There are seasons that, when we fail to properly identify them, their coming and their passing, will confuse and defeat us. Seasons of creation, of youthful eagerness, of bitter defeat, of stifling emptiness, of rebirth. They come and they go; we must remember to track them. To outlast them. To plot our course and keep our place.
The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project.
I'm sitting at the same desk some years later, doing largely the same thing, but better, I hope. Bigger, I want to think. I'm looking out and I see so much change around me. Plenty of it great, really so great, some of it concerning. The landscape of my peers, some of whom started out alongside me, hustling for clients in those early days, working late into the night to get better. We were hungry then. We'd do anything for anyone then.
Nearly half the time, when I begin to interact with a prospective client, I learn that she's had a bad experience with designers (or developers) in the past. Sometimes this history manifests itself as an honest disclosure, sometimes in a dominant communication style and apparent lack of trust out of the gate, sometimes just in learned habits to check in constantly and see if I’m “on track." It makes sense; she is eager to detect any red flags she may have missed in the past, or avoid going down that road at all costs.
I’d originally written this self-indulgent nostalgia piece, titled “Doors Closing”, after visiting DC for work last year, and never published it. I’d forgotten about it until recently, during a discussion with a junior designer I’m mentoring here. We were discussing paying one’s dues, when is the right time to go out on one’s own?, is there value in working for an agency first?, and, at my insistence, the disturbing trend of young designers expecting to have it all—immediately. Ego, ego, ego. But what is an artist without struggle? Does it matter?
Lives have always flashed before our eyes--memories, photo albums, yearbooks, wedding slideshows, funeral eulogies--always with a filter. It's not a new thing, our lives being distilled to happy highlight reels. It's simply that it's happening in real-time now, not just in retrospect. It's real-time, and we're the authors. We're writing our own stories, but that doesn't make it fiction.
In a lot of ways, my job as a designer is a lot like your irritating friend's Facebook page. If I'm good at what I do, I make it look easy. You see the highlight reel, the MySpace angles, the polished end product. Everything designers share is carefully curated--our presence on the internet one giant, public track record of our professional growth and abilities. Lines blur and selves becomes brands.
I’ll say that free work has led to some of my best work. It can be the perfect storm of inspiration, freedom, and style-match. It took me longer than I’d care to admit to accept that free work could only be done on my terms, and that I needed to both a) clearly define those terms and b) share them candidly before work started. Here are some of my guidelines for pro-bono work, whether it’s for a non-profit, a friend, or (God forbid) a family member. Should these accidentally find their way to someone who’s been asking you for help, I hope they serve you well.
As anyone who’s followed me for more than 5 minutes could tell you, I love California. I love all the ways in which it’s changed me, from the struggle of making a life here to the quality of living here. The beauty beyond my studio window still takes my breath away several times a day, and I always feel like I’m seeing the ocean for the very first time. California has given so many things–to my health, to my family, and to my design career. This week, especially, it saved me as a designer.