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For the Love of the Game

During November, I met two friends that gave up on design. They became burnt out. Each of them used that phrase burnt out. One worked for a large corporation here in Seattle. Another worked as an independent contractor. I listened to each of their tales, and sympathized with all of the situations they encountered. From rotten clients to long hours to no benefits, they had it bad.

Each of these people made an impact in the design community and were talented in their own right. But they claimed that for now, design was not in their heart. Clients just didn’t listen to them. Working 80—90 hour weeks kept them from seeing their family. As an independent contractor, it grew challenging to develop new business. Sleeping became difficult because of all the deadlines looming. One said, “I’m ready to do wood working. I really want to make furniture.” Another said, “It’s time I look into something that gets me away from the creative process.”

How could they walk away? Easy I suppose. Maybe they had it really bad. I compare their early retirement to Ricky Williams’ situation. Ricky was an all-star running back in college and pro football. He left the game behind after a very successful year with the Miami Dolphins. The primary reason for Ricky’s departure from the NFL was being overworked and undervalued. Fearing that he’d face another NFL season where his knees were ran into the ground, he left it all behind—including a very large salary. From his perspective, the Miami Dolphins were prepared to utilize Ricky repeatedly, putting more physical stress on his body than any other season. Recently, Ricky has been found in Australia, touring the countryside, living off natural foods, and scouting some land to buy. According to one interview, Ricky is the happiest he’s ever been. Nobody knows if Ricky will return to the game—and not even Ricky himself seems sure.

Athletes like Ricky face extreme conditions that we cannot imagine. Putting stress on their bodies, minds, and emotions, perhaps these people deserve the million dollar salaries they command. Designers have their own issues to cope with. And our juggling game taxes our physical and emotional being in unique ways. When retirement becomes an option or if a career change seems necessary, what does it take for a designer to revisit the workforce? Or were they simply a tourist from the start? Meandering through design, the tourist visits, but never enters, never settles in. I don’t see either of the cases above as such. Ricky truly loved football. In the full Esquire interview, he defended the sport to many locals he encountered in Australia, claiming that football was good when one took joy in building their bodies up for the rigorous challenges of the game. He went so far as to call it love. And each designer—now on different paths—loved design: making things, sharing concepts, working with a team, seeing your ideas manifested, and building relationships with the client.

We can’t fault the designer (nor Ricky) for leaving behind something they loved. A negative situation will wreak havoc on us. Bad clients, bad pay, bad hours, bad sleep…bad begets bad. And in the end, that’s all you know because that’s all you’re surrounded by. A bad environment will burn you out. When you see that happening, you have some choices, but one thing’s for sure, move on before you lose the love of the game.

Williams Will Stay Retired New York Times
Living the Simple Life at Amazon.com
Burnout on the Rise (2003) MSNBC Beating Job Burnout, Part II Monster.com

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PUBLISHED ON Dec.03.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Tan’s comment is:

Nice thread Jason.

But Ricky Williams maybe wasn't the best example. In casual interviews, he admitted that he also quit b/c he wanted to continue to smoke weed ("natural foods"), something he loved and wasn't willing to give up for the NFL. It might be in jest, but I bet it's true. And I might be wrong, but his contract w/ Miami was guaranteed, meaning that he got his 8 million a year regardless. Don't cry for Ricky. I'm sure he really is the happiest he's ever been.

But back to the topic. Professional athletes play for a living. Designers, for the most part, do the same. But a lot of designers can't seem to reconcile the fact that design is also work — meaning that it's how you make money so you can live and eat. Finding the balance between play and work and never sacrificing one for the other is one way to keep from burnout.

I still say that we are all damn lucky to be doing something we love.

On Dec.03.2004 at 01:13 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

True. We are lucky to do something we love, and something most people envy. I can't judge Williams' personal issues with weed, but I wonder how much it contributed to his retirement…50%, 70%? Drugs aside, you're onto something because there must be balance, and play has to factor in so you can laugh a little, smile, and find joy in even the bad things. But each of us has a threshold. Having it broken is tragic—even in Ricky’s case.

