At one point, I was young and full of vigor. When I got into this industry, I had lots of ideas and I liked to design things for myself and my friends. Most of those things that I made were garbage in retrospect, but that’s how you learn. You keep churning it out, over and over. Day after day.
I was always interested in visual things. I read books and magazines, I devoured design documentaries, I went to art shows and openings for designers, painters, sculptors and anything else I could. I hung out with people that were into the same things. Lunch conversations were about typefaces, paper weights, QuarkXPress, and dreaming up how to one day we could start up a letterpress or a screenprinting company… the idealistic viewpoint that there was a sustainable job out there because people all appreciated the same kind of thing that I loved and appreciated.
Guess what? People don’t give a shit about usability and design. People think that Comic Sans is an appropriate typeface for a resume. The UX is fundamentally broken across every single (painful) banking and financial institution app and website. A basic fundamental grasp of the english language does not appear in the swaths of rogue apostrophe-ridden facebook posts, signage, and/or bad tattoos that we are subjected to ALL THE TIME.
If you haven’t seen it, the second episode of Corporate kinda nails how Powerpoint is a big hot mess. Watch it. Here’s a short clip from the end of episode 2 that is just too good:
(Have I mentioned that I LOVE Lance Reddick? He is just perfect in this show.)
I can’t hear you, I’m too busy SMOKING
If you’ve never worked at a “creative” place of employment, just know that it’s a different environment that your typical cubicle-farm corporate office. When I worked at the newspaper (which was my first real job in the industry), the office didn’t have a normal ceiling. No, THIS ceiling was made out of trash bags that were skillfully stapled up to keep the (most likely asbestos) insulation in place.
The two parts of the building that seperated the salespeople and everyone else looked like it was crudely hacked together from two completely different types of buildings that were scooted next to each other, and the wall between the two was Hulk-smashed to create a passable opening back and forth. There were even jagged bricks that would jab into your arm if you got too close to the side while walking through the “doorway”. (I still have a scar on my upper arm from those goddamn bricks.) And on top of that, the older writers were still legally aloud to smoke at their desks. Think about how absolutely disgusting that seems in the year 2019. Maybe I had a less refined sense of smell back then or something.
The air was musty and thick in that building all the time, with a constant woft of new smoke coming from one of the cubes in the back corner. The news editor smoked. The music editor smoked. The political editor smoked. Even the copy editor smoked. Everyone smoked. It was a weird time. The rest of the staff of course, couldn’t smoke at their desks. The newspaper equivilent of tenure affords only the brightest stars with that privilege.
Smoke breaks happpened about every seven minutes, and the groups varied. Salespeople didn’t usually go out at the same time as the designers. The designers went outside with the writers. The admin people went out front, instead of the back, where everyone else went to smoke.
But the magic wasn’t that it was a smoke break and we were skirting work, the magic was that when you happened to get various people together that didn’t normally interact, things happened. Decisions were made, designs were hashed out, cover stories were planned. Shit got DONE outside in the 3-10 minutes that it would take to have one (or two, depending) cigarettes though. It was the place to be. After awhile, even the few people that didn’t smoke, would come out to join in the impromptu conversations that happened by the back door.
A big ol’ shit sandwich
The agency that I work at now (BaM) used to have a lot of these types of conversations that happened clustered around various desks in our old office building. Since it was an open work environment, it was easy to just start up a conversation about a job/project, and people around would join in. It was always rather cutthroat, in the sense that if you happened to miss once of these conversations, sometimes you weren’t in the loop or you didn’t get vital information about the status of a project. I’m sure that happens some now, but it’s also a lot more structured with the flow of information that we used to be.
I work out of my home office most of the time, so my normal day-to-day is a little different than those that commute and work with other people in-person daily, thankfully. The Creative Technology team that I work with communicates and works through Slack, about 98% of the time. This is helpful, as two of us are in different geographic locations, plus to helps if other people on the team need to work at home or elsewhere, and can stay in the loop. Since most of our work is done online, and not using in-house fileservers (most of the time), it’s a totally sustainable, compact solution. Plus, it helps to make us that aren’t in the office still feel like part of the team. It’s this reason that really helps to enjoy what I do on a daily basis.
Since I’ve gotten older in this industry, this about sums up what I think of when I think about a typical ad agency or startup: McSweeney’s - Welcome to Our Startup Where Everyone is 23 Years Old Because We Believe Old People Are Visually Displeasing and Out of Ideas. While it might not be 100% accurate, gradually aging out of the industry does make you feel like a 24 year old that’s not allowed in the building anymore on the morning of your birthday.
What do you do in that situation? Give up and wait until it’s time to retire and collect your social security benefits? Sure, like that won’t be gone in 20 years, when I’m actually at retirement age… In my case, I guess that I’m going to try to head back to my pre-“broken by the industry, jaded on society, and speaking in nothing but sarcasm” era where I try to just make things again. I’d like hobbies to be enjoyable again. I’d like to just DO for awhile. Because if there’s one thing that getting older has really taught me, is that you really shouldn’t think about what others think and just do what makes you happy.
It’s a shame that it’s really taken me this long to really get that.