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A Rewarding Experience

In the past month we have been fussing, cursing and bitching about what we do as graphic designers. From Graham’s Ergo that was able to encompass three issues in one single post on to Debbie’s Design Alive and Well in the Midwest where objectivity overtook subjectivity and Jason’s Under the Microscope which looked at our social responsibility (or lack thereof). All great discussions. But forget for a moment about all that, put aside your philosophy and try to think about that one project that made you say: It’s great to be a graphic designer.

The following account is what prompted me to start this discussion. By Lara McCormick:

As a graphic designer I was recently called upon to do a great service. I got a call from a friend with the news that her mother had passed away. Even though she had been ill and we knew it was coming, when it actually happened it was still a blow. ‘Is there anything I can do?’ I asked, feeling helpless. ‘Yes, there is’ she replied. I perked up, eager to lend a hand in any way possible. She asked if I could design the funeral programs for the service. Of course I could.

So I spent the weekend focused on designing the programs and getting them printed. I used Garamond, an ornamental flourish, black and white photos and created a 4.5 x 8.5 program on slate cardstock. They turned out simple yet elegant — appropriate to the occasion.

On Sunday I arrived at the funeral. Everyone had the programs I designed in their hands. The man I was seated next to commented to his wife on how nice the photos were. Another woman asked for extra programs so that she could keep them as tokens of remembrance. My friend and her family thanked me repeatedly, telling me what a great job I did on the design and how helpful it was that I was able to relieve them of one of their many funeral tasks. I was just grateful I was able to lend a hand. It was the most rewarding experience, as a designer, I have ever had.

What is the most rewarding experience you’ve ever had as a designer?

While Lara’s account does not merit a Noble Prize for Peace she was able to help a friend by doing what she loves doing. So we can’t save lives or change the world; and every other design writer states that graphic design can’t kill you. Yet, in certain situations, in little ways, it can be as rewarding as building a home, or prescribing the right medicine for a person — sure, it can’t save lives but it can make a difference for you or somebody you care for, be it a friend or a client. And there is nothing wrong with building a profession on the littlest of victories.

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.18.2004 BY Armin
Armin’s comment is:

Fine, since everybody's is fighting to be first in line I'll go first.

I hadn't posted in the past hours because I was trying to think of that one moment… and strangely, I don't think I have a Top 10 Rewarding Moments list, heck, not even a Top 3. I do find it weird. Don't get me wrong, there is no better feeling than seeing a client's smile as they see a logo, brochure, web site whatever — some are better than others — but I can't cite that single event, because what I do everyday makes me feel that it's great to be a graphic designer.


On Feb.18.2004 at 01:20 PM
Jerel’s comment is:

For me, it was also a small project that I am most proud of.

I was already in my office when the first tower was hit on September 11th, 2001. We went through a lot of the emotions that other New Yorkers did, but we also felt safe in our location (an office underground at a university on the upper west side of manhattan).

After the first wave of shock wore off, a representative of the student body for our school contacted our office with an idea to build a database to gather and coordinate volunteers.

While the interface design and ultra-minimalist aesthetic of the site are not portfolio worthy, I and one of our programmers did have the volunteer database up on the web and taking submissions by 2pm that day.

In my mind, it is still the most rewarding web asset I've worked on.

On Feb.18.2004 at 01:26 PM
KM’s comment is:

About five years ago, while in Dallas, I designed a brochure, calendar and other materials for a non-profit organization. The company, Mercy Ships, was comprised of a team of volunteer doctors and surgeons who traveled, by ships transformed into floating hospitals, to third world countries and provided medical assistance. It was amazing to see simple surgery that took place in the United States could dramatically change a person's life.

Like Jerel stated, it isn't something that I would put in my portfolio but it was definitely rewarding.

