You were the career which I chose blindfolded out of a hat when I was eighteen, before I even knew what a real job was or what a graphic designer actually did for a living.
You were the possibility of new visual worlds, of new ways of communicating, of new modes of expression, of new shapes and colours and stories and all the other things which I love about making things.
I thought we’d be good together.
Unlike art, you came with a salary attached. And unlike architecture, you’d be mine in four years instead of seven.
Not that those were the main reason which I settled on you of course.
I’d always enjoyed the visual arts. And playing with technology, computers especially. You seemed like the perfect way to combine the two things. (And a much better idea than the only suggestion I ever got from a career advisor: become a hairdresser.)
Somehow I got into art school (the 11am pint I had before my interview probably helped) and set about learning the trade. I worked, not hard but hard enough, sought out new heros for myself, dreamt of making the world a better place, took photos, designed typefaces and generally pushed pixels around late into the night.
Graphic design became my talent, my job, my passion, my love, my life, my everything.
And I became a graphic designer.
The first year was a baptism of fail— in a good way—as the conceptual thinking skills which I’d been taught at art school were joined by practical ones. I learnt that printers don’t like it when you use faux italics in QuarkXPress. I discovered the world of paper stock and Pantone swatches. I met a new and at first mysterious player in the game of graphic design: the client.
The company at which I was working with grew. Satellite studios opened in London and New York. It felt exciting, even with the stress of the deadlines, the late nights and the pepperoni pizza stains on my keyboard.
I made the transition from print to digital (or web design as it was called back then) I taught myself the basics of web development. I learnt ActionScript, went to Flash conferences (ha!) and grappled with Wordpress.
After a while, slowly but surely, my friends began moving from Glasgow to London. I didn’t like the way the capital was sucking the talent out of Scotland and vowed to stay put.
But a year or so later it was me making the move south, to what was only my second job in five years.
Looking back now, I was already becoming uneasy about being a graphic designer at this point. I almost made a step in a slightly different direction (by taking a job at Ableton in Berlin) but took the safe route: another job as a digital designer.
Luckily for me, London re-ignited me. After being safely wrapped up in the womb of Glasgow’s West End, everything seemed louder, bigger, better. I worked on huge websites… the most challenging projects of my professional life… and felt my design muscles being flexed, growing stronger again.
But then, suddenly, after a 10 years together, it stopped working between us.
I became jaded. I was tired. I fell apart. I had to quit my job. I thought that I had to go and find myself. I lost a girlfriend, my best friend, the love of my life. And I blamed graphic design for everything.
But now I realise that I was wrong.
It wasn’t graphic design’s fault that my life fell apart.
It was my own. (Or even better… it just happened. Stuff happens.)
I had let my profession define me. I had obsessed over everything I thought was wrong with that profession, instead of finding ways to put the things I thought that were so wrong right. And I had forgotten to pursue other passions, so that when the only thing I did stopped bearing fruit, I had nothing left to fall back on.
Maybe the courageous thing to do would have been to quit my job and start my own studio. But I was all out of courage.
I still have dreams (fantasies?) about this. Could I ditch everything and begin again from scratch, with a new manifesto for my work? I’ve seen other designers do it, but I’m not sure if I can myself.
What next then?
For one thing, I know I’ve pissed off a lot of graphic designers over the past year or so.
I've been called confused, angry, hypocritical, and I understand why.
I want to say sorry.
I was angry at myself, not at you.
Graphic design still matters to me. Bad design still pisses me off. I still have my Pantone mugs, my sprawling font collection, my Pinterest pins, and the ability to operate Photoshop blindfolded. None of this is going anywhere fast.
Maybe I can teach graphic design. Or maybe I'll just carry on exploring the creative tangents that graphic designers take into business. (Although I think I need to choose a new name for the project, and rephrase the whole thing a little less provocatively).
I don't know.
But at least I know this: it's not you graphic design, it's me.
Posted to graphic-design in 2013.