Thursday, November 09, 2017


Working alone is like… Alain Delon in Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘L’Eclisse’ (1962)

Every once in awhile, maybe every other week I WFH - work from home. The custom of sending a wide e-mail informing co-workers of this pretty much ended years ago. Actually about three or four times a week I SWFH. That is I "Start Work From Home” due to early morning conference calls but then head into the office. It is pointless to tell anyone about this because to the majority of my colleagues, many of whom I’ve never met, I am nothing more than a crackling, fuzzy and distant disembodied voice. They live and work on another continent. When I do go into the office those sitting near me are also working with people on other continents that they’ve never met. We sit side by side with fingers on keyboards playing chords of code sent all over the world to people we neither know or recognize. So why do I go to the office at all?

Funny you should ask. In the last two weeks I’ve attended two different conferences, one focused solely on the technology of artificial intelligence and the other focused on design issues, namely the practice, business and art of design. While the practical side of attending conferences is to improve your skills and knowledge while discussing processes and business with your peers, I think I like to go to prove I exist. Talking to other people feels like it proves I exist as if I were a ghost surprised that the residents of a dwelling I haunted could suddenly see me when for years no one else had. This is essentially why I go to the office to work. I need to see other people who see me to prove to myself that I exist. Sure you could call it “social interaction” but whatever you call it, it is worthwhile to prove my existence.
“It is nice to know that you exist but it is much nicer to know you are right.”
I work in such an unusual cloistered tower (literally working on the 28th floor of a glass tower) and having interactions with other designers is so rare that sometimes I forget who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing. Attending a conference and hearing other designers speak of their frustrations, problems, failures, successes and solutions is profoundly self-confirming. I do exist. I am not delusional. The problems and frustrations I experience are valid because other people are having the same issues. It’s like if a giant ancient dinosaur emerged from Lake Ontario and all of the bystanders looked at each other and asked “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” If someone else is having the same experience you’re having then you probably aren’t dreaming. It’s probably real. It’s happening and you exist.

It is nice to know that you exist but it is much nicer to know you are right. Seeing others at these conferences ask the same questions and come to the same conclusions as yourself is self-affirming and downright righteous. It feels safe to gather in herds of a like-minded cohort. It also feels healthy to know your experiences are not that unique, thus not hallucinations of a fevered mind but instead are what you might call a shared experience.

Sharing is nice but also it is a little intimidating. Seeing projects that other designers have done only throws my own work into a harsh contrasting light. I’ve worked for so many years on projects that died, were killed, orphaned or butchered all due to a business imperative beyond my control that I essentially have nothing to show for my labours. Having nothing to show as a designer is a bit of a death knell. Having achieved very little or worked on nothing anyone can see feels almost like a hoax. Maybe I was tricked into working everyday and have nothing to show for it other than the worn nubs of my fingers. So while I exist, nothing I have done does. This is a problem.

Another problem of self confirmation is it makes you smugly jaded. I am pretty much the cover model of Jaded Smugness Monthly, a periodical that doesn’t publish at all because why bother anyway. The combination of a dusty portfolio and a cynical outlook have made me worry even more that those traits make me essentially unemployable. Yet the answer is pretty obvious, either make projects that I am working on be their best or create my own projects that accomplish the one simple goal of being completed and by extension, prove that I do in fact, exist.

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