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Can You Have a Life?

On separate occasions recently, I had a couple of design students ask me this question: As a designer, can I still have a life outside of work?

That seemingly innocent question brings up some complex issues.

The first has to do with work ethic and expectations. I often tell students to prep themselves to work hard if they want to make it in design. As an entry-level designer, they need to do whatever they’re told to by their art director, and then some. Eat, sleep, and breathe design and work until they gain more knowledge and proficiency as a designer. Utter commitment, sacrifice, and dedication to hard work is required. But is this heartless and hardcore approach true in your experience? Do you see more or less of this blue-collar attitude in designers today?

Secondly, is this practice changing? Are designers more adamant about striking more of a balance between work and life? It seems that the economy, mixed with technology, is changing the business model of our profession. More designers are working from home, telecommuting, etc. Is this a temporary symptom of the job market, or is it a fundamental shift? Is it a realistic model?

And lastly, is the scenario different for men vs. women? The design profession is comprised of 65% women, so how much of an issue is family planning? Or is that a sacrifice also?

Do you have a life outside of design?

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PUBLISHED ON Mar.26.2004 BY Tan
KM’s comment is:

Good topic! I would have to say, yes, I have a life outside of design. Not a huge one, but one none the less. Before I was married, this was quite the contrary.

I find more and more entry-level designers to be as committed as I was at that tender young age. The work ethic has definitely changed. I'm also surprised at the fact that most students looking for an internship expect to get paid. What happened to the privilege of working your ass off as the salary not to mention the experience.

On Mar.26.2004 at 05:04 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> I find more and more entry-level designers to be as committed as I was at that tender young age.

Kris, I think you meant the opposite, right? Less committed than you were, not more.

I've sensed the same. I think lots of it has to do with the change in technology. Gives the illusion that there's less of an ability and knowledge gap than they realize.

On Mar.26.2004 at 05:23 PM
KM’s comment is:

Kris, I think you meant the opposite, right? Less committed than you were, not more.

Correct. However, they might have better writing skills.

On Mar.26.2004 at 05:41 PM
brook’s comment is:

you can do it however you want. if you put in a ton of work hours, that will open more doors for you. i know a lot of designers who are happy just putting in an average effort. not being lazy or anything, but making a good balance in their life. i even know lazy-ass designers who suck at what they do, but they make money and are perfectly happy. they even KNOW they suck. i guess personally i'm happy doing fulltime plus 5 or 10 extra. obviously i get end up working more occasionally. honestly, i hate the 9-5 shit. how can you be a designer and not do a 9-5 type job? owning a company? what else?

On Mar.26.2004 at 07:33 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Dude, owning a company means you start doing a 6-10 type job sometimes too.

On Mar.26.2004 at 07:38 PM
kw’s comment is:

As per our topic of choice. I can safely say that I don't have a life outside of design, as design is my life. Even when I am not in the soft glow of my monitor, I am essentially breathing design.

I'm sure everyone who has a passion for this form of communication realizes that it doesn't stop, even when you're not turning it on.

I can, and have ripped a part menus in restaurants with my scathing remarks, or admired the aesthetic of something as simple as a grocery bag (yes they're out there) To many of my friends, this makes me a total geek, but to me, I get inspired that I can do better, or that the solution was done right.

I don't really want a life without design. I think I'd feel disconnected.

As for what the schools are turning out, or rather what is going through the schools. The next generation is something else. I'm a part time instructor at Emily Carr, and the biggest, most noteable concern that I have is that the students are looking for glamour jobs without understanding that they are in a field of communication. No understanding as to the industry, or real passion for the basics of problem solving.

I say buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

On Mar.26.2004 at 07:39 PM
mitch’s comment is:

i agree with KW - life is design. design is life. i am the egg man. coo coo cachoo.

I chose to approach my life situation I am in now (attending design school) as completely immersive experience in art and design. it may be different when i graduate and go to work. i hope it isn't. as it stands now i am constantly inspired, constantly curious, constantly sucking up all i can. its a wonderful life.

On Mar.26.2004 at 11:15 PM
aizan’s comment is:

Come on, shell out a few bucks for the poor interns. Not everyone has a sugardaddy, and I don't know many people who can handle school, an internship, and workstudy or a part-time job.

On Mar.27.2004 at 01:02 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>i agree with KW - life is design. design is life. i am the egg man. coo coo cachoo.

Ok guys, let's stop this design nirvana for a minute. Yes, yes...we live design 24/7 and so on. But that's not what I'm talking about here.

I'm talking about design labor. Working, clocking time, makin bacon, drawing paycheck, kneading dough, etc. Actual time spent jockeying a computer at a workstation when the rest of the world has gone home or reading their Sunday morning paper.