On Dec.03.2004 at 01:17 PM
Tan’s comment is:

It's also all about perspective. I once worked with a great print rep who used to work as a paramedic. He always, always had a positive attitude — even through deadline and client nightmares. He said that whenever people panic and act as if something is an emergency or life and death, he shrugs and tells them that he's seen real life and death situations, and their emergencies are never as dire as they seem. His point was that no one will really die if a deadline is missed, a client leaves, or if something gets misprinted. It's all solveable, so just calm down.

On Dec.03.2004 at 01:33 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> But each of us has a threshold. Having it broken is tragic

On the flip side, it is also an opportunity to find something else. Something that could turn into another love.

If you really — but really-really — love something I find it near impossible to walk away. Not to beat the athlete metaphor to a pulp, but I think that Michael Jordan's third comeback proved that you can't leave something you love. His knees sucked, his team sucked, the league sucked, and he still came back.

If you leave graphic design because your clients don't appreciate you, or you have no time, or you get bad pay, well… shit, life is not a walk in the park. If you stop feeling joy from the work you produce, then that's another issue, but to leave because of "logistics"… that seems like a lazy reason. (Not judging your friends' character, Jason, since I have no idea who we are talking about).

On Dec.03.2004 at 01:34 PM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:


I enjoyed the article, expecially in light of my design feelings lately.

I took a week long vacation in August (the first one I'd had pretty much since I started working). When I came back to Chicago, I was experience design anxiety. Everywhere I looked, everything was overwhelming me. I was getting sick of design.

My feelings probably aren't quite the same as the two people you've mentioned, but I have asked myself a number of times in the past year: "Am I done with design? Can I continue to participate in this and still maintain sanity? Am I going to have a nervous breakdown if something doesn't change?"

So far, my reaction has not been the same as those two individuals. I did leave my dayjob working at a business-oriented marketing communications & design firm, but now I teach design classes and am back to concentrating on my own consulting practice. When I'm not consulting or teaching, I'm reading, writing and talking about design.

Other things about my approach to design have changed. Five years ago when I graduated from college I was drawn to the kind of post-modern design work being done at California schools and places like Cranbrook. While appreciating that aesthetic (and philosophy, pedagogy, etc), now I find myself thinking more about Swiss design and working hard to find clients who will appreciate simplicity in message and in visual approach.

This doesn't mean I've divorced myself from any particular aesthetic, but I'm now more careful about how I engage with design. I do all of this because I love design. While my focus may be shifing, I'm well within the institution. And I don't have any plans of going anywhere.

On Dec.03.2004 at 01:58 PM
Rob ’s comment is:

This is an interesting topic for me, since as a kid I would have never said or guessed I wanted to even be a graphic designer. No, I was going to be a copy writer and work in NYC, live on the Upper West Side and be the next Bill Bernbach. Funny things happened on the way to that dream.

College in Maryland, graduation, needing a job, writing in retail on an IBM PC, then a Varityper, the desktop revolution, burnout of my own and then taking a big risk. For as I was a writer, and computers became a major tool for layout, all the mechanical artists were essentially axed and the writers did their work on the fancy new computers as the wrote the copy. Under, of course, careful direction of the art directors. The point in this industry of course was image, and most of the time the copy said SALE. And even though I got to write for our high-end catalogs (the foo-foo copy to go with the foo-foo art) it really was less than rewarding creatively.

But what I did realize was that this new technology gave me something that I never had before, the access to a tool that let me put on paper typography and images without having to draw. (Granted I had been doing paste-up for a few years, starting at my college paper and then as back-up when our union artists would leave before everything had gone out). But it was a great thing for me, because suddenly I had control of not only what I wrote but I could control the look as well.

