Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
my, how things change

when i began working professionally in the early nineties, the visual spirit of my work was completely indicative of my mindset: electric colors, metallic textures, flying shapes, futuristic typography, and a laugh tucked into every corner. i was very much in love with american pop, the manic energy of science and the future.

but then…

…something happened, and i stopped believing in all of that stuff. maybe it was the effects of watching the dot-conomy eviscerate design, maybe it was sitting through a government that gets more crass every day. i’m not sure. everything i used to love feels hollow, and all i see in my previous work is manic self-delusion. i stopped working for almost a year because it bothered me so much. there’s a lot of my work i won’t look at any more.

now i’m working again and i’m even kinda liking it. i had to re-train myself to find an emotional source for the work, and not surprisingly: things are angry now. where i used to work from optimism, i seem to work from jadedness. bright colors were replaced by dark jewel tones, flying shapes were replaced by layers of translucent light, and somehow my love of futuristic typography just went phhhhbbt. i’m a grotesque and egyptian-lovin’ guy these days.

so let’s talk about how your identity drives your work. mine is obviously a big part of how the work appears, but i know it’s not that way for everyone. some of us prefer to simply perform service. where do you fall in that continuum? is your work a self-portrait, or are you painting a picture of something else? anyone else have stories of watching their work change (for better or worse)? inquiring minds want to know.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON May.10.2004 BY Patric King
Armin’s comment is:

A couple months back I was cleaning up around the house and came across a bunch of my work from college… it was so different, and I don't mean the kind of obvious different that comes with more design knowledge and experience or better computer skills. It was much more daring in its execution, not so much the message. I can certainly attribute it to youth and the low-risk factor of college work, but still, I think I left a lot of that tucked away.

In the past three years, I have been very consistent I think — as my life has been consistent too. WIth obvious changes like getting married and starting Speak Up, but still with a very conservative approach. I'm not an exhuberant bundle of joy or of energy and I think that is reflected in my work. I'm usually quiet and observant and just speak when I have something to say (senseless chit-chat about the weather with strangers is not my cup of fucking tea) — as some friends note, I speak softly but carry a big stick (no sexual jokes intended).

On May.10.2004 at 09:12 AM
pk’s comment is:

i don't think this is necessarily a thread about "growing up" or "maturing" as an artist. that just needs to be said after i've slept on it for a few hours.

i've seen evidence of people changing their work as they grow, but not as a result of one's life following some sort of point-to-point narrative (i.e. "i learned something and my work got better," which i don't think is always pertinent)—sometimes just to simply do something different.

On May.10.2004 at 09:36 AM
marian’s comment is:

Patric, there are parallels between your story and mine, although in a way I've started believing in the manic energy of ... perhaps not science, but the future.

My identity comes out very strongly in that thing i do which is neither design nor illustration nor art, but as soon as i meet with a client it is erased. Although I don't want it to be this way, my identity seems to disappear in the face of the client ... even any grand schemes i may have had before going into the meeting have usually disappeared by the time i come out of it.

I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. But it may be partly why I seldom love my client-driven work, often even before it's printed--it's not mine, and never really was.

On May.10.2004 at 09:49 AM
griff’s comment is:

I am very superstitious about over analyzing my own work. I have an irrational fear that the second I recognize the elements that make my work recognizably mine I am done as a designer. I will become so obsessed with either perpetuating or eliminating those things I will suffer from incurable brain lock. Sort of an "if it aint broke, don't fix it" thing.

The only thing I can say for sure is that my work feels more cynical and jaded than ever before. Wonder if that is symptoms of age or environment (current economy, world politics, administration, etc.)

Funny thing is, remembering old work is much different than viewing old work. Memories are much more kind!

On May.10.2004 at 10:05 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I didn't mean to imply that my work matured — it did, but that wasn't necessarily my point — it changed and it was due to circumstances beyond age and life-events. However, separating life from work is pretty hard and shouldn't be shunned, so if we want to talk about how our identity drives our work we have to look at how growth and maturity — not as artists but as people — permeates into the work.

I do agree that sometimes change comes because, well… sometimes it just comes.

On May.10.2004 at 10:25 AM
Paul’s comment is:

When i read the phrase "is your work a self-portrait, or are you painting a picture of something else" a little BOING went off in my head. I think this is a question that has been lingering in my own mind for a while.

