Why do some graphic designers prefer to work alone?

Imagine the scene… you’re walking in a remote and craggy place, England’s Lake District for instance (always close to my heart). You stop on a barren hilltop to take in the view, which is breathtaking. It’s cold and it’s pouring with rain, and you’re all alone. But, in the distance you see a magical ray of sunlight forcing its way through the clouds. You’re completely in awe of the bleak beauty of the landscape before you, and you take a few still moments to reflect on your place in the world and, observing the power of raw nature, the minuscule effect you can ever hope to have on it.


How do you feel? Happy or lonely? Or a mixture of both perhaps?

Let’s beam up half a dozen of your closest friends. As they walk with you, they coo and wow at the amazing view, and you’re swept along with them, chatting and enjoying their company as you go.

Are you feeling even happier now? Glad that you can share this lovely experience? Or… are they disturbing the silence, and your thoughts?

Sorry if this is sounding a bit pretentious – all I’m trying to do is describe the scene as well as possible so that you can decide which scenario you like best.

Me, I like alone, and I know lots of others who do. It might be something to do with years of freelancing, learning to enjoy aloneness – because, unless a designer is working to a formula (I know some projects can be like that), the conjuring up of arrangements of images that haven’t existed before and that are also as beautiful as we can make them, has to start with a blank (and silent) ‘canvas’ (and mind). I’m not implying that graphic design is ‘capital-A-Art’ (although in the best hands it certainly is that – I don’t pretend to belong in that league), but even run-of-the-mill everyday collateral has to be ‘created’ – and that means inventing something new. For me it’s challenging every time and needs all the concentration I can muster.

Privacy is also part of it. Solitariness gives me the space and freedom to make big mistakes, to create crazy answers to a design brief which, once honed, can often work the best. And that’s the key – once honed, and that means when I’m happy that it’s ready for showing to the world. Up to that point, in their raw form, these ideas can appear to the uninitiated as (you got it) crazy! The last thing the seed of a possibly great idea needs is the sound of uncontrolled laughter and ridicule before it’s even started growing… and a voice that’s asking me why am I mucking about with silly notions that will never amount to a hill-o-beans when it’s taking me so damn long to get those book cover concepts finished? What they don’t know is that just one last episode of madness might throw up the most exciting and effective answer (and, ok, it might not). But we still need that time alone together – the idea and me.

On the other side of the coin, I know many designers who like and want the stimulation of a group. They’re the happy ones. Or are they?


This post was first published August 2009 in The DeZine Journal.


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