So, being young and too brave for my own good, I quit my job and went freelance doing design and writing. (This was just a few years after the Mac came out). As I worked, I realized I still had a lot to learn so I was lucky enough to find a design program where I could take my classes at night. Now it wasn't by any means a traditional program, but it did give me a solid understanding of the fundamentals of design, the process and enabled me to strengthen my skills to where I was comfortable enough, and had a strong enough portfolio, to find more stable employment than freelance. (Just in time too, as my daughter was born shortly after I graduated.)

As it turns out, I went to work for one of my biggest freelance clients, a financial firm, and I've been doing similar work since. But I've gained so much from these experiences and working with other designers, doing freelance, AIGA and Speak Up that I've been able to strengthen my skills and my confidence in terms of design. And for the most part, I love what I do.

And I think that's the key. Loving what you do. A long way, to a simple point, but it's been worth the trip. And what I think it comes down to is figuring out where you best fit, and as you can see, it's not always going to be your first choice.

On Dec.03.2004 at 02:04 PM
heather’s comment is:

loving what you do. doing what you love...

i think burnout can also come from not being challenged; a situation i'm currently in. repetative work and few design challenges can be less than rewarding, and that yearning for something more, something better, can be quietly and slowly infuriating. you can get quickly burnt-out on a place or a cetain job but not on your passion. rob got burnt-out on writing "SALE", etc. i guess if you change something: your city, your job, your education, your perspective... anything, you can prevent burn-out before it starts.

On Dec.03.2004 at 02:40 PM
John Athayde’s comment is:

I see the difference with design vs other professions, e.g. law, or medicine, is that often, in design, the client will be convinced that they know better than the design. Generally it's best to walk away from domaneering clients, ones that aren't interested in an exchange of ideas, but in being the boss and making sure their will be done.

Too many of these clients in a row will run anyone down. That combined with clients being obstinate with collections and the instability of a lot of the work were the main factors in me moving from running my own shop to working in an in house marketing group at a large company.

I do design during the day, and it's enjoyable. Then anything I take on for the side is a project I am truly excited to work on, and the projects tend to be better for it.

On Dec.03.2004 at 02:43 PM
Jeff Croft’s comment is:

I realize this article isn't really about Ricky Williams, but I'll just say this:

No one would have faulted Ricky for being burnt out and wanting some time away from it all if he hadn't done it weeks before the season started without giving his team any indication. If he had retired at the end of last season, giving the Dolphins plenty of time to find a suitable replacement for him, that would have been fine. But, he quit right before it season started, leaving his team up a creek, and they still haven't recovered.

No one was upset at Ricky for being burned out. people were upset because he totally quit on his team when they needed him most.

On Dec.03.2004 at 02:56 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Ricky left when they needed him, and he chose to leave because he was no longer stimulated. As designers, this can also happen. The challenge lies in finding stimulation within the morass or leaving it for something new all together.

On Dec.03.2004 at 03:00 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I know I am not alone in finding that graphic design has, to a large extent, burned out on me. This is a business that relies, to a very large extent, on the aspirations of young people and tends to value experience only when it is specialized. The rhetoric is all about broad experience and insight but when it comes down to it, that’s hot air. As hard as it is to get a start in graphic design, finding opportunities to grow and do new things gets rougher as time goes on.

On Dec.03.2004 at 03:18 PM
Greg’s comment is:

I don't think it's an issue of loving design. I think that some people just can't handle the bad stuff that comes along with the good, the thorns on the roses, if you will. In the cases you mentioned in the article, Jason, I know from experience in-house can make you crazy. In a couple months I'm sure I'll tell you that freelance will make you crazy as well. Both come with different sets of problems that can make it so that all you see are problems when you design, and not the beautiful stuff that attracted you to it in the first place, like the little tingle in your brain when you're having a great idea or the satisfaction of holding the printed piece. The point being, you can't let yourself forget to see the roses when you're watching out for the thorns.