I think my work really is a self-portrait. Not of the way I am (confused, messy, impulsive) but of the way I'd like to be (clean, ordered, controlled.) It is as if by forcing order onto the presentation of thoughts and information I feel I can somehow prove to myself that I am not merely reactive to life but can be an active mover in its shaping.

Sorry if this seems half-baked and overly introspective, but this is a really interesting question to me on a very personal level. Good one, PK.

On May.10.2004 at 11:00 AM
pk’s comment is:

hey armin:

I didn't mean to imply that my work matured — it did, but that wasn't necessarily my point — it changed and it was due to circumstances beyond age and life-events.

sorry; wasn't trying to stop a thread of thought—your comment just reminded me to clarify.

On May.10.2004 at 11:02 AM
pk’s comment is:

It is as if by forcing order onto the presentation of thoughts and information I feel I can somehow prove to myself that I am not merely reactive to life but can be an active mover in its shaping.

this is interesting. my work has never been terribly about the organization of information (that's just not my bag) but about the emotional color of the presentation. had never thought about information organization as a principle for self-portraiture.

On May.10.2004 at 11:06 AM
Rick’s comment is:

not as artists but as people

Glad you made that point, Armin. I think this is interesting because I've certainly noticed a shift in everything I do: ten years ago the things I liked aesthetically, the projects I was working on, the people I knew - they were all more... what? Exuberant? Youthful? Naive?

This might be why design specifically is thought of as a young person's game: touching on the "originality" conversation from last week, I think with youth comes that try-anything-and-damn-the-consequences attitude.

Maybe I just started to ramble, as I am wont to do... now that I'm officially in my mid-30s.

On May.10.2004 at 11:14 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

so let's talk about how your identity drives your work.

I think, when I was younger, it was the other way around: the work (and the tools) drove the identity. I wanted so badly to be this or be that. Looking at the old stuff, this is evident.

Now, I'm just much more relaxed and not so bent on proving something/anything. Chalk that up to maturity, a family, a certain measure of success and getting my head out my ass. Looking at the new stuff, this is better.

(Another thing is... the painting and drawing and sculpting. Helps to more clearly see the difference between love and commerce.)

I guess what this means is that all the work became much more meaningful, more identifiable and more fun when I stopped thinking about it so much. For many, the work reflects who you are. For some, it IS you. For me, it's just a part of a way mo' bigger picture.

Thank you, Patric.

Good day.


On May.10.2004 at 11:40 AM
Daniel’s comment is:


Maybe this is a simplistic observation of your entry (or maybe not), but it sounds to me that your approach to design has changed with the times in a very natural way. It could just mean you're very in tune with the (Big Obnoxious Word Alert) Zeitgeist. The work you created in the mid to late 1990s (much of which I know very well) can now be used as a symbol of those rah-rah times, especially toward the end of the decade.It's nothing to be frightened of -- you were simply immersed in the era.

And now, in your description of the work you're currently doing as being sort of "angry" and aesthetically more stark or rigid (just a guess, based on the grotesque/egyptian reference) -- basically a rejection of the futuristic, 3-D, zooming and booming typographic orgy -- it sounds as if you're once again in tune with what is going on in the world, and intuitively integrating it into your work, either conciously or not.

Just a thought.

On May.10.2004 at 11:53 AM
justin m’s comment is:

I think with youth comes that try-anything-and-damn-the-consequences attitude.

Yes, it does. I receive a lot of criticism from certain instructors because of my work. Right now I am more interested in making the people around me think and explore my work than simply communicate something. Luckily they also know that I read books outside of class and study a lot more than they teach me, so I get away with it.

Still being young and only half way through school I can even see the changes in my work due to changes in my life. I now read things like Print and Communication Arts, participate in Speak Up!, and bought a house. Before it used to be Raygun and Urb, fantasize about being a rock star designer, and living in mom's basement because it was free and I could drink more.

Now I really want more out life and needed to set down some roots before I could accomplish more. So yeah, work is definitely influenced by life/lifestyle changes.

On May.10.2004 at 12:13 PM
Levi’s comment is:

I think it's hard (maybe impossible) to know if my personal identity influences my design. I.E. Did that fact that I believe in God make me choose Georgia as the typeface for that mockup? Gosh, I don't have a clue.

I see my design style change not so much intertwined with my personal identity as just a change in taste and a natuaral maturing over time.

