The Day Job

Raise the flag. Sound the trumpets. Light the beacons. Put the kettle on. I have returned.

My friends, I apologise for being away so long. Rather than making a start on all the grovelling and forgiveness-begging I am due, I have instead decided to jump straight back in with an actual post. In light of what’s been keeping me stressful in absentia,1 I thought it might be interesting prudent to tell you all about what I actually do.

I am a trained and qualified Graphic Designer. Whenever I tell people this, I get a nod, and sometimes a ‘ah OK’, because whilst everybody has heard of the job title, nobody really knows what it means.

Put simply; it is visual communication. It’s storytelling using pictures. If people realised how obvious this is we would not be able to charge the prices that we do. I am exceptionally lucky in that I am able to exercise my creative muscles on a daily basis and call it a career, and in many ways am really taking the piss by not being content with that and writing a humour blog and a sitcom on the side.

You will be pleased to know, however, that my career is yet another source of crippling insecurity on a daily basis. I have a cycle of worries regarding my job that go a little something like this:

***

 I worry that as a ‘visual person’ I am at heart tremendously superficial.

I indulge my other interests to become a fully-rounded, well-adjusted, multi-faceted, overly-adjectified person: write things, read things, see stand-up, buy records, attract hot babes, etc.2

I worry that I am neglecting my career.

I buy expensive design books and start another ‘portfolio enhancing project’ like a poster series or animation.

 I remember I am supposed to have some sort of social life.

 I call up a friend, they ask what I’ve been up to and I say ‘nothing’.

I take a long look at my life.

I worry I am worrying too much about everything.

I realise I’ve wasted too much time already worrying about worrying about worrying.

I go back to work to make up for lost time.

Repeat ad infinitum.

***

As well as this, design is a thankless job. It’s comparatively well-paying as a career, but this is a fair trade for the endless extra hours you will work (for no overtime) because the client wants it ‘amended’ (changed entirely) and sent back before the end of the day. ‘I’m sorry the display is exactly as dictated the agreed brief but you don’t like it anyway, I’ll just work another eight hours tonight (not an exaggeration) for your benefit for free.’ And yes I’m passive-aggressively hinting at YOU, property magnate in Manchester.

Because the nature of a good chunk of design is ephemeral (so slick you don’t notice it’s there – sometimes I don’t know why I bother) there isn’t a lot of respect for it as a usage of one’s time. My nan doesn’t think it’s a ‘real’ job, and thinks I’m an artist. This is inaccurate, and a little demeaning to both myself and any artists who might be reading this; artists express themselves, whilst designers express things on behalf of other people, and thus are at once creatively active and stifled, like a neutered dog in heat.

That said, I am uncomfortable calling myself a ‘creative’, even though it’s what I do all day every day. It sounds to me like one of those adjectives that is bestowed upon you by other people3, and is increasingly very difficult to quantify. Anyone with an Instagram app will call themselves a photographer, anyone who owns Photoshop will call themselves a designer and anyone who’s been on Cracked.com and read something about fonts will shout ‘Comic Sans! LOL’ and call themselves a typographer.

It’s a shame that these once-respected avenues of expression are being eroded by trivialisation. Typography, as a subject is quite fascinating; there’s so much consideration in making content readable and inflected with the right ‘feel’, and there’s some genuinely interesting things to be learnt.

Gill Sans

You’ve got to draw a line somewhere and it might as well be between your dog and your third daughter…

And whilst we’re on the subject, can we all get over the Comic Sans bashing? It was funny at one point but now it’s just sad. It’s been kidnapped by that odd group of people who mercilessly hate something and pretend it’s taste, like they did when Lynn Truss brought out ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’.

Comic Sans

I don’t really have a problem with Bieber, although his music isn’t my ‘thing’ – he’s very responsible and well-adjusted for someone at his level of fame. What I DO have a problem with is hype. If you’re a Belieber and you’re offended by this message, please consider that any resentment either of us may feel is entirely your fault. So there.

I got into graphic design because, like many of you here, I wanted to tell stories, and one day I hope to get out of it, for the same reason. I love the work – obviously – it’s exhilarating, but it’s a far from easy life, and there’s a reason why I have this other creative outlet here. If you should ever find yourself (and if you want it, I hope you do) in a situation where your income is a direct reflection of the frequency and quality of your ideas, I think you’ll see what I mean.

Allow me to sign off as the ungrateful prick I am clearly becoming. I’m off to have my cake, eat it, then take a chunk out of the hand that feeds. I reckon humble pie will be on the menu too.

Rant over. Bon appetit.


1 Good name for a bad song, that.

2 One of these is a deliberate lie, just to see if you’re paying attention. Answers on a postcard.

3 To illustrate my problem with these sort of words, I’ll use it in a sentence; ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly get a job and contribute to society, I am a creative.’

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28 thoughts on “The Day Job

  1. You know what I love the most (I don’t really)? When the client doesn’t like the initial design and then they make you jump through hoops to change it only to bring it back to what you originally showed them and choosing that in the end. We’re slaves to the wants and desires of the client!