On Dec.03.2004 at 04:13 PM
Lenny’s comment is:

Someone once told me "the moment you let what you're doing now catch up with you, you lose." I cannot say I completely agree, but in a way, it makes sense. There always has to be the anticipation of whats next or else what is now or yesterday will be boring as hell tomorrow.

On Dec.03.2004 at 05:21 PM
Lenny’s comment is:

Just to clarify, I did not mean by my comment that design created "yesterday" is boring "today." I was commenting on the process in which we create and work simetimes becomes repetitive, so looking forward to whats next is what keeps us motivated.

On Dec.03.2004 at 05:30 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Surely, the notion of time is a complicated one, Lenny. For my friends, time away from design has paid off. Each seems happier, free from the toils they endured.

Endurance has so much to do with this matter. True love will never burn out. So a designer that really loves what they do will cope with anything and everything they encounter.

But realistically, some situations fail to reward us. Call them toxic. Milton Glaser touched on some of such points in his 2002 lecture This is what I have learned. View the complete transcript as a PDF from AIGA voice. Glaser claims that some people can be toxic, and when this happens, it's better to run away than have them burn you out.

On Dec.03.2004 at 09:43 PM
Valon’s comment is:

Great post Jason ~

When I first started reading it I thought to myself - "Shit! Someone got burned-out from designing !?!"

I can't see myself being burned from creating. I can see myself being burned by doing reduntant work. For example: right at this point I have a client (who is a good friend) but he's a pain in the neck to do work for. I try and avoid him at any cost. In other words I am always running away from doing the same work over and over again. Some people may argue that repeat clients and redundant work pay the overhead, but hey if I would keep doing repeat work, I'll end up spending that money in Anti-Depresant drugs.

So I guess, what I'm trying to say is that I try to balance everything. As Armin mentioned 'life is not a walk in the park' ~ you have to make it work or you're out.

But a lot of designers can't seem to reconcile the fact that design is also work — meaning that it's how you make money so you can live and eat. Finding the balance between play and work and never sacrificing one for the other is one way to keep from burnout.

Tan ~ I absolutely agree with that comment ~ balance, balance, balance...

On Dec.03.2004 at 10:02 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Is it just a game? Like was mentioned above it's also a job. But could it also be a philosophy for drive too. If there's anything to learn from this year in the NFL, it's about desire. Where would the Chargers or Stealers be if they listened to their critics.

Back to design: It's ok to take a break if it gets too hot, but make sure the decision is yours and not made by someone else.

On Dec.04.2004 at 02:30 AM
Doug Carter’s comment is:

Wow, I felt like someone had read my own personal journals after reading that article.

Ricky Williams aside, because I believe he used the drug thing as an excuse to get away from the pressures of his career. Since he was a kid, his talent determined what he was going to do, and everyone around him controlled the reasons he did it. He was just standing up for his own mental health, stepping away from the game. I don't care if he left in the middle of the off-season or before training camp opened. There is NO LOYALTY IN BUSINESS. Had he exploded his knee on opening day, the team could have cut him in an instant, and you would have thought nothing about the integrity of the management. Team or no team, you have to look out for yourself and your family.

After getting fired five years ago from my dream job for political reasons, I fell into a design rut of despair and distrust. In the midst of a pretty terrible economic job market, I had been forced into some pretty bad job situations out of pure need. My attitude and outlook on the design industry, in general, became more and more cynical and jaded. I looked for any way out that I could find. As someone who has known what I was going to do with my career since I was 5 or 6, doubting my skill, talent and motivations became overwhelming. I actually went to an open house at UTI, a local technical school for auto dealership mechanic's certification. Seriously. I wanted that far away from the creative world.

I had become burned out on not only the industry, but attitudes of client and co-worker, salaries, creative expectations, committees, commutes, hours worked and everything else that "comes with the job." Someone else said it right before, we aren't curing cancer or saving lives. We put ink on paper and make things pretty. But in reality, we the designers are the only people who care so deeply about the things we do. In general, who really cares if we use the Microsoft-forced foot mark instead of a correctly kerned apostrophe? No one but us.