On May.10.2004 at 12:19 PM
Patrick C’s comment is:

When I was in college I had a Carson obsession. My teachers didn't like it/get it. It was just this desire to turn design into "art" as much as possible. And that had a lot to do with being young and naturally anti-establishment in an over-the-top kind of way. If I had kept that up I wouldn't be able to pay the bills.

As I've worked more and grown more the desire to speak volumes at a time and change things still remains, but it has been tempered: I have become more interested in the craft and less in the show. Things have calmed down.

My identity and personality affect my work, but not always in self-evident ways. As you grow you change what you value. And what you value affects how you communicate. And design is communication.

On May.10.2004 at 01:03 PM
Tan’s comment is:

For me, the longer I'm in the business, the harder it is to separate myself from the work. My identity is in my work, and the work is integral to who I am. Aside from family and friends, my career is a big part of who I am.

I had the same epiphany that Armin had. A few years ago while cleaning out the basement, I uncovered some old college work and barely recognized it. There are traces of things that ties with things I'm doing now, but the voice has changed significantly.

A lot of it has to do with patience. Back then, I wanted, no demanded, everything NOW. Somehow, the work reflected that.

Now, there's much less bullshit. If you looked at my work in college, you'd think I'd had more angst, more baggage. But that was just the trappings of youth, when you can't see more than 10 feet in front of you. I was looking for purpose, looking for something significant to say.

My work now reflects a balance of everything important in my life — design, commerce, people (family, peers, clients), and my own values. And of course, in the years since school, I've also figured out what I'm good at, and what I'm not. Naturally, I play to my strengths — and still take chances where warranted.

One thing's for sure — I enjoy being a designer now more than I ever have. And really, to keep going, that's all that matters.

On May.10.2004 at 01:22 PM
davek’s comment is:

I have learned that it is difficult to get away from my hand. Whether the work is formal, informal, or some where between... I can't escape the fact that it looks like I produced it. I don't see this as a big deal, but sometimes I feel like I want to try writing my name with (in my case) my left hand. Maybe find techniques to step away or remove myself from the work. Other times I want to embrace my personal approach—this work is usually more for fun or personal.

Like marian, the client can remove me or an acd or cd can do it, which is fine. good. And when the work is for an established brand the only part of myself I want to see in it is a sign that the type is well done.

Then sometimes things have a way of coming full circle. Older work i didn't like a few years now has a fondness about it... maybe it's nostalgia. PK, maybe it's too soon.

On May.10.2004 at 01:33 PM
Peter Roth’s comment is:

I started a new job a few months ago and that in itself has changed my work. I was comfortable designing for print and web and now I am in a place where we do video. Working in a new media changes up the color palettes that we are so use to using as well as type chooses and layout designs. When communicating in different ways and figuring out how people are going to interactive with a piece changes up the whole thought process. For those getting bored or seeking a new edge to their work I would recommend looking into new media. It really has been a challenge.

On May.10.2004 at 02:19 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

Great topic, patric. I think my work has gone through a similar transformation as yours. Fresh out of uni, I started working at a marketing company primarily doing work in multimedia and the web - right before the bubble burst. Though the actual "work" I was doing was pretty dull, the stuff I was doing for fun was completely inspired by the trend and technology of the day, full of vector shapes, layers and miniscule type.

As I started gearing myself and my work to more politically engaged subject matter (a process that surprisingly happened quite organically) it started getting darker, angrier and simpler. Now, studying at a masters level I'd like to think my work has become more sophisticated. Still just as angry, but with more intentionality and craft.

My work definitely reflects who/where I am and who I'm working with. I don't ascribe to the idea of a neutral/value-free designer and hope that in the future I'll be able to work with clients that understand this.

Oh yeah, and somewhere along the way I fell in love with hot pink.

On May.10.2004 at 02:49 PM
Christopher Simmons’s comment is:

I think the most significant transformation designers go through comes less from any kind of aesthetic maturation (though that certainly exists) and more from just plain growing up.

A lot of kids, by which I mean students of really any age, have a tendency towards the rebellious dogma that asserts that design will change the world. The same is generally true of fledgling designers. As we age — I will resist saying "grow" - and come into contact with a greater diversity of people, businesess, and design problems, I think we begin to realize that much of our idealism is not so altruistic after all. Rather, our righteous indignation is a symptom of our own ignorance and ego - a desire to serve our own agenda instead of the client's.

And so the work begins to change. some choices we make by seeing through our clients' eyes instead of just our own.

The best designers find a way to bring their hand into the work, rather than their voice.

