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Last night I was at Roller Derby. A couple thousand Hipsters crammed into the Portland Expo Center, paid $15, and were very loud for three hours. The players endure skating in circles at top speeds, practice four times a week, skimpy outfits, bizarre aliases that would make all mothers blush, and violent collisions. And I forgot to mention, the girls don’t make a cent from this.

So why do they this?

A fan (and roommate) of the High Rollers’ Stella Starlight looked at me incredulously when I asked her for some insight.

“Why? Well, for fun.”


Last week Jelly Helm taught us at Wieden + Kennedy 12 a nice lesson that relates to the “fun” of Roller Derby.

In order to stay healthy in design and advertising, you have to remember your motivation: you. Our industries are built upon pleasing other people; doing your work and getting good or bad feedback from creative directors or our peers. Before you let that feedback control your life, think through why you are doing this job in the first place. It is a slight change in perspective that I think can enhance your own work. As Jelly simply put it, “do work that blows YOUR OWN mind,” not just your creative director or your peers.

You need to be happy with your first. There has to be a lot of “you” in your work for it to be worthy. The reason you were hired, is because you bring a unique voice and approach to your work. It is what they saw in your portfolio. The whole trick of progressing as a creative is bringing that voice out into your work.

Our role models, I think, are a new kind of athlete. The Rose City Rollers I saw define the new D.I.F.Y. culture.

Do It For Yourself.

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.20.2006 BY Jimm Lasser
Kevin Hopp’s comment is:

I didn't know Roller Derby was so hip, did you?

On Aug.21.2006 at 11:03 AM
kevin’s comment is:

D.I.F.Y., I like that, sort of a softer version of the anarchist maxim "living as if..."

But to play the devil's advocate, I'm sure that if the girls aren't making a spot of money, that they have day jobs too. And they're probably pretty dull and boring and frustrating.

I do try to D.I.F.Y. during my 9-5(10-7) but find that it only really works when I'm in a position of genuine control over my own work after hours. I'd like to think they hired me for my "unique voice", but sometimes that's just not how it is.How do you reconcile "doing it for yourself," when you simply aren't?

On Aug.21.2006 at 11:08 AM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

oh yeah, the whole entire reason I was prompted to post before I got all depressed with where I was:

The Rat City Rollers kick serious ass... and I love their logo too!

On Aug.21.2006 at 11:11 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> How do you reconcile "doing it for yourself," when you simply aren't?

You reconcile it with the fact that design is a service industry and you are helping someone else communicate and that fulfilling their needs means that you did your job. So I wouldn't get too enthralled with the DIFY notion... Sure, you have to be passionate about it and be happy with what you are doing but it is not our job to satisfy ourselves – it should simply be a nice side-effect of being a graphic designer.

On Aug.21.2006 at 11:27 AM
felicks suckwell’s comment is:

design is a service industry

sure, if you're a defeatist.

the point jimm is making is that true inspiration doesnt arrive in moderation. which is exactly why he packed up and went west.

On Aug.21.2006 at 11:50 AM
Kevin Hopp’s comment is:

Armin, there are times when we are not satisfying the client at all, but satisfying an ego on the agency side. Thus the question enters: is it our job to satisfy the middle man, or perhaps a Sr Creative with questionable ideas, or even worse the account team?

I think it's rather nieve to believe that our voice shines through on the majority of our work. Jimm clearly points this out when paraphrasing Jelly Helm - we want the voice in your portfolio to show through in your work. In other words, someone stole your voice and we need it back. That someone could be an audience, a brand, an art director, society, trends, etc.

There is so much gray area when we are not DIFY. I think David Carson's self indulgence is quite valid, and if it is freedom and independence that you equate with success, then DIFY is the way to go. Right?

On Aug.21.2006 at 11:52 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> sure, if you're a defeatist.

Felix, I am not defeatist. So could you elaborate what makes providing design as a service defeatist?

On Aug.21.2006 at 12:13 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Hell yeah.

There's a tricky side to this, however. In this day and age, its extremely easy to hear that advice and say, "well shit, the world truly does revolve around me." Which isn't what this is about, at all--the irony in Lasser's/Helm's comments is that its actually about committing yourself to something greater than just your own ego/needs/desires/impulses. It's pretty deep shit.

