There’s always that one little kid in the back of an art class who is just quietly doing their project while everyone is in a deep discussion about how they are going to sign their names on their subpar piece of work. The class practices wobbly signatures with magic markers on the brown paper covering the folding tables. I was totally the child perfecting my signature and ignoring the project. It’s so easy when you don’t care about something very much to say: “Hi. I made this. Look how proud I am”- if you don’t care, you’re allowed to peak. Though if you have spent weeks, months ruminating over a certain idea and bringing it to birth, all you want to do in the end is drop it and run. Hide. You have just shared a part of your soul with the world, a part you will never get back. Hopefully something new will grow, but you will never know how long that could take. Or if it will ever taste as sweet. So throw it- and run.
I was terrified on my first day of design school. I spent most of my orientation ditching important student information sessions and fluffy team building activities, and having conversations with my roommate about why I had so many books that opened up backwards. And why I was wearing long sleeve shirts in August. There was no kosher food on the meal plan I was forced to have, so I was eating raw vegetables for every meal. Also while buying T-squares, three different types of papers and specific pens for the third time that week, it became very clear to me that I had no idea it meant to be a designer.
My first class of the semester was called Design Studio I. We met in this giant classroom with drafting desks covered in fabric dye stains. I sat near the windows that looked jumpable and meticulously organized and re-organized my supplies that I didn’t understand the function of. A young guy wearing a black T-shirt, black framed glasses and black jeans walked in with a cup of iced coffee from one of those artisan shops.
“Um hey guys, welcome to Design Studio I.” (This guy is my teacher? Really? )
“Tear out a piece of paper from your sketchbooks, tell me, why do you want to be a designer?” Everyone started furiously writing while I sat there, staring at a blank sheet of paper. (Because you’re creative and like to solve problems.) So I wrote that on my page, folding it down while staring at this hipster sipping on his coffee, he gave me a smile and started to speak.
“Being a designer means you’re going to learn to solve other people’s problems,” he said, starting to write random objects on the board. He would often give us a list of objects and we had to draw them on a single sheet of paper. All of our projects in that class were just sketching, conceptualizing, and cutting and pasting black and white shapes on to black or white paper- and it’s still my favorite class that I ever took. Whenever I design anything I think about that class. The smell of dye, the weird opera or rock music he would play while forcing us to draw ships or snails or loaves of bread. I learned to sit for three hours and listen to other people talk about their work. To listen to other people.
It took me over a year and a half to really understand what it meant to design something for someone else. I watched my peers make leaps and bounds and create beautiful work. I couldn’t cut a straight line, or a perfect box, an insecurity that kept me up at night. My work was horrible. I had gone a long way from hiding in my high-school’s always empty art studio and painting severed fingers growing out of the ground, or bringing a box cutter and piece of paper to class to work on my latest piece while simultaneously destroying school property. I fell in love with listening to people’s stories, people’s desires and making something for them they didn’t even realize they needed. And make people feel something.
As my final year of college is approaching, a big part of my year will be to create my personal brand and portfolio. It’s been the hardest project I’ve ever done. How do you spend three years constantly thinking about the teacher, or the client, or the untalented tyrant you’ve been paired up with for a group project and then think all about yourself? I have spent so much time thinking about the project or seven that are due next week that it’s hard to say “this is who I am in this process.” I don’t even know what that means.
A big part of me feels like it doesn’t matter who I am as a designer. As much as I’m proud of the work that I have done, scribbling my signature on everything I’ve made seems to be against everything I learned.
It’s not about me or my personal tastes. It’s about the client- it always is. I don’t like being the client, I like being the person who puts the smile on their face. Or makes them say wow. Or starts a conversation. The person in the shadows, who hardly ever gets thanked. I like the idea of being that person for most of the day. It makes my ideas seem that much sweeter.