On Feb.18.2004 at 02:44 PM
Peter Scherrer (ps)’s comment is:

i still get a real high when i get a printed job hot of the press, or when a website launches etc. and i tend to go to bed thinking that it's great to be a graphic designer. okay, okay, there have been the occational days where i hated my annual report client. but not being a graphic designer.

pro bonos have been and are being discussed in Speak Up, one of the most rewarding it's great to be a graphic designer moments was when i volunteered my design services to a non-profit. i did not get a dime, but so much more in the reaction of everyone involved.

On Feb.18.2004 at 03:54 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Huh… no one else?

On Feb.19.2004 at 10:02 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

Huh… no one else?

Maybe this profession is not good as we thought?

Seriously, I have to echo Peter's comments. I don't know if there are many specific experiences where I've just felt so happy to be doing this for a living. I've seen other people have experiences in other professions and been quite happy to be a designer! Despite some clients that have really chapped my hide, I simply get a charge out of design and couldn't be happier doing anything else.

On Feb.19.2004 at 10:32 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

I'm really surprised that people can't identify projects that have really meant something to them. For me, those experiences are the only thing that keeps me doing this (trust me, it ain't the money). So here are my top three design experiences of all time.

1. Last year we took on a contract for a non-profit that was just starting up in Canada. These two girls who we had met through a friend were planning on biking across Canada (a huge endeavour) stopping at schools and community centres along the way to raise awareness about sustainable and ethical consumption. They had recently returned from an exchange program in Africa and after seeing the direct consequences of North American over-consumption were motivated to do something about it. They had no money but a hell of a lot of ambition. We transformed this:

into this:

The website catalysed the project and helped them to raise the funds necessary for the project (including a large donation from Honda and the use of a hybrid car), acts as an outreach tool and resource. The project was a huge success and is now continuing with the development of an education center in 2005. I can't even begin to describe how rewarding this experience was and how it reminded me about the power of design.

2. In my last year of undergrad, so long, long ago, I did an intervention project where I postered large reproductions of personal drawings over these offensive advertising columns we have in montreal. I documented them over the period of two weeks, some were taken down and some stayed for quite some time. Most were scrawled over. On one was written in beautiful hand lettering "Merci Beaucoups, je t'aime" (Thank you very much, I love you) 'nuff said. Sagmeister eat your heart out.

3. And finally, my thesis essay. Unfortunately never really published, only one copy ran off my now-defunct epson inkjet. However since posting it on my website it has been downloaded about a thousand times and I have received such positive feedback from around the world. I recently found out it was being taught in a course.

Wow, thanks for this topic, it's really reminded me about how powerful and important design can be. C'mon I'm sure others have some meaningful projects they want to share.

On Feb.20.2004 at 06:59 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

i still get a real high when i get a printed job hot of the press

I couldn't agree more.. yumm, the smell of new paper and fresh ink! Can't beat it!

So wonderfully tangible.. and you say "I did this"! :)

On Feb.20.2004 at 09:26 AM
Krystal Hosmer’s comment is:

As silly a this sounds.. I just did an invitation for a friend's birthday party. This man has done a lot for me professionally. He works for my largest client and is THE SOLE REASON that I got the contract in the first place. He always irons out any problems that crop up and looks out for my interests. He has a lot of money and I never know what to get for him on gift giving occassions or how to really let him know what an impact his patronage has had on my life. I tell him how much I appreciate his actions, but it seems to fall short....

So anyway, the look of pleasure and appreciation on his face when he saw his birthday party invitation... that was worth it. He is not a designer, but he appreciates good design and it is something he could not do for or buy for himself.

It won't change the world, but it made me glad to be a designer because I could finally feel like I gave him something back.

On Feb.20.2004 at 02:23 PM
Steven’s comment is:

After thinking about this topic for a day or so, I realized that I've had lots of little moments, but I'll comment on a few that stand out.

Five years ago, I designed this logo for next to nothing for a client/friend of mine. To this day, she still gets compliments on it. It's really helped to give her small little company a lot of credibility and opportunity. It's a lasting success for me that goes way beyond design awards to the real root of why I am a designer.


