Sunday, January 11, 2009

Standing On The Brink

iF: Special Episode Satisfaction Guaranteed

Even if you don't know much about the economy, you've probably noticed that something went horribly wrong in 2008. And 2009 doesn't look much better. Design Observer's Michael Bierut has been working as a designer for over 28 years, and depending on how you count, this is either his fourth or fifth recession. He's got some words of wisdom and advice regarding what happens, and a few things you can do about it.

From Designing Through the Recession:

"The modern design studio can't help but subscribe to the cult of asap. But while working at full speed is great for profit margins, it's not so good for quality control. A design solution almost always benefits from a second, third or fourth look.

Take advantage of the slower pace of a recession by remembering what it was like in design school to spend a full semester on a single project. What seemed then like torture may now feel like a luxury, and your work will benefit. And don't forget that recessions are a great time for the kind of research and development that manifests itself in self-initiated projects, work that takes a longer view than the next deadline."

As Michael Cannell writes in today's New York Times, "However dark the economic picture, it will most likely cause designers to shift their attention from consumer products to the more pressing needs of infrastructure, housing, city planning, transit and energy. Designers are good at coming up with new ways of looking at complex problems." In the same article, Cranbrook's Reed Kroloff agrees, saying we could be "standing on the brink of one of the most productive periods of design ever."

You might be thinking that most of this article is easier said than done. I can personally attest that it's not easy, but it's totally doable! It's simply a matter of downsizing and focusing on what you really and truly want to achieve and at the same time eliminating all the stuff you'll probably never even miss once you get rid of it!

When I moved back to Texas from Boston back in 1991 I had a 14K Visa balance, basically an extension of my student loan to Massachusetts College of Art. The first thing I did was bite the bullet, put my VW Bug on blocks and rode my bike to work for the next 2 years until I was free and clear of that debt. It was sucky at first, especially when it rained but I did it.

Then, fast-forward to 2007 after getting let go from my advertising gig almost two years ago, the first thing I did was, that's right, cut my overhead. We canceled Netflix and magazine subscriptions, killed our landline, downgraded cable, use more blankets in the winter, clip coupons, etc. Heck, I even sold my car! All the while doing anything and everything possible to "keep the lights on".

As a result, my family and friends are spending more quality time together taking turns working on each others house projects, exercising, taking longer walks around the neighborhood with the dogs, cooking big meals together, playing Scrabble and Texas Hold'em, and simply slowing down and just hanging out.

As of today, I'm currently smack dab in the middle of a re-fi, lowering my rate from 7% to about 5% saving us close to $400 a month! We've been a one car family for over 2 years and for the most part completely solvent - broke, but solvent! So far, so good - even after my brief bout of cancer in 2008 with no health insurance (thus wiping out my savings) I'm feeling super blessed and lucky, free and clear and simply happy to be here!

What we all really need to do is to think of this as a opportunity to get back to basics. And like the article says - Ask yourself: what do I really need to do my work? Then get rid of everything else. It's really that simple. Sure, 2009 is going to be rough for most everyone I know, but with a little frugality and an earnest back to basics mindset it's amazing how little we actually need to survive. You can do it!

Good smart stuff - read on: Designing Through the Recession.

Happy New Year and Good Luck!

That's Right,