Signs of Design Life

As the sole graphic designer for a small corporation, the art department incarnate, I have to put up with a lot: 4000 sheets of 100# Utopia gloss cover too wet to print on, 10 type A marketing reps, 2 underachieving, apathetic bosses, 1 constantly malfunctioning color laser copier-printer, 1 web programmer with no artistic sense whatsoever (who freelances up in Canada, by the way), and 0 fellow graphic designers to kvetch with at my workplace.

It should be duly noted that for most of my career, I have worked as an art director for magazines in various media, most currently The BackWord. This means most of my colleagues are writers, and many of them have recently jumped on the blogging bandwagon. Luckily for them, the web is built for the exploitation of letters. The word “blog” sounds so Neanderthal to me, yet it has this caché that only writers can provide in such a fluid, opaque venue.

When visual elements are the focal point of a web site (unless it’s porn), it’s not the best viewing perspective. Everyone knows a sculpture is better seen in on a pedestal than on a computer screen, a print ad is better perceived in the context of a magazine or billboard or bulletin board than in pixels. In print graphics and motion arts (film, TV), image usually constitutes the main message, because there is context – physical, within the medium, and even within the piece itself. On the web, there is little context telling you where you’re at, or what to compare it to. All you have are the words. To be brutally cynical, on the web, graphics are just background noise.

Print is usually where I focus my energies as a designer, and images, not words, are my preferred mode of thinking and communication. An important part of being any sort of artist is sharing your creations with others. Many artists have the choice to share or not to share – it can often just be a personality trait. But for designers, there’s no question about it: something inside of you says, Yes – put me on display!

Thus, I feel jealous of my writer friends who, with the click of a few buttons, can publish their work on the web, whether it’s polished pieces or mindless rambling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disregarding all the toil and trouble they go through for their art, and I have the utmost respect for their talents. But it’s so much easier for them to share their work because blogs have made it all nice and pre-cooked for easy consumption.

As a visual artist, it takes me a year to produce enough design pieces and fine art to display on my portfolio site. Then there’s a month or two or three of agonizing what pieces are worthy of display, whether or not to rip apart the design, or even change the name of my so-called “business.” Once those decisions are made (or avoided), it’s time to take down old pieces now considered by my harshest critic to be crappy and immature and set up the site to accommodate new work. Finally, when the site is all shiny and sparkly and updated, my Virgo humility takes over, and I decide not to toot my own horn and advertise my new work. My friends are loyal – they probably visit my site of their own accord, right? Just like checking the blogs and other websites they read regularly? Yeah, sure.

As a visual thinker, I’m adept at writing descriptions of character, places, events and instructions. Things that can be straightforwardly delineated, like life drawing. The flesh-and-bones construction and physical quirks of your model become structure and diction. Details can be embellished or obscured. But I feel creatively constipated when attempting to convey my imagination through words. I wrote my last and only decent poem over four years ago. And yet I want to write creatively… about something.

With these all these circumstances in mind, what’s a perfectionistic, analytical yet modest Virgo graphic designer to do to express her artsy, attention-starved self (without throwing her weight around like a Leo)? Start a design critique blog, of course.

Unlike many blogs, Design Life will not be a whine list, feature pointless “look-at-this, dude” content, or snub any work that doesn’t come from an ivory (ok, silver) G-5 tower at GSD&M, Sagmeister or House Industries. As a critique site for ads, websites, magazines, music art, packaging, household goods, television and film, it will expand on the everyday thoughts that go through a designer’s mind, such as:
“Oh my god, they put that font with that font?!”
“Wish I’d thought of that.”
“Hey, they stole my idea!”
“I hope *insert client’s name here* likes this.”
“I don’t care if *insert client’s name here* likes this or not.”
“Hmmm… I need a color that’s muted, yet exciting, and looks good with a transitional font.”
“If only I had more time, I could do something really cool.”

You know, maybe graphic designers aren’t such an unlucky bunch. Our work is our entertainment. And while I may not enjoy dealing with the non-, even anti-artistic corporate types at my day job, when I sit in that gray task chair for a few hours and get some damn good creative work done, I find Design Life.

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