You start to re-evaluate your love for everything you have known, and why you take what you do so emotionally. As you come to the realization that fewer and fewer people care about good design, all of the other factors become more poisonous and unhealthy.

Someone else commented about doing what we love being the most important thing. I think that may be somewhat of a misguided concept driven into our heads by our Baby Boomer parents. We are getting burned out at such young ages in all of our fields of work, not just design. We were told to find something we love, and everything else would come. Well you know what? It didn't take us very long to find out that it isn't true. We work our asses off for low pay, no respect and very high stress. It's easy to become disillusioned with this industry. Nothing that we do really matters to anyone, in the grand scheme of things. If you company evaporated tomorrow, do you think anyone would care? Probably not.

About 2 months ago, at the peak of my stress levels, I decided to start my own sign and decal business out of the house, and get away from the day-to-day design rat race. As luck would have it, another job opportunity presented itself, and I quit my existing job, took the new one closer to home, and kept down my small business path. In a very short time, my whole outlook has changed, and my motivation and creative level hasn't been higher since I came out of college 11 years ago.

What I am saying is, sometimes all that is needed is a change of scenery. I don't think I can overstate that enough. New people, new commute, new salary, new clients, new vendors, new computer, new fonts, new everything. You don't need a new career, just a new perspective.


On Dec.04.2004 at 09:22 AM
J. A. Tselentis’s comment is:

sometimes all that is needed is a change of scenery

Doug, how true this is. I'm glad to hear about your situation, and that it's all worked out.

On Dec.04.2004 at 10:05 AM
jo’s comment is:

Not that I have any kind of a long saga to tell, given that I just graduated back in May... but I would add myself to that contingency of people that couldn't walk away from design.

Having grown up with Macs in the home (I can't remember a time without computers, or the internet for that matter), I always found myself designing and coding web sites throughout high school. When my parents questioned me about what I possibly wanted to do with my life, or what I wanted to major in during college, I was never really sure. I didn't want to commit to design (though they gave me articles about how lucrative a field it was at the time) because I didn't want to sit in front of a computer all day.

In college I took Biology and Spanish classes. I thought that if I went into something "useful" or "hands-on" that I would be happy. A few months later I was majoring in English and Studio Art... concentrating in... you guessed it... graphic design. And here I am, an in-house designer, sitting in front of a computer all day, feeling like I never walked away from what I was doing in my teens.

I worry about burning out on this process, but not because of what it is. I worry about what others have said here--that external circumstances can affect so much of your attitude and suck the fun right out of it. I had that experience when I first started working and realized how much of your day a full-time job really took. (All you old codgers (wink) can roll your eyes at the freshouttacollege gal.) "My god!" I said to myself, "A job takes up way too much time... it's not fair!" It was then that I realized how spoiled students can be.

On Dec.04.2004 at 01:41 PM
jarrett’s comment is:

Its weird what changes sometimes because for 8-9 years all I wanted to do was great design and it had to be unique and different (at least to me) to keep things interesting. Then within a period of a month or two I totally changed my perspective and only care about communicating clearly. It doesn't matter if everything is strictly on grid and void of creativity. So that is another way to deal with stress or burnout I guess, you just change your outlook somehow. Some people don't like to do that though... often it isn't an option because of client demands but in general I think most designers can deal with stress and burnout by really looking at what part of our design philosophy is creating stress and then vear away from it. It also helps to lose the ego.

On Dec.05.2004 at 05:16 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Off topic but Jarrett—If you think of designing on a grid and being creative as polar opposites, you need to learn more about grids.

On Dec.05.2004 at 10:52 AM
Doug Carter’s comment is:

Just about everything I do is on a grid. Bauhaus, baby. Don't call that void of creative intent. ;)

On Dec.05.2004 at 11:53 AM
Jarrett’s comment is:

Sorry folks, it was late at night. I didn't mean to speak bad about any style, I was just talking about doing what comes easier as a way to deal with stress and burnout instead of walking away to do something totally different.

