Reinvention: The designer’s key to happiness?

Ben Garfinkel – No Comments

The following article by Mark Busse is published in the September/October 2013 print edition of Design Edge Canada Magazine. I encourage you to go out and pick up your own copy to read the full article or you can download the full PDF here.

If you enjoy the article (and I know you will), you can read more of Mark’s work on the Design Edge Canada website.

Reinvention: The designer’s key to happiness?

A friend recently confided in me how unhappy she was. Her career was routine and unfulfilling. Her relationship literally bored her. She had come to a point in her life where a full reboot was the next step.

This got me thinking about how fortunate I have been to enjoy a career in design with constantly varying challenges and opportunities. I’m never bored, and I believe it is the frequent rate of renewal, relearning and reinvention that fuels the passion I bring to my profession.

Since graduating university over 20 years ago, I have been through numerous career shifts. I’ve had to discard skills I was proud to be an expert in, let go of old responsibilities and learn to master completely new ones. I derive great satisfaction from helping others solve real problems using creativity and craft, and the constant learning it involves makes me happy.

Although change is a constant in every profession, it is important to recognize that communication design has been undergoing rapid reinvention for the past couple decades. In fact, the characteristic of being able to endure the stress and tension of not knowing the way forward and being flexible and adaptive enough to new and uncomfortable situations defines leaders in the design field.

When my career started, we would manually set type, shoot PMTs, use waxers to create paste up and strip film. That all got tossed aside when desktop publishing became mainstream and we all scrambled to learn Pagemaker or Quark. When the web hit, we were forced to learn interface design, HTML, WYSIWIG editors, and Flash in order to remain relevant, but even many those are now been discarded for ever-rapidly-evolving technologies.

As my design career progresses, I find myself focusing less on design production and more on strategy and ideas. As I spend more time in front of clients, I am forced to develop facilitation, interview and communication skills I had not previously been trained in. Ultimately I’ve had to reinvent myself as a design studio leader and a business and marketing expert. All of these career reboots were built on layers of learning and resulted in some stress, but ultimately provide tremendous career satisfaction.

No one reading this should be surprised by the notion that learning and change are a designer’s constant companion. But designers should recognize the value of major shifts of focus and the impact those experiences can have on careers and personal lives.

One thing that I push myself to do — unless it is literally silly or impossible — is if I am asked to do something new and scary, I say, “Yes”. These opportunities often involve tremendous effort and are not financially rewarding, but the learning opportunities have been invaluable.

Past examples include: accepting nominations for leadership positions, launching volunteer-run non-profit organizations, chairing award shows or conferences, public speaking events, or even writing for industry magazines. Few of these were directly related to my design firm, and they were all terrifying in many ways, but by stepping up to the challenges and muscling my way through I learned tons in the process.

Sure, not everyone’s personality is suited to saying yes to scary opportunities. Some folks quietly seek less dramatic career paths, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t negate the need to stretch, learn and evolve as the design industry (and the whole world) changes.

Every time I dive into new circumstances I emerge feeling smarter, stronger and happier. Yes, happier. Had my friend been more motivated to live like a designer, seeking out opportunities to dive headlong into learning and reinvention, I suspect she’d be happier with her job and relationship. Life—reboot not required.

Speaking of reinvention, I would like to offer my congratulations to the new owners of Design Edge Magazine. I don’t view this as an end to an era, but the beginning of a new one, and I am excited by the potential of this relaunch. I also challenge the new owners to own the word “Edge” in their name by embracing this opportunity to be more than merely a news, trends, jobs, and awards publication. I hope to see a nation-wide dialogue about the issues that are important to the design industry, one aimed as much outwardly to the broader public audience we serve as inwardly on the topics designers are frankly growing tired of hearing about.

Together let’s reinvent Design Edge and the Canadian design industry itself and enjoy the happiness that it will undoubtedly bring.

Download the full article PDF here.