When I was a junior designer, there was one year when I amassed 280 hours in overtime at this firm. That's 7 weeks overtime. I had sixty, seventy hour work weeks regularly. During annual report season, I didn't have a weekend from about January to April. And I wasn't the only one -- there were others who practically lived at the office. But I probably wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't gone through that. For many of us seasoned veterans, that's how we spent our youths.

Sorry Mitch, but design school ain't nothing yet. Trust me.

Are you prepared to do that? For how many years? For how little pay? How far are you committed to go for design? While I love your positive enthusiasm -- you see, that's the real question here.

>Come on, shell out a few bucks for the poor interns.

But if we paid you, you wouldn't have all these great stories of hardships to tell people later in your careers. Besides, it builds character. Trust me.

On Mar.27.2004 at 01:10 AM
surts’s comment is:

A couple years ago I knew a designer (and still know quite well) that come in on an early Monday morning to the studio that she was working at and left the following Thursday evening. I don't have any stories like that, though through experience you get accustomed to digging deep to surpass expectations.

On Mar.27.2004 at 01:57 AM
eggnog’s comment is:

as a student surrounded by other young designers on a daily basis i can assure you that the majority of my peers are anything but lazy. my program is chock full of some of the most cut-throat competitive people i've ever encountered in my life. granted, a good chunk of these kids are relatively poor designers, but their work ethic is rock solid. what you fogies should be concerned about are the newbie's with the skills and the insane drive to get what they want. i myself haven't left my bedroom for the past month if it wasn't to attend class or run errands. why? FEAR. fear of being upstaged by the rest of the savages in my classes. i see my girlfriend(also a design student)once a week, usually around 4:00 am after we've both finished our work for the night. then i leave in the morning and guess what? I GO BACK TO WORK!!! fear us.

don't get me wrong though..i'm not some kind of sadist. the only thing that keeps me going at this pace is the fact that i know the end is near. 3 more weeks until graduation and then i can afford to take a breath and try to regain the life i once had. doing this much of anything is definatly not healthy.

On Mar.27.2004 at 03:42 AM
eggnog’s comment is:

wow. i just reread my post and realized how pompous i sound. my apologizes. i've been up all night writing a paper that has stripped me of any patience/happiness/sanity/grip on reality i once had. this site is functioning as a vacation spot to prevent complete mental collapse. hopefully i haven't managed to get myself blacklisted after my first post.

ps. when i said fogies i meant it in the nicest way possible.

On Mar.27.2004 at 05:54 AM
Tan’s comment is:

No worries eggnog. It takes waaaaay more than "fogies" and some late-night chest thumpin' to get blacklisted here.

Just ask Mr. Design Maven, one of my fave posters round here.

On Mar.27.2004 at 08:45 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I think most of us here are probably the wrong ones to ask about having a life outside designing. I mean, come on, we spend our free time posting to a web page about the very thing we do for a living, how objective can any of us be? :)

Honestly, you could spend 40 hours a week at it, have great design and steady income, or put in 60 hours a week, and have really great design and steady income, or spend 80 hours a week, have really crappy design, and sporadic income. Time isn't necessarily the qualifier of great design. There are people who can spend 30 minutes with a project and come up with something that I couldn't do in a week. There are also people who can spend an 80 hour week at one project and not come up with anything I'd willingly attach my name to. So in short, your free time is probably relative to your skill level and desire for quality, not just sheer time spent in the studio.

On Mar.27.2004 at 09:41 AM
amanda’s comment is:

My husband and I are both designers. One of us run a design & illustration company from home (me) One of us work @ at a studio and help now and again with the home business (him). We both work quite a bit and often I have some project I am fiddling with here and there over the weekend. Our pillow talk often consists of design problems, client drama, or computer questions. We observe, argue and obsess about design everywhere we go. So, yes I think we live and breath the profession to some extent.

That being said, I would never consistently work a 70 hour week. My husband racked up over a month in overtime once, and i thought he was silly for that. Tan, I know you say it was a life experience for you, and I am sure you learned a lot, but that is just ridiculous! Life is much more precious to me than getting physically, mentally and spiritually drained because of a job. Lack of balance for long periods of time is unhealthy.

I often do creative things for 70 hrs per week - but 20 of those hours are personal projects that involve splashing paint or creating something with my hands. I could not imagine a life that did not allow time to be personally creative, get exercise, spend time with people i care about, get sufficent rest, and play around a bit. I think that stuff is contributing more to my design career than working working working.

I do realize though that designers can be pressured to work lots of OT & running larger firms (that have offices, employees and larger responsibilities) can lend to longer hours with no choice. That is an unfortunate reality of our industry. In running a simple two person studio, I feel very lucky to have the flexibility to do whatever I want.