    • I don’t mind that so much; it’s their money they’re wasting. What annoys me is when our skill is completely undervalued. I’ve heard stories of consulted designers whose work has to be approved by the client’s nephew, who’s ‘good at art’.

      The reason you’re asking us to provide this service is because we know more about it than you.

  2. I’m by no means a designer but I once agreed to make something for a community organization for free because they couldn’t afford a “real designer” (and because my mom was on the board). After that experience, I can only say I sympathize deeply with you about people not understanding the time and effort that it takes. Or when they can’t seem to articulate what they want but tell you, “just change it because I don’t like it.”

    • As a rule, if you have an image in your head as to how you’d like it done, draw it and we’ll build up from there.

      Most people are fine to work with/for, provided they have a little patience. You do, however, get some people thinking that because they’re paying, they should get full control.

      I don’t care how much your company is worth, you don’t know better than fifty years of collaborative research into visual hierarchy. Uff.

  3. Glad to hear “that British guy who comments on your blog” didn’t suddenly die. So that’s great! And I defend the honour of J Biebs to the death, so I appreciate the Comic Sans analogy. No resentment here, sir.

  4. Passionate group hatred of overtly terrible things is the worst. I wrote an article for a school publication earlier this year saying that people should stop bashing Nickelback. I’m worried that this hatred of overtly-terrible-things-haters will turn into an overtly terrible thing itself, in which case, I too would become a hater of overtly terrible things and a hypocrite. In order to stay edgy, I will then need to become a hater of people who hate group hatred of overtly terrible things. Eventually, I will devolve and become a Nickelback hater. Basically, this Portlandia clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlGqN3AKOsA

    • It’s just so dull, isn’t it? It adds nothing to the discussion and just turns it into a competition to see who can shout the loudest. As far as I’m aware, Nickleback’s biggest crime is being forgettable. I couldn’t hate them because I’d never remember what my reasons were. I am thus both the opposite and the same as actual Nickleback haters. OOOOOOH SNAP. Or whatever the kids say these days.

      You do make me chuckle, Jane.

  5. Heeeeeey. I missed your biscuitballs.

    And I don’t hold your absence against you. I’ve been doing the mom/teacher/cook/wife thing and completely neglecting my creative outlet. I’ll be returning soon though, as this box I’ve put myself in is getting quite monotonous.

    Cheers! Glad you’re back!

  6. Glad you’re back. 😉 I think a lot of people see graphic design and any computer/tech career as a job that pays tons of money but they don’t realize that it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.

    Agree with the Comic Sans bashing, enough already! It’s getting beyond old.

    • Thank you, Lily.
      It’s only about 50% computer stuff; there’s a lot of sketching and note-taking.
      If someone is furious about Comic Sans they tend to be a poser. It’s very easy to ‘get over’ as problems go. You can disable it with your font software, for example. Or you can shut up.

      (Not you, specifically, people in general. Just wanted to make that clear before I accidentally told you to shut up for agreeing with me.)

    • Well, there’s a myriad different disciplines of design; I’m only really versed in two or three of them. You wouldn’t ask an interior designer to make you a flyer, and you wouldn’t ask a furniture designer to do an architect’s job.

      The problem lies in explaining the point of Graphic Design and contrasting that with what you do on a day-to-day basis. More work goes into a brand than you’d expect, and clients don’t seem to understand why it’s a skill worth paying for.

      • I do the same thing – Graphic Design. I just let go of trying to explain it in a tagline. It also keeps possibilities open while still allowing me the veto power when discussing a job. The short version is, “designer” is still a designer and I’m not pigeon-holing myself. There are too many facets to try and keep to one term is all I’m saying. If you’re a designer, you most likely know branding, marketing, print, web and motion graphics. I’ve found that people won’t know all our work entails and the time it takes unless they’re in a design field too.

      • Ah, sorry, I misunderstood. No, I know what you mean; you can’t sum it up in a sentence and still make sense, unless you’re prepared to seem ludicrously smug.

      • hey, maybe that would be fun – sort of a smug avant garde Andy Warhol answer. Maybe that could shoot you to that obscure position of popularity where no one understands you so they think you have something they need or want and you become a designing icon! ( I went off on a tangent- the creative thought process in words) I’m playing with ya. : )

      • omg, copywriting – now that’s a design field of the intricate wording for legal reasons alone. I remember the copywriter for the most boring products all being reigned in to legalities. I’d scream all day doing THAT!

  7. I do find Comic Sans visually irritating, especially as some teachers seem to have a certain preference for it and it makes school things look really staid and sometimes a bit…stupid. However I was recently told that it is preferred by those in the know, as it is actually one of the best fonts to use with children with certain learning disabilities. Apparently less are fewer fancy confusing lips and dips on the design. I guess I can see that, because it is very similar to the primary handwriting practice I remember doing when I was learning to write in school.
    I now have a new found respect for this humble, much maligned font.

    • You’re correct that it’s meant to be very good for dyslexia; the letters are easier to differentiate, and if I remember correctly there’s something about the regularity of the counters that makes it work quite well.

      It’s generally used by people to invoke an element of childishness, so it’s seen on a lot of stuff for playschools etc. where it is of course entirely appropriate. If you want to see a dreadful piece of design, Google ‘church newsletter’.

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