It’s almost been a year since I gave a little spiel at I-Manifest as part of the Sydney Vivid Festival. I thought I’d share an adaptation of the talk and admit I found it interesting to read over my notes from the original presentation and reflect on everything that was going on at the time.
Keep in mind the audience was high school students, an age group that doesn’t really know what being a designer means in the every day-to-day life. They don’t know how to use the software and they wouldn’t understand any jargon about art direction or puns about typography. It had to be as simple as possible without under-minding their intelligence.
Hi, hello, how are ya?
So you’re thinking of pursuing a career in the creative industry? I’m going to do my best to help you understand the daily life of a designer without: (a) making it sound really fucking hard and (b) swearing too much. I turned 23 last month and believe it or not I too was once 16 and thought that sounded really bloody old. So let’s rewind 7 years—who was 16 year old Gabby, and what was she doing?
I’m originally from a ‘country’ city called Tamworth, and when I was a teenager it was the last place I wanted to be. In my mind, it consisted of only me, a few cows and the Golden Guitar. I had always been creative kid growing up, tinkering with things around the house and painting the odd fruit bowl here and there. I didn’t quite understand that I could make a living from this though, the idea of converting creativity into currency seemed a little crazy. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t spend my days painting fruit—but that is what got me started, and everybody has to start somewhere.
Fast forward 2 years to 18 year old Gabby. I’d been accepted into Billy Blue and made the move to the big smoke. For someone who was about to start a design degree, I sure knew nothing about design. Billy Blue changed everything. It was the door into a world I didn’t know existed, and yet it’s the one I would live in from that moment forward. It opened my eyes to so many things about the world—I had come from a place where I didn’t know anyone who spoke a second language fluently, and suddenly I couldn’t swing my sketch pad without hitting at least three Swedes.
My first gig in the design industry was working at a local letterpress studio where I learned all about old school printing methods, mixing ink by hand and beautiful paper stocks. After spending some time in a mainly print-orientated environment I moved onto a branding and strategy agency. There I worked on corporate accounts and was exposed to large scale projects ranging from airport signage, property development, cancer foundations and graphic design associations.
So here we are, present day, 2014. I’ve been freelancing full-time for the last 3 months and I couldn’t be happier with that decision. So what does ‘freelance’ mean, exactly? It means that I earn my living by being self-employed or hired by different companies to work on particular projects. Essentially, right now I’m running a one person business, managing myself and my own clients. Apart from having to fight the urge to stay in my matching flannelette pyjamas all day, it’s been extremely rewarding calling all my own shots and working on projects I enjoy.
Now I know what you’re thinking—why is this girl half my height here to tell me her life story? Because if pursuing a creative career is of interest, I want to help entice you. Here are a few facts and fallacies I didn’t know when I was your age, but probably should have.
Fact: If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life
It’s a well known cliché but I believe it to be true. Everyday is a chance for me to do something new and exciting and I try to embrace that as much as possible. Yes I do work—I work hard and I work long hours but it’s driven by passion and the variety of projects I do above anything else. On an average day I could be working on a branding project, designing stationery, an app, drawing icons or developing a website. The constant change of pace keeps me on my toes, while being my own boss provides me with a flexible lifestyle of my own choosing.
I can work from home, a co-working space, the library, a cafe ... I’ve even taken my laptop and worked from Bondi Beach on a nice sunny day. Technology has made it possible to transport my business wherever I like.
Fallacy: ‘Art’ School is easy
The biggest struggle of all is people undervaluing what you do. ‘Art’ school is what a lot of people will think of your design degree and you have to persevere. Design is tough so don’t sign up to this thinking it’s going to be a joyride on the teacups. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, a mix of failure and triumph.
So hang on a minute—I’ve just told that you don’t work a day in your life and now I’m telling you its going to be really tough? What’s going on here? Stay with me … Let’s look at Olympic swimmers for example. Do you think they love giving up sleeping in every morning to wake up at 5am? No. Jumping into freezing water and swimming 2km? Doubt it. They give up a lot to put the time and effort into what they do. They make certain sacrifices through their journey because above everything, they want that gold medal. It’s worth so much when you love something, and when you believe it has value. There is no gold medal at the end of university. There’s no timekeeper or scoreboard. But there is reward, and the hard work always pays off.
Fact: Community always outweighs competition
The design world can be pretty competitive at times but in my experience community outweighs it tenfold. When you are passionate about a cause and love what you do, being surrounded by like-minded people results in all kinds of collaboration. Animators and photographers, illustrators and writers, we all join forces to inspire change. I feel like I’m creating a visual of a weird hipster Captain Planet parody, but this industry has an amazing community and it gives me (personally) a sense of belonging.
CreativeMornings is a perfect example of this. Originally taking off in New York, CreativeMornings is a monthly breakfast lecture series held in cities all over the world. I help organise the Sydney Chapter with a great group of people, who all volunteer their time to put on free events for the CM community. We approach Sydney’s leading creatives to talk about different topics and all kinds of people roll in to hear what they have to say. Community isn’t necessarily local either, it can span continents and have global reach. That’s when you realise you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself.
Fallacy: You’ll never get a job being creative
Time for another one of my weird anecdotes. Studying a design degree is like going to a seven story food court. You originally went there to get sushi, but then you liked the look of the burritos. The smell of stir-fry is making you salivate but salad is probably the safer choice. So many options available … what to have for lunch? That’s the great thing about having a degree so versatile—you can eat the same thing every day if it fills and satisfies you. But if one day you decide it doesn’t hit the spot anymore, there’s still plenty on the menu. I had a think about what my friends from uni have been doing since we graduated from the same course and listed advertising, tattooing, candle making, ceramics—you can honestly turn your career in any direction of your choosing.
Most people who study design, do become designers though. When I hear people saying that there is a massive oversupply of graduate designers I have to say I do agree—however I don’t believe there’s necessarily an oversupply of good ones.
Fact: You’ve gotta be in it to win it
Don’t learn this lesson the hard way and get involved in everything. Nothing is more annoying than wishing you had done something when it’s too late. There is a design conference in Melbourne called AgIdeas and they run an award called Newstar. All you have to do is submit your work and out of Australia and New Zealand they award two travelling scholarships. I love winning, but in 2012 I was at the conference and I hadn’t entered. Seeing the shortlisted applicants on stage lined up in a row, I realised I had no chance if I didn’t even give it a shot.
The following year it was my name they announced as one of the winners, and before I could say buongiorno, I was on my way to Italy. In a small romantic town called Treviso, I met talented people from over 20 different countries. I drank lots of wine and ate even more pizza.
Fallacy: Some people are just born creative
It drives me crazy how the world thinks this! I’m not buying it, sorry. Yes some people excel in certain areas but that mainly comes down to being interested in the first place. We are all creative as small children because of our infinite curiosity, I think it’s sad how some people lose this as they grow up. You can learn processes on how to think creatively as simply as you can learn english or mathematics. The part that most people struggle with is that the answers aren’t always as black and white as the other subjects. Another misconception is that to be a designer you have to be good at drawing. Obviously being good at drawing helps, but there are so many other ways to communicate ideas. At the end of the day, communicating with people is what being a designer is about.
So yes, I love what I do and believe there are so many great reasons to pursue a career in this industry. I want you to know that as creatives we too get stressed from projects. That we are under pressure by deadlines like many other professions. That we get depressed when ‘How I Met Your Mother’ comes to an end and turn to eating a family sized jar of Nutella. And that we too, often undervalue what we do and our contribution to society.
But you guys are in control. As lame as it sounds, you have the power to shape the future of the creative industry into whatever you want it to be.
I hope you’re all up for the challenge.