On the family planning thing - We plan to have children in about 5ish years, and I plan to continue working (from home) as much as I can after I become a mother. So the set up works well. I am hoping that by then the work I am doing is much more illustration focused (doing what i enjoy them most). If the biz is going well, husband might join in full time at that point. who knows. In Canada he can take male mat-leave for 6 months if he is employed at a company - so we might want to use that option to our advantage. Not sure what kind of mat-leave options the US offers.

On Mar.27.2004 at 10:48 AM
mitch’s comment is:

Sorry Mitch, but design school ain't nothing yet. Trust me

I have been in school and in the real world so i can see it from both perspectives. I don't know Tan, maybe you forgot what design school is like... 80 hour weeks are status quo around here, if you are not doing that you are falling behind. When I was working at a firm i did some sizeable overtime here and there also - 60 hour weeks were not uncommon at all. I definetly anticipate spending less time in the office after graduation than i do in the studio now, maybe not a lot less... but definetly less.

but what you are talking about is the MAKING of design - can we have a life outside of the actual 'manufacturing' process - Most definetly we can, and do. However, while i am not at a computer or something every second of every day - i would say the vast majority of the time i am awake my mind is involved in some kind of dialogue of design, be it literally thinking about a project to just looking at the way the power lines cross each other into interesting patterns when i walk down the street.

I do not know of any really successful or really interesting people, in ANY field, who only work a 40 hour week, and nor do i know of any people who are planning on being successful and interesting thinking they will only work a 40 hour week. I am not personally convicned its abusive either - i am sure you can find design jobs that you only work from 9-5 and thats it - i am just pretty sure that those design jobs are not very interesting or rewarding. Those of us who choose to work in places where things happen, either serendipitously or intentionally, to keep us there for extra hours, we tend to have more interesting things happen to us.

On Mar.27.2004 at 12:06 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Good points Greg. It's quality and quantity sometimes. And yes, how objective can we be when we're posting on a Saturday morning :-p

>I know you say it was a life experience for you, and I am sure you learned a lot, but that is just ridiculous!

It was ridiculous Amanda. The only thing that saved me was that my wife was working there too -- though she had much more sane hours.

Early in my career, working was everything to me. I wanted to do so much, and wanted it now. And in hindsight, I did learn, produce, and advance more in that single year than most designers do in many. I'm not sure if it was a life experience I treasure, just something I had to do for my career at the time.

>Not sure what kind of mat-leave options the US offers.

In the US, it's 3 months unpaid for mothers, and usually 2 weeks for fathers, if any. It's pathetic, but you know what workaholics us Yanks are.

It sounds like you guys have it well planned out. My wife transitioned to working at home after we had kids. There's really no other options. Flexible hours at a design firm (not your own) is just unrealistic.

Ok, hopping off now to go spend time with my wife and kids and enjoy a beautiful Saturday here in Seattle.

On Mar.27.2004 at 12:08 PM
Armin’s comment is:

As long as VSA partners is around, design-slaving will continue to be a reality. It's kind of silly to hear all the stories from that place. The thing with them is that it actully shows that people are putting in extra, extra hours. However, the end doesn't justify the means.

I have had the good fortune of working for places that don't require working insane extra hours. At marchFIRST I once stayed until 9:00 pm, and I was freaking out, we never had consistently enough work to keep us busy beyond 5:30. Right now, I have very even and distributed workdays which usually keep me around till 6-6:30, but I can work at a very decent pace.

But, with Speak Up, I have my hands full constantly. It's just an all-weekends, several late-nights affair. I don't mind it and I'm not complaining, but it's the first year and a half of my life when I'm constantly doing design-related stuff.

And I agree with Tan, one thing is thinking about design 24/7 and another sitting down and actually getting stuff done for prolonged periods of time… usually under tight deadlines, limited budgets and pressure, lots of pressure.

On Mar.27.2004 at 12:09 PM
pk’s comment is:

armin, i'm working with vsa right now as a typographer on a long-term project, and after having been in the office since january, i can assure you from experience is simply not true. almost everyone's out of the office every day by about 7 pm.

i can see where things would get a little nuts during annual report season due to volume, but i haven't seen mouch of it. the principals encourage the junior designers to order dinner on the company's check (actually, there's a daily dinner sign-up list), take odd work hours (coming in late, working half-days, whetever) to keep their lives balanced between work and family.

the hours with thirst (years ago) when it was only three of us were much worse. many nights i wouldn't leave until about 8 or 9 pm and then make an hour trek back into the city. likewise, ogilvy and mather is a madhouse. i have a friend who's a creative director whom i simply cannot get to leave the building until 11 pm. i worked with them for a week or so over the summer on a push for proposal and four nights in a row was there until around 2 am. money was great, though.

so after all that...i consider working every day from about 9:30 to about 7pm to be reasonable and comfortable. what's your workload that you consider vsa to be so hellish?

