Abstract Expression

After a decade of working as a designer, I’m not sure that I’ve done much more than refine my ability to make things presentable in anticipation of a sale — I’m the rag full of spit and polish that buffs a showroom car. I’m not putting that down as a way for making a living, as lots of the smartest people I know have dedicated themselves to much the same thing… but in my darker moments, when I’m indulging my inner Holden Caufield, I wonder if 21st Century American society amounts to nothing more than a roomful of salesmen all trying to sell things to one another.I say this because of late I’ve been feeling that this mode of living — or this way of working — has effectively drained me of something essential: an ability to originate, to create. I’ve so willingly accepted the indoctrination of free markets that I’ve become seemingly incapable achieving anything outside of those markets. Whether the blame can be laid down to a constraint of time, energy or will, I think it’s been years since I’ve been able to make a drawing, and to derive a sense of satisfaction from the drawing itself, rather than from its ability to grease the wheels of the sale of some product.

Instead, everything I do is about organizing information for commercial interests — whether it’s under the rubric of contractual design or the pretense of venues of personal expression like this weblog (which is, in my own admission, too often a report on things to be consumed). Again, there may be nothing so awful about that, but sometimes I find those interests are so far removed even from the actual transaction — the actual exchange of money for goods — that the end product can be described as nothing more than an abstraction of meaning, which is to say a kind of derivative of some original value. Without conceding entirely to cynicism, I have to confess a suspicion that this may be all design amounts to.



  1. Well, design is your job… I personally don’t believe jobs are supposed to be creative endeavors anyway. Sometimes it’s nice to be creative at a job to keep yourself entertained though. A way to kill time, I guess.

    Either way, I’ve noticed that my creative output can become stagnant if I don’t discipline myself into doing something creative routinely. Much like physical exercise (which I have even less motivation for keeping up with), I sometimes have to force myself to do stuff.

    So I don’t think it’s rampant consumerism per se, just the lack of free time and the drive to utilize it creatively. All caused by our oppressive capitalist free-market bullshit excuse for a society, of course.

    Death to the 40 hour work week!!!!!!

    PS: I always liked the covers in your old site. Bring that shit back man….

  2. Two ideas:

    1. Take a break. Get away. Nothing kills the soul like starting up a company and running like mad 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. Take a trip. See some nature. Bring a sketch book.

    2. Try some pro-bono work. Find a issue or a non-profit organization you can get excited about and propose some design help. Could be a redesign of a Web site, brochure, identity, postcard, poster, or even just one-page fact sheet. Find some design work with a purpose that’s not closing some sale. Or if it’s more creative expression you seek, try a performing arts org. They will often take creative risks with their graphics that other orgs will not. In NYC there’s no shortage of little dance or off-off-Broadway theater troupes competing for public attention.

  3. Both good suggestions…

    1. A break sounds like a terrific idea. Starting a company basically enslaves vacation time — I can never wander too far from the city for fear of missing out on some work opportunity or crisis. If I had my way, I’d take a long trip overseas.

    2. I was actively working with a non-profit about 4 years ago, and juggling that load with client work was a real struggle… but you’re right, it was enormously satisfying and I’m proud of pretty much all the work I did then.

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