Friday, March 30, 2007

Raw and Honest

An interview with graphic design Christian Teniswood

Who are some of the clients you’ve worked for?
No naming dropping here but big ones. The type that make students spit when they hear your name in sell-out disgust. But it was what I always wanted. I need to feel compelled to wear a suit to presentations. A bit of public speaking pressure and a thin tie bring out the best in me.

What should design students put in their folio?
It doesn’t really matter. I’d focus on your coffee making skills.

Anything else?
Oh, ok. Ideas. Ideas. More Ideas. Then a range of styles. Emphasise your design strengths. Don’t try to sell any poor imitations of the latest design trend. If you can’t do abstract 3D crystals with twenty five glowing layers of photoshop wizardry better than everyone else, then don’t show it. You are not Rinzen, you are not David Carson, you are not your khakis. You are the same decaying matter as the last fifty juniors who proudly showed up with a folio of cloned work. Unless you’re not. Then you'll be remembered.

What salary range should I be expecting as a junior designer?
That’s dependant on experience and the quality of your cappuccino.

Do you work long hours?
Think the eye scene from a clockwork orange. You do this job for love, not money. I walk uphill both ways to work, barefoot in the snow, just for the privilege to be in this industry. Someone is buying your ideas. Sure, they seem to come cheap compared to other career choices but it’s still the only thing I can ever see myself doing. Except for jelly wrestling, I could have been great at that. Damn trick knee.

Do you get to design much in your first year at a design studio?
On the good days the creative director will look at your best etch-a-sketch doodle and give you some feedback.

What was your first project as a junior designer?
It was an in-house exercise to develop a new 27th letter for the alphabet. I was asked to present my sketches to the team. I was full of enthusiasm as I pinned the work up on the wall in front of the assembled designers. The creative director then asked me to vocalize each so he and the excited congregation could better understand the concepts behind them. I pointed eagerly at each sketch and through lemon sucked lips vocalised my literary inventions. ‘Xerg!…sshdtx!…psssthx!…mthuph!….ghweghle!” I combined unheard before tones and flying spit into new worlds of alphabetic wonder. Saussure would have been proud.

As were the assembled creatives who were almost crying in an attempt to contain their laughter. ‘Well done’ said the creative director as he patted me on the back and handed me an etch-a-sketch. ‘You’ve earned this.’

How important are ideas?
Stupid question really. The more ideas you can have, the better a designer you become. What’s even more important is to never criticise an idea ever again, especially in team environments. Trust me, this isn’t easy. Your colleague shows you a mark that looks like a limping donkey in need of a mercy killing. You’re tempted to load your gun and say ‘Clipart might be free, but it’ll cost you your soul’ but instead (and for the rest of your career) you say ‘Interesting. Let’s keep it in the mix, and keep exploring’. He might come up with something better, or not, but his confidence won’t be dented and he’ll pay the compliment back the next time you proudly present your own struggling mule. The last thing any studio needs is fear of presenting ideas (you need lots of ideas to find a good idea, even more to find a great one).

Are the deadlines strict?
I don’t want to talk about it. We’ve lost good men to those ‘deadlines’.

Do you work with the latest technology?
Yes. The couches in reception impressively fold out into beds.

As a designer do you see the world differently to others?
I sure do. Where others see buildings, streets and corners I see strategic locations from which to launch water-balloons at unsuspecting passerbys. This is what separates us from the monkeys.

Is a career in design everything you thought it would be?
Absolutely. My children will be dentists, but this career is everything to me.

Is a little arrogance required to succeed in this industry?
I’m not sure. I don’t talk to other designers much, their lack of talent sometimes annoys me. I just focus on myself.

Other advice?
Be nice to each other. Backstabbing has no place in this industry. I’m going to steal an analogy used by Luke Sullivan in his fantastic book ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’ in regards to teamwork. Whether you’re the mac master, mac monkey or coffee boy (read junior designer) just remember it’s a three legged race. One falls, we all fall.

So work together and don’t be afraid to ask for help or opinions from the guys you work with. We’re not here to practice the gentle art of making enemies (and coffee boys have long memories and a revenge list of people to crush on their rise to the top).

Thanks Christian
No, thank you.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A career in corporate branding

I vividly remember when a fellow student called me a corporate whore during my final year at university. I was so proud. My career advisor had told me I didn’t have the grades for corporate whoring, but with hard work and persistence I had eventually proved them wrong.

I’d struggled through my design degree cursed to keep my annual report fantasies to myself… whilst my talented but judgmental classmates used their dreads to paint with and repeatedly put acetate sheets into the photocopier.

My university lecturer told me after I graduated that he’d seen the corporate whore in me quite early. My persistent questions on what company we were designing for, what their brand positioning was and who was the market demographic being targeted had rung the warning bells with him. He’d often told me that there were studios other than Pentagram and Chermayeff and Geismar were not the rockstars I envisioned them to be. But I would not be dissuaded and to this day I’m glad I kept true to my course.