Because the alternative? The alternative is being a slave to your clients, your boss, your impression of what should or shouldn't be. Hopefully you do this because you believe (strongly, passionately, maybe with some heated idealism) in something and you more or less can't keep your mouth shut so making shit is what you do with your time.

The so-called real world, of course, will tell you that that's an immature, unrealistic attitude best left for college art studio. And the so-called real world hums along merrily either way, whether you stick it hard or just phone it in. But don't think for a moment you'll change a thing or feel all that great about stuff if you forget about what's going on inside of you.

Every now and then, the answer just happens to be: "because I fucking felt like it, that's why." Shame that we're so addicted to logic and rationale and being "on strategy" (and funny how most of the folks who preach that have the hardest time actually doing it anyway).

On Aug.21.2006 at 05:25 PM
dan’s comment is:

Design is a 'creative' service - like hair cutting, and I’d be seriously pissed if hairdressers had the attitude they 'cut' for themselves, they may know what cut is best but they don’t know what looks best on my head….. My point - design's not about selfishly designing everything how you like it, its about getting to know your clients and doing what’s best for them. What makes it awesome and why 'I' enjoy doing it is the reward - seeing a client leave with the perfect match.

On Aug.21.2006 at 10:14 PM
Kkith harper’s comment is:

If you want to indulge yourself by creating work that you find cool, good luck, because you better be damn good at it and find people willing to pay you that have the same taste.

If you're not solving any communication problem, are you really designing at all? Doesn't the root of what we do center around figuring out how to visually communicate a message to other people? There are limits and constraints we work within, that allow us to develop creative solutions. That's the reality of the world... I would hesitate to take my self-expression too far and still label it design that I expect someone to pay me for :)

I think Jimm's point is similar to the argument that you can't fully love someone else until you love yourself. While I think this is certainly true, I disagree with the idea that you can really do your job well by making decisions completely based on what you like. Maybe this isn't the intent of Jimm's article, but it kind of scares me a bit that people might latch onto the idea that "designing for design's sake" is something we all should aspire to.

Your clients don't pay you to satisfy your personal creative urges. Like Armin said, you're providing a service to them, it's TRUE. And like Dan says in the previous post, design is about getting to know your clients and doing what's best for them.

When you're on the verge of being forced to sacrifice your standards on someone else's pure whim (this has happened to us all, I'm sure) you have a choice. You can stand up for what you believe in, or you can let that other person, organization, or ego ruin a good thing. I know that it's easier said that done, to take a stand for what you believe is the right path to take, but you have to do it if you want to succeed.

Dan's right about what's awesome — working together with someone to create the best solution for the problem is the real reward. If you've done your job right, you've sacrified neither your creativity, your ethics and morals, or your sanity at the end of the day. But you do have to sacrifice your own ego.

Do you do the things for the people you love because they satisfy you? Or do you do it for them?

On Aug.22.2006 at 02:18 AM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

Like others have stated, the 'lesson' given by Jelly Helm can be easily misconstrued. I interpret D.I.F.Y. as doing work that not only meets the standards/expectations of creative directors or clients, but going beyond the call of duty and pushing yourself to the limit – not to be confused with self-expression.

On Aug.22.2006 at 10:12 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

"design is a service industry

sure, if you're a defeatist."

I, too, am struggling to see how that is 'defeatist'.

On Aug.22.2006 at 10:13 AM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

A girls gotta eat.

I knew I wanted to "do" graphic design since high school.

I once had a teacher tell me, "Hey, you'd pay someone to do graphic design -- right? So if you have 'graphic designer' after your name on a business card and can eat and pay your bills every month, you win." ( He was wildly successful and ate well. )

Blowing your own mind while satisfying clients AND getting paid *is* an attainable goal.

Do more. Work harder. Pluck vs. luck. Work vs. wish.

Also, I remember my grandpa ( and me ) watching all-girl roller derby on TV back in the '70s. It was pretty wild then. Way before the movie "Roller Ball" with James Caan. I saw an all-girl roller derby TV show this year ( or last ) that was pretty wild, too.