I guess what I'm saying is that working changes the work. Being in business means being accountable to someone other than yourself. Suddenly you're not alone anymore, and you have to mind your table manners.

On May.10.2004 at 07:12 PM
Armin’s comment is:

pk, I'm curious… were you aware of the change from optimism to jadedness as it happened? Or has it taken some time and retrospect to have noticed it?

I ask, because sometimes we change without knowing it and perhaps an old friend, colleague or teacher sees our work and points it out. Being fully involved and introverted in our work it is quite hard to notice shifts in attitude, style and content so every now and then it might be a good idea to have somebody chime in.

On May.11.2004 at 08:37 AM
pk’s comment is:

pk, I'm curious… were you aware of the change from optimism to jadedness as it happened? Or has it taken some time and retrospect to have noticed it?

you know when you're coming down with the flu and something decidedly feels wrong? sometimes that happens to me, but i brush it away at first because i don't get sick very often. then the feeling keeps getting worse, i kep ignoring it, and i end up in bed for a week. it's great.

pretty much the same thing happened with the work. at the time, i felt like i was working by rote and not thinking anymore. i started feeling it when i made this piece, which is totally indicative of what i now refer to as my "old work." things started changing quickly, and one month later i ended up making this, which is totally different in both tone and execution. it doesn't look like much from this scale, but the whole thing's handpainted except for the teeth, which are photographic and end up looking fairly bloody.

two years later things were literally dark and moody. this is a lot closer to what my work is looking like now: very photographic, ritualistic to the point of caricature, and decidedly focused on drama over humor. here's a site i launched for a client just two weeks ago. it's still funny given the context, but you can see the change.

On May.11.2004 at 09:23 AM
Paul’s comment is:

thanks for the links with those comments, PK. they are really helpful in understanding what you have been talking about.

On May.11.2004 at 11:02 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Yes, the mood change is very obvious and marked… interesting. Definitely stirs away from the growing up and maturing thing, as you suggested earlier. Seeing the work examples makes a real strong point.

I can probably then say that no, I haven't had such a (dramatic) shift.

On May.11.2004 at 12:06 PM
lynnster’s comment is:

I've been going through a really interesting metamorphosis this year as a designer. It's really strange. As anyone, when I was in art school I knew everything and felt that I was going to rule the world. Well, then a decade passed where I was pretty much raked over the coals trying to make a living... went through bad corporate burnout and ended up accepting that I'm paid to be a machine that gets paid a little bit of money to make other people a lot of money. Figured out I wasn't going to rule the world. So I decided to embrace my role as a machine. Decided to do any and every kind of job for any and every client that would hire me. Decided to stop caring what I liked but to concentrate on spitting out product, because the if the client is happy & I get a paycheck then that's all I can ask for.

So then work slowed down a bit and I took a job at Disney. Little by little, every day I started wondering what I was doing. I didn't go to art school to sit in that cubicle for the rest of my life & be paid so poorly for it. The words human resources gave me when I tended my resignation were "So how many weeks do you want to give or do you want to just leave now? Don't worry about leaving us in a lurch, Disney will survive without you better than you will without Disney." Suddenly things made sense to me.

I wanted to remember what it felt like to think design was important and fun... and I realized that only I could do that for myself. So I set up my own website & started trying to do things on my own terms for once. Tried to remember what drew me to be a designer in the first place. I wanted to channel what I was going through, so that was when I created The Patron Saints of Graphic Design on a whim. I guess I figured I needed them so I made them up. And writing their biographies I really had to analyze my career a bit which was very good for me. The whole thing was very cathartic.

A few months ago, the Saints got discovered by other designers (I found speakup when they were featured on here)... and suddenly I started getting e-mails from people all over the world thanking me. It threw me at first, but the affirmation & sense of community I found myself in started to have a positive influence in my paying work. Having so many people enjoy something that I created on my own terms (something I'd stopped doing long ago) really shifted the entire energy of my career. As a freelancer I've never been so busy and I'm finding myself starting to confidently take chances in my designs again instead of just doing what I know will make the client happy. I'm actually having FUN with it instead of just being a machine. Somehow, thanks to the Saints I'm finding projects that are so much more along the lines of what I went to art school for. Bless them.

I can honestly say this is the first time in years I've actively loved being a designer... and y'know what? Being a designer kinda rocks. We kick ass!

On May.15.2004 at 07:24 PM