On Mar.27.2004 at 01:35 PM
Armin’s comment is:

pk, thanks for the insight, however that is only based on your current experience from this year, maybe a little of last's too (?) — maybe Bradley who worked there for more than a year can vouch. Of course, I forget people like to exaggerate their experience, so whatever, I have never worked there and I can't state any facts and I don't think this is worth arguing over, I have nothing against VSA nor those who work for them.

> what's your workload that you consider vsa to be so hellish?

My work workload is nothing compared to VSA's.

On Mar.27.2004 at 01:50 PM
pk’s comment is:

people exaggerate if they had a really great or really terrible time. and the bigger the studio is, the more stories that come out to the general public (i think vsa actually about 40 or so strong now? not sure.). but my main point is that:

As long as VSA partners is around, design-slaving will continue to be a reality

is a totally irresponsible thing to say in a public forum when you're operating on second-hand stories. as well, it's really close to being a libelous statement.

i'm actually finding the place to be more mature in their attutudes regarding work/life than any other i've been in. if anyone wonders why i'm defending the place, that's it.

On Mar.27.2004 at 03:32 PM
Armin’s comment is:

You are right pk, right after your first comment I knew I had screwed up by making that statement. Wording was wrong, so I do apologize (I won't delete the comment, because that would be unfair home advantage). However, I'm pretty sure that in past instances it hasn't been as dandy as it is now — but that might as well be true for any other place.

On Mar.27.2004 at 03:41 PM
Jason’s comment is:

This topic couldn't be more timely. I'm sinking in thesis, hunting for work to occupy me full-time once I graduate, taking care of a 12-week old puppy (akin to a newborn child), teaching a class three times a week, renovating my 1907 house, and (most importantly) trying to be a good husband.

Do I have a life? What's a life? I don't really know what it means to other people, but it's all about balance. There's give and take. Sure, I may think design, design, design, and design when I'm not designing, but when I've got deadlines in front of me, doing matters most.

Billboard in Downtown Seattle

In closing, to the notion of design, design, design, and more design, some of the people that I respect the most, who design exceptionally well, work and play very hard. For some people, operating tenaciously is a way of life.

On Mar.27.2004 at 04:30 PM
Richard’s comment is:

I believe there has to be a balance between work and play. This is a motto of mine and is why I left Los Angeles and a well paying job and moved to Phoenix.

I enjoyed the firm in LA and worked hard for them. But the fact was I was burning out. Even if I happened to work an eight hour day I still had to contend with a one-hour commute.

I would also like to bring up that learning to work smarter rather than longer is something you can only do with more experience under your belt. When I first started out I would slave away until the project was finished. But I knew there was a better way of doing things. Working after 12:00am only compounds the chance of making a mistake.

On Mar.27.2004 at 05:34 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I would also like to bring up that learning to work smarter rather than longer is something you can only do with more experience under your belt.

Oh my god! Amen!!! Well put, Richard.

On Mar.27.2004 at 06:44 PM
aizan’s comment is:

Tan, I don't suppose you work for Cup Noodle or Top Ramen? =)

Roughin' it out may put a few hairs on your chest, but the whole thing reeks of hazing. I may be a masochist in other areas of my life, but not when it comes to food, money, and general well-being. In any case, I wouldn't want to intern for anyone that narcissistic. Design deserves dedication, not designers.

On Mar.28.2004 at 12:20 AM
Mark’s comment is:

I would also like to bring up that learning to work smarter rather than longer is something you can only do with more experience under your belt.

Bingo! Well said indeed. I think its also about managing expectations. Why is everyone so afraid to say no to a client? I mean there's a time and a place for it but with running a business, managing staff, 40 jobs on the go etc... you have to set realistic expectations. Short deadlines means risk, whether its poor design or screwing up someting on a job.

We had one particular new client who was used to working with big agencies and would call at 5pm on a Friday needing something for a tradeshow on Monday, while we scrambled for the first few months working with them we slowly migrated them over to a very realistic working relationship by establishing minimum turn around times and managing the relationship. We discuss their marketing agenda months in advance so we know whats coming down the pipe by being proactive. They are still our biggest client and its rare that anyone sticks around late to work on any of their projects. manage expectations, budgets, deliverables and timelines.

for those of you working mega overtime are all those hours logged and billed? or is it creative exploration time?