On Dec.05.2004 at 11:45 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I can see what Jarrett was trying to say. I've gone that way myself. I no longer worry about the final piece being some incredibly unique CA-annual worthy piece anymore. As long as it succesfully met the goals of the project, it's deemed as a success (as most design should be).

As a web person, I've also gone from stricly graphic design to be more general in terms of weighting the different design disciplines. I enjoy working on accessibility issues as much as designing SQL tables as much as designing a logo for the project. Individually, none of them are likely to be a groundbreaking piece of design, but all together, it often results in a nice cohesive package that I can feel good about.

On Dec.06.2004 at 02:39 PM
lynda decker’s comment is:

Designers for the most part go into the profession completely unprepared for it. It is a profession that requires the ability to analyze, synthesize, write, articulate, and organize information in addition to intense creativity.

In regard to people, you need to have empathy, the skills of an ivy-league psychologist and the ability to read minds. Successful graphic designers instinctively find ways to hone these skills—because there is nothing in the world they would rather do.

While intensely frustrating, graphic design is a profession that has many options. I can tell you from the perspective of one person that has had many different careers in this profession over the past 25 years, if you look hard enough, you can find the one right for you.

Graphic design has too few iconoclasts, and too many copycats. The happiest people in this profession and in this world, define what is important to them, and are brave enough to pursue those things in spite of the odds and irregardless of what anyone else thinks. And they don't put up with abuse on any level.

Except for coworkers that put tape on their mouse.

On Dec.06.2004 at 09:36 PM
J. A. Tselentis’s comment is:

Tape on their mouse? I can’t figure that one out.

On Dec.06.2004 at 11:16 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Jason, see this mouse? If you put tape, like somebody around here in the office did, on the "laser light emitter", it don't work. Frustrating the user. I use a mouse like that.

On Dec.07.2004 at 08:56 AM
Steven’s comment is:

Okay, jumping in late in the game here, but here goes...

Over the course of 20+ years, I've had two burn-out fazes, both from which I think I've emerged as a happier and probably better designer with a greater understanding of the big picture.

The first instance in '89 happened after four years of being an independent designer. The relationships with my three main clients went south for basically petty and exploitive reasons. And then, the final straw was loosing my San Francisco SOMA office space because of the Loma Preta Earthquake. I gave up and decided to just do temp work, while I decide what to do next.

I could've walked away from everything, but there was a lot going on in the profession that still very much intrigued me. The personal computer was revolutionizing the industry. There were new ideas about design and a continuing evolution in creative expression. So these things helped to sustain my interest in design.

However, I realized that I was not doing a very good job of running a profitable business, even though I had won a few design awards and been published in a book. I had gone off on my own probably too soon for the small amount of "real-world" experience that I had at that time. And there were so many different roles that I needed to fill, without really having the commitment to do so. I was still having way too much fun clubbing and partying at night. (I was after all still in my 20's and single.) I also realized that I wanted to have a little financial continuity and security. And so, I decided that maybe what I needed was a corporate in-house design job, hopefully in the still-nacent software industry.

After temping for a while, I landed a job working for Berkeley Systems. (Remember Flying Toasters screen savers?) At the time, I thought that I was moving in the right direction. After four years there and then another tumultuous six years at Macromedia, getting laid-off in '01, I hit my ultimate low.

As many will attest, 2001 was a horrible year. Not able to get any design work for nearly a year, my whole world imploded and fell apart. My life took a dramatic nosedive and even my marriage was pushed to the near-breaking point. I finally hit rock-bottom after getting into a huge self-destructive, late-night/early-morning argument with my wife and bawling my brains out for two hours, curled up in a fetal position. This was absolutely the lowest point in my life! But my wife (god, how I love that woman) talked me back from the "edge." And as the morning light began to grow, I fell asleep in her arms reassured that, somehow, we were going to get through all of this.