Having now been whoring for quite a while, I can share some of the perks of selling out:

1. You make enough money to spare some change when you see former classmates drawing in chalk on the sidewalk.
2. You can make up fancy titles for yourself like ‘Corporate Design Manager’ or ‘Branding Design Principal’
3. You actually get invited to the type of functions where you need to make up fancy titles.
4. You do design that people who are not also designers get to see as well.
5. You realize you can finally understand people with a marketing degree and their secret language of abbreviations.

There are cons of course that I should warn the weak and powerless about, dare they consider signing the contract held by the guy in red.
1. The body never adjusts to sleep deprivation.
2. Sometimes, late at night, you get an itch to do ‘real’ design.
3. Say goodbye to white space. It’s hard losing a friend.
4. Screen radiation is like a reverse tanning booth.
5. Stress makes hair fall out and there can be only one Sean Connery.
6. Clients don’t care whether you use a humanist or neo-humanist sans. You have to learn to cry on the inside.

This is an amazing career choice, for a relatively young but growing profession. The current crop of designers will determine the future value of it as a respected career path. We're all after profession respect for design but it will take time and a concerted effort. See you at the top people.

Friday, March 2, 2007

It's not life or death, it's more important than that

I still remember my first sports victory like it was yesterday. I was competing in the high school athletics 400m sprint, and upon hearing the starter's horn, I was off like a shot. Running like a greyhound after a rabbit, I quickly left the other runners lagging behind. As I rounded the final bend and crossed over the finish line, I raised my arms in triumph.

It was only then I noticed the starter waving me on. I walked over and asked what the problem was and more importantly, where I could pick up my trophy. It was then he informed me this was the 800m sprint, and I still had a lap to go. I had an important decision to make at that point but it came to me easily. Having already tasted glory that day, I discreetly stepped off the track to let my fellow competitors surge past. The dizzying heights of sports stardom were not for me alone, and I felt it only right to let someone else also touch the pinnacle that I had ascended.

I retired at the end of that year, much to the benefit of professional athletes everywhere, and decided to take my competitive spirit into the realms of graphic design instead. Now, we may call graphic design a career, or a profession, or even a lifestyle, but rest assured, this is a popular misconception. It's really just a game.

Design is a bit different from the usual perception of a sport though. We tend to wear our uniforms on our desktops, and our shoes are deceptively inappropriate for running in most instances (not that designers can't run, just yell 'free fonts over here' and watch them turn into cheetahs).

For example, designers appear to like friendly collaborative projects, but underneath that teamlike surface, there's a simmering competitive spirit. This can better be described as personal ego stroking or an opportunity to display your superiority. Every designer likes to impress their colleagues, but nothing brings a smile to the face like crushing an opponent with an award winning concept. Sketches for a brand identity can very quickly turn into a spaghetti western style showdown. "You laughin' at my logo?" are words you never want to hear uttered in any studio. I've seen blood on the walls once too often and other sights that no amount of scotch can wash away. Trust me, I've tried...images of our christmas party massacre are embedded in my psyche. And finding the senior designer mauling the PA half blinded me (helping her stretch out a cramp my ass).

Like any sport, design has its teams, clevery disguised as a studio outfit. The coach, often referred to as the creative director, will usher the team together to motivate them on the new project that has just entered the arena. You’ll often hear a stirring speech that suggests everyone strive to achieve a personal best on this new brief, especially as a poor result means a weekend training session awaits. The fresh faced intern usually stumbles in at the worst moment and gets selected for mascot duties. This normally consists of wearing a monkey suit and massaging the old veterans, but hey, you gotta earn your stripes no matter how ugly.

Studying your opponents is also a crucial requirement in being successful. A quick look at any recent work can often be an indicator of whether a studio is back in form, or struggling through an injury plagued pre-season. It's important to keep an eye on the competition, if you hear through the grapevine that Studio X has upgraded, is sporting new gear and recruited some top draft picks, they're gonna be running faster and jumping higher than before. How can you level the playing field after that? Well, it all comes down to training. And sabotage.

Nothing like sending a friendly email with porn attachment to your buddy at Studio X. Knowing his resistance level to such things is as good as his golf game, he's bound to save it to his personal collection without second thought. Thank goodness the moral judge in you has also sent an anoymous email to his boss. The explanations will keep him off the pitch for at least a week.

If sabotage isn't your thing, then it's back to training. Design is like a box of chocolates. The more you eat the fatter you get. And because we're sportsmen, we can't give up chocolate. That would be quitting. No, wait, got my analogies mixed up. What I meant to say is design is like a boxing fight. If you can't do the Tschichold shuffle, or the Bringhurst bob and weave, all you can hope for is to land a lucky Akzidenz Grotesk. So when your opponent can tell you where the umlaut in muller-brockman goes, you're in a world of trouble. It's all about setting PBs. Start exercising when time presents itself with a sprint column setting, a triple-jump of the ISO page systems and a jog through the humanist sans-serifs. Strong counter-punch concepts and design theory jabs are the only weapons that will hold you in good stead when you're up against the ropes being mauled by a young gun and his up to date adobe arsenal (hey, Illustrator 8 might not have everything, but it keeps me honest).