For design life it all comes down to balance. Keeping clients, staff and yourself happy. I think I've only worked on a saturday maybe once in my 10 year career. Late a few nights as a freelancer perhaps but now with young kids my priorities are even more focussed. I leave the office at 4 every day. I tell my clients that and they expect it. My employees push me out the door. I do think about work all the time, but its usually work thought not creative thought. I think about design outside of the office and get inspired everyday but not specific to any current job. Just to be inspired.

Usually we all stop working and sit and eat lunch together as a team. We sometimes close the office at 3 and go for beers... make lifestyle choices. The day I stop enjoying what I'm doing I'm packing it in and buying a farm.

work smarter - manage expectations - balance - enjoy.

On Mar.28.2004 at 06:19 AM
Josef’s comment is:

You workaholics might want to read this:

How to Get a Life in One Easy Lesson

On Mar.28.2004 at 09:10 AM
amanda’s comment is:

AGREED with the balance thing.

"I do not know of any really successful or really interesting people, in ANY field, who only work a 40 hour week, and nor do i know of any people who are planning on being successful and interesting thinking they will only work a 40 hour week."

Mitch, I found your comment interesting. I think people need to step back and define what is success. Working a 70 hour week, producing killer designs and being a serious asset to the company you work for (or run)? Or working a 40 hour week, making time for your personal health & people in your life? Your design abilities will be heightened because of this balance, I believe that.

I think people closely align career with success so often. Like it is the only thing we can measure our accomplishments with. We tend to forget sometimes that success can also be loving a spouse, being an attentive parent, or a supportive friend.

On Mar.29.2004 at 10:54 AM
Lea’s comment is:

Strongly agree with Amanda. I sometimes struggle with the terms of success, myself. You have to learn to step back and realise that professional success is just one facet of life success. But a lot of us are ambitious with high goals, and we tend to forget the big picture when we're too busy micromanaging our professional lives.

On Mar.29.2004 at 12:21 PM
Paul’s comment is:

I'll jump on Amanda's bandwagon and say that, for me, success is measured by how well I balance the professional and personal sides of my life. If I'm working tons of overtime for extended periods then I am failing to live my life the way I want to. I guess I sort of admire those of you for whom work comes first, becasue perhaps you are destined for a greatness that I may never achieve, but I guess I feel a little sorry for you too.

Caring about your work, your field, and your professional community is great: I think we can all pat ourselves on the backs here and say "well done!" on these points. Buying into the dogma that slavish dedication to one's career is the only way to be truly successful is, to me, a missed opportunity. Life is so much bigger than design.

On Mar.29.2004 at 12:59 PM
J. Lathrop’s comment is:

Interesting reading. I am a designer who does have a life--husband, three small children, dog--but I don't have the "glory". I work for a small publications company. Lots of inhouse work, but I don'tget to do the really neat, beautiful designs I see all over. It has to be functional, it has to be usable and most of all, we need the ad revenue so advertisers rule. Not the best environment for a designer to flourish creativly.

But, I have a steady paycheck, benefits, vacation, a really great group of people to work with/for, a generous, appreciative boss and I like what I do. When there is a school play in the middle of the day, I can go. Last year I had to be out for major surgery. My boss gave me 4 weeks paid leave without tapping into my vacation. I get to eat dinner just about every night with my kids.

On Mar.29.2004 at 01:09 PM
may’s comment is:

If you don't have a life outside of design, you will only be able to see the world through a very limited lens and you won't gain the empathy needed to be a good designer...you won't have the ability to "zoom out" and see design *in relationship* to other things. To only spend your time in the rarefied world of design is akin to saying "the rest of the world doesn't matter" and that is a serious mistake. Unlike "fine art," design is a practice that has to serve a specific purpose - most often to communicate or make things easier for other people. That requires the ability to understand and empathize with people who are NOT designers.

On Mar.29.2004 at 01:10 PM
Paul’s comment is:

Reading J.'s post (and rereading my own) makes me realize that I was being a bit self-serving. Although my personal/professional balance is exactly as I would have it, my professional situation is definitely a bit of compromise in order for this to exist. This is my choice, but it surely is not the right one for everyone.

On Mar.29.2004 at 01:47 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I hear a lot of people talking about finding balance and reprioritizing. I agree -- after all, I have 2 young kids as well.

But other than J. Lathrop's realistic concession (and Paul's), I don't see real acknowledgement that your "success" in the career is closely tied in to the amount of work, dedication, and sacrifice needed in return. Is that the case -- that the amount your put into working has nothing to do with your promotions, salary, job opportunities, etc.? Many of you make it sound so -- that you can simply choose to work on your own terms, yet thrive wherever you want in this industry. You can always have your cake and eat it too.

Now I'm not suggesting that it's work or nothing, but let's be real here. There are students out there reading this, who have no idea what to expect, and who don't have the ability --experience-wise as well as financially -- to carve out an ideal work situation.