It's been almost three years since then, and while I'm still not completely "out of the woods" and there's a more to be done. I can feel things are getting better for me. I've radically down-scaled my lifestyle. I've lost weight and I look better, even though I am getting a little grey at the temples. My relationship with my wife is stronger. And just this last summer, we managed to pull-off buying a "fixer" house in a cute neighborhood for about 100K less than the (ridiculous) Bay Area median house price. Professionally, I've learned and continue to learn more software, which in turn has broadened my skills and abilities. I'm more aware of the local design community, what people are looking for in a freelance designer and more comfortable in that role. And I've been slowly building a modest, yet fairly high-profile, roster of clients that I've worked with directly or indirectly. Most importantly, I've been researching and occasionally writing about a design theory that I've been developing, which has fundamentally changed the way I see and practice design. And it is something that I can see lasting a lifetime of exploration and inspiration, which in turn has brought up deeper understandings and further opportunities for growth.

Well, so now that I've spilled my guts out to y'all, I guess I'll finish by saying, as I think some others have as well, that change is necessary and unavoidable for all living being. In fact, life itself is described as self-generating and adaptive networks.

So maybe burning-out really is just a way of moving forward, in one way or another. As Jason mentions, both of his friends seem much happier now. When it comes right down to it, isn't that the most important thing of all?

On Dec.07.2004 at 06:27 PM
Jesse Courtemanche’s comment is:

Things don't always have to be bad for you to get 'burnt out'. But for those people that do get it bad, like your friends, c'est la vie. Perhaps they'll find solace in woodworking or metalsmithing or maybe they'll return to the design they grew to love. Everyone needs a change of pace from time to time; in fact, I would encourage it.

On Dec.08.2004 at 01:53 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>Except for coworkers that put tape on their mouse.

hey...that's evil. I have to remember that...

Another good evil trick to play is to switch the keys on a co-worker's keyboard. Just pop out the M and N and reverse them, and T and Y, etc. But don't change too many keys or else it's too obvious. They'll return and think they forgot how to type — it'll drive them nuts. Harmless mischief :-)

>So maybe burning-out really is just a way of moving forward, in one way or another.

Steven — I had a similar, but not as draining, night of realization when I was in college. Before I was in design, I studied chemical engineering/premed, and was on my way towards medicine. I was holding down 2 part-time jobs, a full course-load, and a demanding internship at a medical hospital/school. I rarely slept, drank and ate whenever, and was basically killing myself. But one night during the middle of an arduous semester at the end of my junior year, I realized that I didn't want to pursue medicine anymore. I didn't love what I was doing, and would be miserable for the rest of my career. I stayed up the entire night driving, wandering, thinking — and in the morning, I walked into the design department to start a new path in life.

I remember reading somewhere that everyone's life can be distilled down to 5 to 7 momentous decisions that shaped their destiny. Sometimes the pivotal moment is obvious, but often time it's not. I think the burnout that we're all talking about is one such momentous opportunity for change. You've got to trust and listen to yourself sometimes.

On Dec.10.2004 at 10:16 AM
Steven’s comment is:

You've got to trust and listen to yourself sometimes.

Amen to that!

On Dec.13.2004 at 03:59 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

jason's essay really struck a cord with me. just like those two seattle designers, i burned out, too - and in SEATTLE, no less. i also know at least a dozen other seattle designers who "burned out" and quit their design 'careers' in the last 5 years. i, myself, left seattle instead of quitting design. i guess you could say i quit the city first. i don't know if it worked, i still feel pretty burned out by the business of design.