A few years ago I helped one of the senior execs at Macromedia with designing his wedding invitation. He came down to my cube, with that "Oh my God I'm getting married in a few days and I'm freaking out" look on his face, and politely asked if I'd be willing to help him with his wedding program. I was honored that he came to me directly out of a pool of many other creatives. He offered to pay me some money for doing the work, but it was so easy (just formatting a couple of pages of single column text: an hour or two of work) that I told him I'd do for free. I went a head and banged out the job and sent it back to him. After he came back from his honeymoon, he told me how much people had liked his program, that they would keep and cherish it. He had this sincere look of gratitude on his face: really touched. That was the best payment I could ever have asked for.


And also while at Macromedia, I was the one who did all of the desktop application icons for their products from '98 to '01. In many ways, it was a thankless, very production-heavy job that nobody else wanted to do. But I looked at the task as something very different. I felt that I was creating these little jewels that would be spread out across the entire planet. And the hyper-perfectionist, passionate attitude I had with them was not so much that I was showing off my abilities, or adding value to Macromedia's brand. I was trying to reach out to all of the creative community to give you something that could inspire and excite you. As silly as it may sound, I wanted to reach out an embrace you all in the joy of creativity and what more glorious way than to do it than with the actual tools we all use. Yeah, it was maybe a little part of a much bigger story, but loading up new software and seeing these little clumps of pixels on my desktop or in my folders gave me a such an amazingly quiet and ecstatic joy--more so than all the other mountains of work I did while there.

On Feb.20.2004 at 04:39 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

wow! you did those icons steven? that's amazing, and yes, in a way you definitely did reach out to us, especially those of us at school, seeing them for the first time. So let me be the first (at least the first on this thread) to thank you.


On Feb.20.2004 at 05:11 PM
Steven’s comment is:

You're quite welcome Kevin. I appreciate the acknowledgement.

On Feb.20.2004 at 08:07 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I bumped into a professor in the hallways yesterday. She was frantic, looking for somebody to do some PhotoShop work and build a PowerPoint presentation. I said, "Okay. I can do that." It took me all of two hours using a couple of batch scripts and templates I have. She was mesmerized. She was happy. She had no idea how to do any of this stuff, and looked ready to cut her wrists over the project. Giving her the CD, she felt relief. It was nice to see her smile, even though it was mindless production and slide building on my part. It's the little things.

On Feb.20.2004 at 08:43 PM
LeAnn’s comment is:

It's interesting to read the joy so many have received by working on non profit design....that is what my company focuses on, therefore, 70% of the work I do is for non profit. The other is public sector, and for profit.......I gain satisfaction from just about every job I do. The restraints that non profits, or, those with corporate responsiblity messages, operate under are intense: this means, traditional design approaches are not always appropriate nor effective. I just spent a week in focus groups evaluating the role of RACE and symbols that may effectively portray that issue. This is a loaded topic: what I have left with, as I would say is a rewarding experience, is further realization that privilige is something that designers often have, and in our role, we have the ability to counteract and confront. I find this incredibly rewarding: that my job, role and skills, can be used to confront this. Incredibly powerful and insightful: I continue to learn......as do we all.

On Feb.21.2004 at 11:26 PM
jesse’s comment is:

As a rule, I don't take on scanning jobs because a) I don't have time for them, and b) there's a user room on the first floor set up for that sort of thing.

Well, I had one of the older professors on campus come to my office one day a while back, frustrated at how poorly his slides had been scanned by a student of his. He needed them for an important national presentation the next day. He was flying out that afternoon. Since he had always been great to work with, and I could tell he was upset, I took his box of slides and list of descriptions and told him to come back in a few hours.

I worked through lunch that day, scanning his slides and also taking the time to clean them up and color-correct them. I added text in Photoshop, setting it as nicely as I could in the time I had. I imported the images into PowerPoint and built a nice presentation for him.

He was delighted. He told me later he'd gotten many compliments about his presentation. He sent me a thank-you note and even took the time to send my supervisor a letter telling him how much he appreciated the extra work.

I've had several experiences such as this one. They always leave me feeling good about what I do. And I think it's these experiences that keep me doing what I do.