What if you were fresh out of school, graduating after 4-6 years of expensive, intensive design-training. You're charged to conquer the world, make a name for yourself, make 6-figures in less than 5 years, travel all over the world for business, make CA and get published, etc. Are you telling that student that he or she has a right to expect a balanced life, and can expect to achieve all his/her goals without working unreasonable hours for a number of years? Or are you telling that student that his/her goals are skewed and out of perspective?

I mean, c'mon. Let's get real here.

On Mar.29.2004 at 01:51 PM
g’s comment is:

What if you were fresh out of school, graduating after 4-6 years of expensive, intensive design-training. You're charged to conquer the world, make a name for yourself, make 6-figures in less than 5 years, travel all over the world for business, make CA and get published, etc.

yep that's most of our ideals when we graduated.

Right now, having graduated fresh out of school, most of us have sprinted out of the gates, and running smack into brick walls or in silly circles. That electric charge to conquer the world seems to be easily extinguished... EVEN after getting a job at a design studio. Its the realization of many little realities in the design world, that not all studios are the idyllic brainstorming sessions you read about in CA.

EVEN though we're ready to do those all-nighters that we've been already doing in the past 4 years in design school, it's a shock to find out that not all studios need it. And then we realize, we CAN have a life outside of design. And our entire perspective changes.

Well, I'm not speaking for all fresh graduates, but that's been my experience in the past year.

Or are you telling that student that his/her goals are skewed and out of perspective?


But keep regrouping and refocusing, I'm going to conquer that world.......

On Mar.29.2004 at 02:29 PM
J. Lathrop’s comment is:

I think what's interesting here is what one defines as a balanced life. Tan made some very good points: would that fresh-out-of-school student have a balanced life with those objectives? Depends. Are thier goals skewed and out of perspective? Depends.

It really is all about point of view. And I'm sure there are people out there who would not think a balanced life is going home to screaming 3-year-old twins...

On Mar.29.2004 at 02:33 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>yep that's most of our ideals when we graduated.

"The key to success is under the alarm clock." -Ben Franklin

Your goals, no matter how lofty, is more likely achievable given hard work. Damn hard work. And you need to take the initiative, looking for opportunities to do more and learn more, rather than go with the flow and leave at 3pm when the boss does. He can, while you can't. That's how it is sometimes.

That's what I mean by work ethic and drive.

Man, do I sound like a slavedriver. I'm not, in reality. I just think that there's been a massive case of atrophy among designers lately because of the economy and job market. Yet the market is tougher than ever, and companies are doing more with less people in order to survive. And lots of design students are diving into this water unprepared, with a false sense of entitlement.

>screaming 3-year-old twins...

You win the grand prize, J. Lathrop...I come home to a screaming 2 and 5 yr old. Fun, ain't it?

On Mar.29.2004 at 07:21 PM
mitch’s comment is:

I want to clarify a bit - i don't think that because you put in a 60 hour week you are successful, nor do i think that if you only put in a 40 hour week you are unsuccessful, what I am saying is that the people I have met who are extremely passionate about what they do invariably spend a lot of time doing it.

Just like J Lanthrop and others have said above, its perspective: I can definetly say without a doubt that the worst 60 hour week at the design firm or the most hellish 90 hour week of school this semester was 1000 times better than the best 35 hour week working retail. No question about it.

As a single, rather focused guy, right now my passion lies with design in its many forms and on many levels, if and when i meet a nice girl and have some kids i can bet that my passion will shift to them with at least the same intensity as it is toward design now, probabbly a hell of a lot more. Hopefully i can be passionate about a LOT of things, not few.

I think that if the question is "can you have a life beyond work" then the obvious answer for all of us is yes - not one of us spends every waking moment working - it becomes a moot question. However, what i think the REAL question is (i certainly could be wrong) can we be passionate about something else even of we spend a lot of time being passionate about work? I hope the answer is yes.

Should a firm expect its employees to work overtime? Its a loaded question, but i think that a firm that chooses to go beyond the norm and do really interesting and (insert affirmative adjective here) work, and hires people who want the same, will not have to ask its employees to stay late, the employees will stay late on thier own.

On Mar.29.2004 at 07:29 PM
beatriz’s comment is:

Maybe it’s one of those things about getting older, because when I was younger I thought nothing about working as many hours as necessary sometimes for little or no pay at all, following those dreams of "success". Like Amanda I have discovered that there are other things in life, and that “success” is a very relative term.

It’s true that the myth "long hours = hard working = more productive" is deeply extended among corporate culture. But as a former manager once told me: "If you need to put in a 50/60 hour week you’re either not working efficiently or we need to hire someone to help you". Shame more people don’t think like this.

