February 19, 2007

On being creative in a vacuum

Today I had my first real designer tantrum. I've often played the part, casting stacks of paper to the floor, smashing mock-ups and yelling "how can I be expected to create genius ideas when...(insert rub here)." But never has such an outburst been genuine. To see how I crossed the threshold into the realm of the temperamental artists, I have to take a step back.

My first job in design was at Hinge Incorporated, a corporate branding firm based out of Washington DC. With four creatives, we were a small outfit big on corporate culture. The creative jam sessions; the company field trips; the weekly traffic meetings; the homework assignments; the studio open houses; the food eating competitions; and best of all, the simulated designer tantrums, kept us sane and thinking creatively.

Flash forward to present day. I'm the lone graphic designer working for a small print brokerage named dbp | chicago based out of—you guessed it—Chicago. While this position rarely keeps me in the office past 6:00, and challenges me less then Hinge ever did, I find my stress level has actually increased rather then subsided. Why is this? Shouldn't my stress level be in direct relation to the external pressure placed on me?

Along with the late hours that are no more, and the all-seeing art director who doesn't exist to criticize my work, my current job lacks the corporate culture that made my experience at Hinge so enriching. The gap between then and now becomes particularly clear when I recall the simulated tantrums that made working at Hinge so exciting. The only rule that governed these outbursts was not to erupt while our marketing head was cold calling. At my current job, such a display of mock volatility would be received with puzzled expressions. Perhaps the office manager would even toss on her HR hat and call me out for bad behavior. Needless to say, a creative person can only last so long in this carefully controlled environment before things go haywire.

That's why I lost it today (for real this time) when a sales rep asked me to convert a Word document into a print ready 3 color PDF—"and, um, I need it now." I obliged, but not without copious amounts of heavy sighs and audible swearing, followed by a livid demeanor for the remainder of the day. While this was far less dramatic than many tantrums I've staged in the past, I nevertheless felt embarrased for behaving so immaturely before onlooking coworkers.

Perhaps, the job of advocating culture in my office rests on my shoulders. Everybody says I'm the creative thinker of the bunch. I could be the go-to guy for good vibes; the man in demand for corporate shenanigans—also available for organizing retreats and brainstorm meetings. After all, who is more unprofessional, a designer who throws fake tantrums suffused with humor every so often, or one who throws the real thing somewhat less often?


Anonymous said...

A, Sounds like you had every right to be! Least your not in a corporate BS environment where everyone thinks there the "shit". You know you do good work and you know you dont deserve to be trampled on or treated like the "i need it now" type. Brush it off as nothing more than a piece of dust landed on your shoulder. The person probly deserved it. I always tell myself "im not a doctor, i dont save lives, so its really not that big of a deal". That seems to work, but dont let the stress get to you.

Studiostein said...

If only it were so easy. Granted, I do have the ability to take a step back, breathe, and (attempt to) release the stress. Unfortunately though, my company has enabled our clients to get away with the "do it now" mentality for so long, that they feel entitled to abuse us. It's our own fault and I know I've contributed to it. I think one of the hardest things is learning to set your clients' expectations at realistic levels. But I like your line—I'm not a doctor, I don't save lives, so it's really not that big of a deal—I think I'll try taking that approach in the future.

CT said...

Truth be told, everyone is gonna throw a fit eventually when asked to do anything concerning Word. I feel for you man. I've had my fair share of tantrums back in the day... the best I can do now is figure that someone above the person now asking me for an impossible deadline is putting pressure on them. The way I handle it is to tell them that what they're asking will take x hrs and I have x,y,z to do in front of them. I can get it done by [insert day here]... can you flex your deadline?

If that doesn't work. Then I just tell them to go to hell.

I kid.

But sometimes I do.

Midwest said...

I wish you all could have seen Aaron's fake tantrums. They were Oscar caliber.