I think it can be universally agreed that the last couple of years have been a bit, well, testing. There has been much recording of the tragedies of our fellow occupants of Earth, on which I am wholly unqualified to comment, and disinclined to add my own story to this ever growing archive of grief, heroism, sacrifice, corruption and incompetence. Don’t get me started on the last two of those. Add this to the surgery that kept me immobile for half of 2020, I have inevitably been thinking about the future, and in particular, my own.
The first part of 2021 was period of self reflection – and a fair amount of head scratching, staring out of the window, and sighing, much to the annoyance of my wife, who as I have mentioned before has every right to call herself ‘long suffering’ but doesn’t, for which I am grateful. I came to the conclusion that changes must be made. Big changes too. I was expecting the spend much of this year exploring my options and doing everything I could to to bring about opportunities for change, whilst making a living as a freelance designer.
But April was a whirlwind of activity, opportunity, preparation and presentation, and yes, changes came about. I got a job.
The life of a freelance graphic designer is largely enjoyable and varied, unencumbered with the burdens and internal politics of regular studio situations. It can also be hit and miss at times. Rough with the smooth, etc.
Brexit + pandemic = more rough than smooth.
I first began considering returning to salaried employment in January and thought about what opportunities might reasonably be hoped for and what I would need to do in order to be a genuine prospect to the kind of studio I wanted to be a part of. After an ambitious start to this process, my options were beginning to look decidedly meagre. After all, youth was definitely not on my side – and although experience is always wanted, it comes with a price attached.
These two things should not have a direct effect upon each other, but my last stint in studio (as a freelancer) in one of the big agencies was a real eye-opener: not only was I the oldest person in the entire building (and probably 25 years older than the creatives I was placed with – one of them actually though that I was someones dad come to see them at work!) but also, the younger freelancers were working for hourly rates that sounded good in the early 1990’s. Youth is cheaper – easy maths.
So I widened my approach to opportunities for in-house design positions. Probably more opportunities for an experienced designer, but also fewer positions opening and the likelihood of uninspiring subject matter. Still, it was worth looking.
At this point, it may be worth revealing another thread to the whole endeavour. As you have probably deduced, I was in the full flow of a swollen river of anxiety, and encountering new, more existential crises to wrestle with:
I have reached an age where I care far more about what I’m doing and for whom, than for how much it pays. We have enough fancy packaging for our non-essential consumption requirements, and more than enough packaging discarded in our streets, countryside and seas, as well as being freighted to other countries to create environmental problems over there. I know that graphic design isn’t the direct cause of these problems, but it has played an enormous role in the proliferation of ‘disposable’ consumer goods, and I accept that my meagre professional input (in the grander scheme of things) has contributed to the distressing state the planet is now in.
But I need to earn a living. I have a family and the usual financial commitments you would expect at my age (53). Needs must.
But I wanted to do something that made a difference to others. It was suggested that that I go back into teaching, but I definitely couldn’t do that again.
Or was it time for a career change? Since going to art school in 1984 I have spent my life in graphic design in some way, including a goodly stretch as a lecturer, helping to bring on the next generation of designers. Apart from my school exams, all my training and qualifications have been graphic design related. I have a Masters Degree in Design Practice. My options for change are somewhat limited. Schoolboy dreams of space exploration are not an option.
Nope. Just design. So I scoured the web looking for the ‘just right’ opportunity and was very selective in my applications. And bloody hell, I believe that I found it.
After three rounds of interviews I was made an offer and I now work for an educational technology company that produces learning materials for students preparing for medical school exams. As well as producing a lot of technical content, I am responsible for creating visual marketing materials and developing the corporate brand.
I believe that this is the ideal solution to my situation: I am producing 100% digital work + the business exists to help young people into medical school.
So my time as an independent freelancer has ended. I have enjoyed the variety, challenges and opportunities of being a self-employed graphic designer, but have now fully embraced regular employment and all the advantages and disadvantages that brings.
So I’m going to start making stuff again, and sharing it here just like in the old days! I hope you’ll stick around for a while…
While looking through endless recruitment sites I genuinely saw ads for several Graphic Ninjas, a Creative Disruptor and a Design Unicorn. I kid you not.
Design Unicorn, FFS.
Not one ad specified critical thinking, drawing skills or problem solving as an essential requirement. Most were just lists of software you needed to be an expert in. I’m just saying.