So keep your eyes peeled for the studios that are in form and setting the pace for next season. Each year brings a new group of young rookies hoping to knock the veterans of their pedestals and take their titles. Just remember to be a good sportsman and shake hands after the fight and when the ref isn't watching, throw in a low-blow.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sleep is like the unicorn; rumored to exist, but I doubt I will see any

Phew, getting a bit late. Time to go home. Remember, it's all about balancing work and life. I mean this, you'll do better work on six or seven hours sleep and impress the creative director more than being found curled up under the desk in the morning. Plus who knows what photos the janitor takes of you while you are sleeping (well, I suppose you'll find them on the net soon enough). So get up, press the off button and turn your back on your brain sucking friend, the mac. He'll be waiting for you in the morning, trust me. He might say mean things and crash like a PC when that presentation is due, but he's hooked on you like a bad tattoo (who'd have thought flaming skulls would have gone outta fashion!) So get up and leave, unless it's waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye like mine does. Then you better get back to work. I mean, people are watching and you need to clock in at least twelve hours for professional credibility. Especially if you can't churn out the brilliant ideas like that guy who sits next to you and smells like incense and bongwater. That guy comes in late, spits out award winners and is gone by seven every day. Damn. Back to work.

Sick 'em rex

Ok, not a graphic design related story but I share it anyway to warn others of the danger

It seemed like any other morning, if anything it was extraordinary in being so ordinary. I'd awoken from a strange dream of leprechauns riding unicorns to the soundtrack from Grease, so the day had started off as most of my days had ... Except that I was running a little late.

I quickly prettied myself up in front of the mirror and dashed out the front door with barely time to wave goodbye to my teddybear. Running across the carpark toward the bus-stop I knew my timing was critical.

Across the overpass I sped, fearing to look up the highway and see Bus 961 preceding me. I danced down the stairs to the bus-stop to the startled amazement of several locals who were shying their eyes for some reason. I paused to consider their reactions before doing my fly up. Who'd have thought free-balling would be the first bad decision of the day?

Having under-estimated my superb physical condition, I'd reached the bus-stop early enough to catch my breath, with no bus yet in sight. Being quite over-heated and sweaty with my morning run, I walked around the edge of the bus-stop and stopped near the bin whilst fanning myself to cool down.

Thirty seconds passed as I stood on the spot before I noticed what felt like small electric shocks in my legs. I thought 'This is why I don't exercise. It hurts. I don't like it'. Still, I like to think my pain threshold is quite manly, so I stood still and ignored the little zaps that were coursing up my appendages.

I saw the bus come over the horizon and thought, 'about time, I need to sit down. These damn zaps aren't going away while I stand here.' In fact, they were spreading. I started feeling like I was tingling all over with painful little shocks, from my legs to my chest and neck. Even my nether regions were not immune. Ouch!

True, a strange reaction to the first exercise I had undertaken in three months but my own body turning against me in anger was nothing unusual. My brain reacted similarly to most of the exertions I tried to put it through.

So as I sat down next to an Auntie on a packed bus I noticed a small ant crawling along my arm which suddenly bit into my wrist with wreckless abandon. 'You bastard. Time to fly.' I flicked it off and noticed his brother was hiking up my shoulder. 'Oh, so you bought your friends? Now it's personal. Join your family in hell' I whispered as I flicked it onto an unsuspecting passerby.

It was then I started to make a connection.

Zaps all over body.

Crawling angry bitey ants.

Hmm. Could it be?

Worriedly, I began to massage my legs and thighs much to the horror of my fellow passengers who understandably thought I was touching myself. I stamped my feet and my fears were realised when a significant number of writhing ants fell out of my pants. Even in their death throes they were crunching their mandibles together in a last gasp effort to inflict more pain upon me. These were serious soldiers I was riddled with, kamikaze to the last! I started whacking myself all over, including places that no ant should ever venture near. Legs, arms, chest neck and nether regions were punched, whacked, grabbed and twisted. The auntie nearest to me actually began to try and squirm away in genuine fear. Some averted their eyes, thinking the strange foreign devil was experiencing a demonic episode. Still, there was little to do but bare with the pain until my final bus-stop appeared.

Faster than a speeding bullet I was off and into the Futurebrand office toilets, stripping down to essentials only (my socks of course) and vigorously rubbing myself all over (and not in the good way). Many ants died that day, and I still carry their bitey little scars on my body as I write this. Yet, as the general of the opposing army, I felt proud of my enemy's accomplishments. They feared not my size, or the thought of crawling into my underpants to fiercely bite at my tender spots. As Homer Simpson said in similar blissful ignore 'Ow. Oww. Owww! They are defending themselves somehow!'

Their queen would be proud. I will not stand near the bus-stop bin again.