On Feb.22.2004 at 06:32 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I have a situation similar to Lara's...

My youngest brother died at the age of 17 a few years ago. Needless to say, it was a tragic blow to my family, as well as his many friends.

I wanted to do something in honor of his memory, so I took an old paper box with me to my parents house the day of the funeral. I put blank paper and some pens on it and asked everyone who want to, to write a letter to Cory (my brother's name) and that I was going to make a book out of them.

I put it together over the course of the rest of that year. I scanned in all of the letters, and added some photos of Cory from birth on up to his last weeks alive. The days before Christmas that year, my wife and I hand-folded all of the pages, I took them to Kinko's the next morning to be bound (feel the stress mounting, as my goal was to have them given out that night!) I picked the books up, went home and placed each in a paper lunch bag tied with a ribbon and then took them out to my mom's. Unfortunately, I could not be there to see everyone open the bags, but the comments I received from family afterward was enough to know that no matter what I design from that day on, that project will be my most rewarding.

P.S. Perhaps I got a bit wordy with this, but I have a hard time condensing stories without taking out some of the meaning.

On Feb.24.2004 at 02:37 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

The power of poetry:

I recieved this email this morning from the mother of an autistic boy. She's refering to a poster I had done years and years ago, and how it showed up on a wall somehow, somewhere and did what it was supposed to do. The poem wasn't mine ( it could use some better rhyming too) but it shows something good comes from posters long after they're forgotten being done.. I don't mean to puff myself up with some sentimental self-importance. It wasn't me that was the hero of this story, but this mother and her inquiry. There was more than just me involved, there was a local designer, Philip Collier and the Children's Museum here in New Orleans who made the poster. It wasn't even a great poster as I remember it. But it worked.

I'll post the whole letter, if you don't mind.

Hi Mark ,

I saw something of yours at a Therapy Center where I take my Autistic 3 yr old son. When I first saw it and read it, it made me cry.

Since then every time I go back and read it again(something just makes me read it twice a week when I go) I guess I tell myself that I am all the little guy has so I must go the extra mile for him. This poster of yours gives me hope that some day I can reach my little boys world.

He regressed terribly at age 2 when we moved to Houston from Miami. The refineries? dunno. He still does not talk. He loved books and letter and know them and the alphabet, Has started some words but not talking.

I dont know if you wrote the verse yourself or just didnt the poster graphics. It is very moving in either case.

In any case I know you are a busy man. Can you tell me where I can get one of these? perhaps from you directly?

I would greatly appreciate it.

Sincerely ,

Lorraine Inman

I tried to teach my child with books

he gave me only puzzled looks

I tried to teach my child with words

they passed him by often unheard

Despairingly, I turned aside;

"How shall I teach this child?" I cried

Into my hand he put the key;

"COME",he said, "PLAY WITH ME!"

Artwork by Mark Andresen

Louisiana Childrens Museum, New Orleans, La

On Jan.13.2005 at 12:26 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

Great to see this topic live again... a further update from my experience with Otesha (from way up at the top of this thread) for anyone that's interested. I'm no longer working on the website (that's a whole other story that may be worth relating in this thread), but I am now working on a related book project for them. They are without a doubt the most appreciative clients I have ever worked with, if not the most professional:

o.k. now joss and I are going to continue staring at the water chapter and talking about how freakin lucky we are to have you guys on board!


we'll gush more later i'm sure. celebratory dinner is waiting to be cooked...

As a collective, they've been passing our comps from member to member, and we've been receiving a regular flow of emails from them congratulating us on our supposed 'talent' in a similar vein.

And in the fall, when I was stressing like mad over my MA project, questioning its worth to myself, the academy, or to anything at all really, I received an unsolicited email from someone who had just visited my personal site:

you sound like a really good person. with a big big heart. your work gives me hope. thank you.

Like I said so many months ago, these experiences are what keep me going....

ok, enough ego stroking for one night, back to work.

On Jan.15.2005 at 12:04 AM