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.

No comments: