#020 : WHAT COMES FIRST (DESIGNER)
Image - Evolutionary Technological Mutations of Apple
Soundtrack - Jlin, Unknown Tongues, 2015
The below text is an endeavour to outline an experience in navigating my own journey in ‘the pursuit of notoriety, respect and financial independence’, with a parallel commentary on the agendas that governed my thinking at each stage.
Who’s agenda are you advancing?
In very simplistic terms everyone and everything is advancing an agenda of some form. From DNA being passed from one living organism down to the next to advance the agenda of that organism’s existence, to brands employing creatives to be creative in order to boost their reputation or sales, to curators selected artists or work for exhibitions, it’s all the advance of agenda. But rather than seeing this in cynical terms it can be an enlightening filter to view the progress of emergence. Here’s what I found…
Context. <1998 - 2015>
I graduated with a degree in Graphic Design in 1998 and followed the traditional path of an employed/employable digital designer from junior to senior to manager to consultant for the next 15 years or so. Then I decided to return to education, not specifically to retrain, but in order to explore new ways of thinking and begin to deal with more significant issues. I initially chose to study Service Design at the Royal College of Art but quickly switched to Design Interactions after a significant realisation regarding the role I now believe design can, and should, play in society. Two years of enlightening postgraduate study, the investment of my entire life savings, and the associated loss of income later I guess I’m now ‘emerging’ again. The wealth in my bank account exchanged for a new wealth in my head, all I need to do now is convert it into value (financial / cultural / social /..).
1: Advancing someone else’s agenda.
This is the bread and butter of most of our lives for most of our lives. The salary job. The commission. The contract. The brief. Being paid to advance someone else’s agenda is one of the most feasible, and often most lucrative means of survival for a creative. The further / better you can advance someone else’s agenda the more lucrative that means becomes. I spent the first part of my career advancing other people’s agenda. For some the wheels inevitable fall off this version of agenda advancing at some point, either through wear out, disillusionment, greater aspiration or a simple belief that there must be other and alternative ways to exist.
It’s probably worth starting by stating that the revenue my practice has generated currently amounts to the low hundreds of pounds, in highly sporadic instances. Although financial success isn’t a key indicator of creative success the financial burden of inhabiting a body and residing in one of the world’s most expensive cities enforces that my practice either pays its way or is subsidised by other income(s). I’m currently taking the later option and heavily leaning upon my former career as a ‘creative strategist’ in advertising. That said my practice is now beginning to advance post <post-graduate> graduation.
2: Advancing your own agenda.
Often the first place we go to after falling out of favour with advancing someone else’s agenda. This can be returning to education, starting your own enterprise, aligning yourself with the more artistic end of the creative spectrum (rather than the commercial end), or just having some down time to think. This was recently the decision I made at the mid-point in my career, through the brief return to higher education. The realities of such a decision, when taken mid-career, shouldn’t be paved over, my income took a nosedive, my creative reasoning got extremely confused, my ability to return to the place I started (should everything go wrong) got significantly diluted.
Phase 1 < July 2016 - February 2017>
One of the first challenges faced after post-graduate education / entry into an emerging practice is how do you define yourself; title, field, self declared commercial or cultural status, industry, organising themes of work, peers, home city, points of validation, it all seems to need a definition. Not having the craft skills necessary to become a convincing artist I’m currently positioning myself as an ‘independent speculative, critical and discursive designer’. It’s seemed specific enough to at least provide a point of reference, and broad enough to allow for multiple interpretations. The second major challenge is what to actually do with your time. I made an early decision to concentrate my practice on a single project. This was a strategic decision based upon a variety of complex and contradictory reasons; it was the project I’d been working upon the longest / it was the project that received the most formal recognition (press) during my graduating show / it was a project that aligns with what I perceive to be the most urgent shifts in our social and technological landscape / it was a project that might at one point become financially self-sustaining. This decision is now thankfully beginning to see initial signs traction.
3: Advancing someone else’s agenda, whose agenda is to advance others agenda.
These agendas are seemingly rare in times of cultural austerity, but do still exist. Grants, funds, subsidies, residencies, competitions and mentoring are all essentially offered to help advance those who’d probably struggle to achieve their ambitions in any other way without such help. The agenda of this agenda is advance others agendas, and as such is a god send when found and secured.
Phase 2 < March 2017 - beyond >
I have recently been invited to take up a two year residency in - temporarily redacted - after what was seemingly a highly competitive application and acceptance process. This will hopefully provide a permanent desk for my embodiment as a designer, open a new peer network, underscore my practice with the validation of a respected institution, introduce additional cross-institution opportunities.
4: Advancing your own agenda through advancing someone else’s agenda.
This is the mid ground between self autonomy and starvation and shouldn’t be confused with point 1, which was the equation of selling creative services for hard cash. Advancing your own agenda through others agenda is much more of a symbiotic relationship, both parties should significantly benefit from this route. Opportunities begin to arise in the emerging process when you realise that your agenda is never only “just your agenda”, it will always inform / enhance / advance / qualify / quantify or even positively challenge someone else’s own agenda somewhere.
My aim is to now invest my efforts into developing alternative search engines under the brand / platform / node of nano-resistance I’ve entitled else. This decision parallels similar strategies of Emerging Journal, but without spreading investment and risk over a portfolio of projects. I’m pretty much going all or nothing on one project. The practicality of this strategy will involve offsetting the immediate financial reward of salary or individual commissions in favour of building something of shared/collective cultural significance in the hope that it might translate into ‘value’ at some time in the future. I can’t pretend to have much more of a sophisticated career, business or personal plan than this strategy at present, because I don’t.