was it the city? lord knows, seattle had become the most competetive city i've ever witnessed in terms of the graphic design profession (and i travel almost monthly to other cities to speak, so i've seen a lot). seattle was always a freelance town - a person just didn't get a "job" in design there - you hustled for projects. the city i now live in (st. louis) is completely the opposite. "freelance" here has always been synonymous with "loser' or 'unemployable'. in seattle it was a badge of honor. the resulting competition for work meant absolutely NO client loyalty and a design community you could not turn your back on for a second. your assistant or employee or student ot friend or even lover would literally steal the client right off your desk. i lost several very promising career moves because i actually paused to consider them first and my assistant jump in front of me and grabbed it. it was common practice. even pro bono was a vicious fight. i lietrally had former students call me up to leave snide messages to the effect of "haha! we took away so-and-so" ( a freebie). it was extremely depressing, especially after 25 years of helping build the city.

since i moved away from that nasty nasty atmosphere, i must admit that my interest in design has sprung anew. the down side is that i've found that design clientele is still locallty based phenomena. i literally have to start from scratch here to build a new set of clients - not easy in a non-freelance town. so, it becomes painfully like starting over without the 30 years of experience i've accrued. strange days.

so, jason's essay hit home. burn-out may be a future big big problem as competition from folks increases as they all buy programs that make them 'good enough' to "do it yourself". why hire folks like us when they can have almost anyone do it cheaper or even do it themsleves. after all, it's FUN, right? or maybe it was just the city?

On Feb.11.2005 at 07:24 PM
Jason T.’s comment is:

Thanks, Art, for your comments. Your reply comes 20 hours after this discussion came up (again) at an AIGA event amongst friends and colleagues. All of the things you mention came up in our discussions, especially the freelance badge. It's easy to envy that which we don't have. And I met a couple of designers last night that were surprised and jealous to here that I'm completely freelancing. I heard exhaustion in their voices, and listened to them talk about 50-60 hour work weeks as junior and senior level designers. I hustle just as much as them: trying to get new business, building client relationships, and working with vendors. I spread myself across a variety of tasks, when they are creating over 100% of the time.

The regional issue is interesting. When I lived in Nebraska, there were more freelancers than firms, and burnout was something that didn't come up—ever. Instead, everyone was looking to get out of that town to do bigger and cooler work with high-paying clients. Dreamland.

I don't know where my Nebraskan-designer-friends are these days, but the folks in Seattle work their asses off, hustle over 48 hours/week at Microsoft as contractors with neither benefits nor stability, or freelance like a mercenary Boba Fett looking for the next bounty.

On Feb.11.2005 at 09:15 PM
michael almond’s comment is:

I agree with Linda D's comment, in essence (if I am interpreting the basic message, of course).

This is actually a topic I am writing an article about; that is, why are designers so frustrated right now?

To be brief:

This should be the gold age of design.

We are entering an era that is based on communicating information, knowledge and ideas-bringing it all to the world-through design and technology. The industrial era is coming to an end; we are running out of natural resources, that is clear.

So why not celebrate the change?

In my opinion, the change this requires in the role of the designer is one we are not prepared for.

This isn't our fault. The golden rule in my training as a designer: Make design transparent. This includes the designer as well.

We have been rewarded by being transparent, essentially invisible, yet are burdened with the responsibility of bringing knowledge to the world that is the result of pressing human and social needs; that is, we communicate other people's ideas and not our own.

I did not go to design school, per say. I went to a university that had an exchange program with an art school. I majored in Art History and Studio Art. The significance is that in the study of Art History, we examined both the "formal" aspects (paint, stroke, color) as well as the "context" of that era; the social, political, cultural changes and realities that defined the era and the work of artists (applies to designers as well). These areas area of study are equal in importance; inseparable as they inform each other.

If knowledge is power, access to information improves the lives of many, why isn't our inherent intelligence in other areas valued and encouraged; part of our professional education?

I think we want to and should be sitting at the big table, to contribute our own ideas about important, meaningful issues, not just communicate those of others. But we must bring context into our work, understanding or considering the "why" is as important as the "how." In other words, develop and use our inherent intellectual capabilities, as well as our visual, creative and technological intelligence.

This will enhance the discussion, improve our "formal" knowledge, our craft, and the lives of others.

On Mar.16.2005 at 07:32 AM