It’s great loving what you do and I’m not saying I won’t do the odd mad week/month if necessary but my health and my life definetely come first.

On Mar.30.2004 at 10:55 AM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

Yes, you can have a life. Just not yet. That's what I tell the younger generation of designers. If you really want to work your way to the top of the design world it takes going the extra mile at a young age.

But I think the responsibility goes both ways. As one who has to assign projects and see the young desingers return and report their progress I try very hard to not make my designers feel obligated to skip lunches, or to stay late -- as long as their work is finished.

But I have noticed that the ones who really want to succeed will work until the project is finished no matter how late. Not because I obliged them to put in the extra, but because they don't want to give up until it's right. The thing I tell students is that the Beatles worked 12 hours a day for 4 years before they ever had a song that was worthy of #1.

But now that I've been doing this for a few years, I think the key is hand-picking the projects to kill yourself on. When I was young and idealistic, it was every project. Now It's fewer. If I was really honest with myself It would probably be even fewer still.

So do I have a life? Yes. I spend a reasonable amount of time with my wife. I walk my dog regularly. I take my kids out for sushi once in a while. I do dishes. I fix toilets. And tomorrow night I'm helping my son participate in the pinewood derby.

But the reason I have the freedoms I have now is because I missed the lunches and put in the all-nighters when I was young and has less obligations.

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:01 PM
amanda’s comment is:

"Or are you telling that student that his/her goals are skewed and out of perspective?"

yes they are. yes yes yes. I can honestly say that i did not have those ridiculous expectations when i graduated (6 figures?! gross.), I was just plain stupid *smile*. Thankfully most of us get a wake up call immediately after graduation.

Expectations, defining success, work ethic, all of it really depends on who you are as a person I suppose. For me, the idea of expecting 6 figures *ever* is silly. For me, working really hard to get work I personally enjoy is more important than getting in a magazine or ever having international recognition. For me doing design for 40 - 50 hrs a week and then doing an extra 10+ hours of painting and creating other things is ideal. For me, conquering the world means doing my small part for a bigger good. That is me though, not you. Everyone has different crap they want to do & that is cool.

I have really enjoyed reading and contributing to this discussion.

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:12 PM
david e.’s comment is:

I believe in making the most of your opportunities. When i started out, i was employed by 3 different ad agencies and 2 design firms over a period of about 7 years. Each company had vastly different clients and projects. And, since I was never at one place long enough to get comfortable, I was always dealing with a learning curve (learning curve = spending more time on a project than it should have taken). Neither the boss nor the client is going to want to pay for that time, so I put in longer hours.

I always considered myself fortunate to be in a position where i was learning new things constantly, even with all the stress and longer hours. Now I see designers who've been in the business as long as I have (or longer) who are less well-rounded than I am. The reason is that they found a comfortable niche early and stuck with that. So I've never regretted any of the extra effort I've put in — it's always paid off.

At the same time, there was never a time when I couldn't find some balance in my life. And, I've seen design studios where people are working horribly long hours grinding out crap — without being really well paid. To me, that's not a worthwhile use of time.

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:16 PM
Ben’s comment is:

Sorry I haven't had the time to read all the comments but i needed to add my ten cents.

I am a young guy approaching the "intermediate years" of my career, and yes in my mindset I am a designer during all awake hours (and some sleep too) but I only work from 8 till 5 most days.

However to suggest that the "rite of passage" junior years should be exploited (yes Tan it is exploitation) by your creative director to work consistantly upwards of 65 hours a week is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. It is an outmoded notion perpetuated by greedy bosses who pay pennies and pocket the difference. FACT. None of my peers (here in Toronto) get paid overtime, yet most clients are charged it. Who is benefitting from this?

I work probably 50 hours a week (which is too much) but would love to spend more time with my young family, I believe it is essential for creativity to balance ones life. In my spare time I write and work on typeface design, however that is fundamentally different to working on client's projects.

I hope to own my own small firm in the near future and if i do have staff there will certainly be no pressure to work late into the evening. Even if I am.

Don't let you bosses rip you off young 'uns, because this culture stems directly from this exploitation.

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:33 PM
Greedy Tan’s comment is:

>to suggest that the "rite of passage" junior years should be exploited

Not being defensive here, because yes, in some instances, it is exploitation. Because it depends on the situation, and whether or not you personally benefit from it.

It also depends on your attitude. If you think it's exploitation and a shitty way to make a living, then don't do it.

Btw, it's a misconception that bosses are getting rich on the backs of junior designers. The fact is, I'd rather not have juniors. Senior designers are 20 times more efficient and productive than an entry level designer. Most firms invest in juniors, meaning that they budget longer hours to compensate for inexperience, less productivity, and on-the-job training. Juniors tend to work longer, because it takes longer. Sorry, but that's not an "outmoded notion".