On Aug.22.2006 at 08:07 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:


I was mistaken. I couldn't have seen all-girl roller derby "way before" the movie Roller Ball. I was only six when it was released.

My goof. My apologies.


On Aug.22.2006 at 08:12 PM
Ricardo’s comment is:

I think Jimm's piece about Jelly Helm's idea is being misinterpreted by some readers... Mr. Frankie L has nailed down the concept, in my humble opinion. The idea isn't that you should indulge yourself, but that you should work your ass off and give it your all.

On Aug.22.2006 at 09:00 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

...but that you should work your ass off and give it your all and maybe doing that is easier when you're really working for yourself. If your CD and you simply have "different" opinions/expectations... maybe that's just the sign of bad structure, and a hint to move on?

On Aug.23.2006 at 10:35 AM
David E.’s comment is:

design is a service industry

sure, if you're a defeatist.

In a way, I agree. Design is, of course, a service industry, but you guys are talking about it as though it's either/or...it's about you or or it's about the client. The biggest thing that motivates me, however, is not the fact that I'm helping someone sell more widgets – it's the fact that by doing good work, I'm creating a better experience for the person who sees my work. The consumer who buys the package or just sees it on the shelf or reads the ad for it in the magazine – I create a part of their environment. It doesn't matter how small a part it is, its still very important, because it's a part of the whole.

Designers create the visual world we all live in. I think that's what designers should focus on.

On Aug.24.2006 at 01:15 PM
pnk’s comment is:

David E. is right on.

D.I.F.Y. can also mean doing it so that you help create a world that feels more right to you. I often feel that design offers us moral (yes, moral) choices about how we want to treat others, how much respect to give to people we will never even meet, how willing we are to take risks for uncertain rewards in the interest of doing what we believe to be right... good stuff! The simplest, stupidest business form, for example, can offer a designer the choice of doing something half-assed, because the task does not fulfill some pre-conceived idea of creative expression, or doing something that might make somebody's eyes hurt less, or make their busy day a little less confounding.


Service requires humility. It's not defeatest to want to serve others, it's beautiful, in my opinion.

On Aug.24.2006 at 02:50 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Designers create the visual world we all live in. I think that's what designers should focus on.

Ok, this is just a stream of conscious url share... The site isn't really about the visual world, but does challenge the assumption that designers design the world. http://www.kk.org/streetuse/

On Aug.24.2006 at 04:03 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Good link, Michael. What's really amazing about this is pure ingenuity and that's almost folk design in the same way there is folk art....I imagine the phone companies don't want their logos so prominant in pix of IEDs though...

On Aug.24.2006 at 06:53 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Right, the phone thing is an unfortunate post. Let's just hope they don't show any op art with laptop batteries.

On Aug.24.2006 at 10:08 PM
Random Boy’s comment is:

D.I.F.Y - Do It For Yourself culture.... In a client based relationship isn't that DIY aesthetic lost... are we not employed to do it for someone else?

An argument that is easy to understand - but unfortunantly that isn't why we work 20 hour days and why we spend our loose change on spray mount... We do it for ourselves, and too often we try and find a client who marries our visual with their view. Thats not wrong, tis just different...

Lets celebrate our contribution to the client. I want to put together the graphics and you make the product.

Check it out.


On Aug.28.2006 at 06:46 PM
Miss Canada’s comment is:

I am in agreement with Ricardo and Mr. Frankie L. Read the story again. Jimm questions why would someone practice 4 times a week and put themselves in danger and receive no compensation.
Answer - D.I.F.Y.
The more you put in the more you get out.
The same goes for design. You can half ass-it and your boss or client will still be happy.
D.I.F.Y. - you can still deliver a "service" but it can be something you're proud of and that satisfies you.

I'm in the Detroit Derby Girls and it is a lot of hard work. Not only do we not get paid, WE pay monthly dues and everyone has to be a part of a PR committee or membership committee and do work on the side to keep the league running. "By the skater, for the skater." is our motto and it fits right in with D.I.F.Y.

Check out you local WFTDA Derby league. You'll be surprised to find women of all ages, of all walks of life who are all having the time of their life.

On Sep.07.2006 at 10:57 AM