalts the superstars, the super rich, the super famous, the super talented, the super everything.
We forget we are quite super already, quite extraordinary creatures, flawed sometimes, problematic yes, but ultimately exquisite and beautiful people.
Achievement is an amazing thing. Every person must endeavor to meet his/her potential. But whatever you choose to do, and however you choose to explore your potential, let it be something you do first and foremost for you. Do it because you have no other way you could live. Do it because even if you did it all your life without recognition or appreciation, you would still do it. Do it because it is your destiny. Do it for the love.
That’s the right motivation.