Of course, you won't see it that way when you're in the trenches working the hours. As the saying goes. you don't know what you don't know. Young'uns.

On Mar.30.2004 at 01:08 PM
ben’s comment is:

Good point Tan, I have a senior role at my firm and get my work done within the 8-5 hours. What I want to explicitly refer to is the culture of "if you don't work long hours then you lack dedication", which I believe is untrue.

Now that you mention it I worked much longer hours in my first two years, go figure. I am just sick of feeling guilty for leaving at 5.

My problem? Most likely.

On Mar.30.2004 at 02:16 PM
J. Lathrop’s comment is:

You win the grand prize, J. Lathrop...I come home to a screaming 2 and 5 yr old. Fun, ain't it?

And I didn't mention my always talking 7-almost-35 year old? Sometimes working late in the quiet ofmy cube is bliss!

What I want to explicitly refer to is the culture of "if you don't work long hours then you lack dedication", which I believe is untrue.

I agree 100%.Dedication doesn't have anything to do with the hours put in, but the quality of work put out.

On Mar.30.2004 at 03:05 PM
graham’s comment is:

always depends on what's going on, what you're feelin' aiiiiiight . . .

i suppose though it's true that when you've just left college (or just before) and you're starting up your own company/collective/group/individual thing then times are nice and hectic, 24hr non-stop loads and loads. actually, god forbid that should change too much because it's actually what i want to be doing.

On Mar.30.2004 at 03:11 PM
david e.’s comment is:

I'll add that i've never felt exploited by anyone, nor was i ever required to work crazy hours. Usually it was me that wanted to put in the extra effort. Everyone has their priorities — experience and nice portfolio pieces were mine. In fact, they still are a pretty big priority for me.

On Mar.30.2004 at 03:14 PM
Colleen’s comment is:

posting late as always, but I have a favorite passage from a book that I re-read to often:

The Story of the Five Balls

Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls— family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have the beginnings of balance in your life.

James Patterson, Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas

On Mar.31.2004 at 09:07 AM
AMP’s comment is:

Come on, shell out a few bucks for the poor interns. Not everyone has a sugardaddy, and I don't know many people who can handle school, an internship, and workstudy or a part-time job.

Thanks for the post aizan-good to know some people understand how hard it can be to get by. I'm a first-time poster, but have been reading everyone's comments for a few months. I graduated in May and had internships, work-study and school to contend with. Now I'm working my third internship (thankfully paid) and still searching for that first permanent job. I have been working hard my whole life, (22 years old, I know that I'm a young-un and that sounds silly to some of you) and am willing to continue working hard and dedicating that time to design. But I don't want to give up having "a life" for my career. How can you design and give your all to something you love if you are over-worked and bitter?

I know we (new graduates) have to learn the ropes, but I do not feel that working someone to unhealthy levels is going to create a better designer/person/community member. I felt differently about this when I started school and was so ready to be the ultimate dedicated designer upon graduation. But I am not willing to go back and feel the way I did in school (stressed-out, emotional, crazy!!) But what do I do in a month when I have no job? Give in and desperately auction off my skills to the lowest bidder? I think that is where you get people willing to work extremely long hours for little money, and there are always those looking to take advantage.

I feel renewed hope after reading some posts and despair after others. I'm not looking for a 6-figure salary and national recognition. Just a chance to grow and share in a healthy environment with like-minded people with maybe even a great mentor thrown in. And of course the greatest request, just a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for us newbies, not necessarily as great designers, but as human beings.

On Mar.31.2004 at 10:18 AM
J. Lathrop’s comment is:

I know we (new graduates) have to learn the ropes, but I do not feel that working someone to unhealthy levels is going to create a better designer/person/community member.

I think it's really interesting that you modified it to be "a better designer/person/community member"...not just "a better designer."

Colleen, thank you for the story of the five balls. That's a keeper!

On Mar.31.2004 at 04:07 PM
Melange’s comment is:

I guess the question of whether there is "life" outside of design, depends on whether you consider design as a mere occupation or "life" itself. This may seem like an obvious observation, or at best, philosophical jargon that follows the same path to inconclusiveness. However, I believe that life is all about perception and continuous interpretation of everything around you. To treat design as purely an occupation would cause you to prioritize differently to achieve a certain goal. Perhaps hard work will bring you to a position where you can "afford" free time. Thus, a person that views design as "life" doesn't neccessarily perceive it as "work" to begin with. And on a side note, in an ever changing world, designers are becoming more multifaceted with new learnt sensibilities in business and other disciplines, making them perhaps, more complete "designers."

On Apr.03.2004 at 03:26 PM