It's a blog, Sean, deal with it.

Without Style and Grace: The Nameless Designer

I had a lot of trouble writing this piece. Fears of due comeuppance following a sagging reception became a mighty burden to bare. The classic dilemma of finding success after success abounds so much that it's almost cliché. I do consider, however, starting a blog post with the topic to be quite original and so, deemed by the cosmic laws of the Universe, you must forgive me. That's just how it is, I don't make the rules:

My woes started about a week ago. I was volunteering at my local design studio at the university, where I was presented a project without a brief. The audacity. Resist as I might, it was unavoidable, my fate sealed. This particular client had a bimonthly publishing with the studio and they desperately needed a new cover design for the 'Technology' issue.

I pondered the meaning of 'technology' for a long time. As careful as I was not to repeat the mistakes of the most recently discarded concepts, the thought of my own concept residing besides its predecessors in the publishing's 'Being Creative!' column was more than enough to sap me of any and all inspiration. How the eggshells seem to multiple when there is no brief to guide the way. In my hour of need I drew upon my scarcely populated sketchbook in search for ideas. Instead I found an apparent lack of character. Being a new sketchbook I suppose it's natural to find a lack of theme or aesthetic but a cross-reference with my Instagram account revealed a somewhat striking mix-mash of subject matters. Utterly defeated, my search for inspiration a failure, it dawned on me that I have yet to make myself an 'Identity' as a designer. I hit the booze right away- a washed-up fraud like myself has no place in polite society. As the credits rolled, signalling the end of my internal melodrama, I awoke with a yearning for knowledge. "Who am I! What is my purpose? How do I get more followers on Instagram!?". These were just some of life's many mysteries I vowed to answer and, before I knew it, I was ready to begin my grand quest to go boldly where no junior-designer has gone before.

As I scrolled through Instagram, surging forth on the winds of conquest, it became apparent to me that my idols had not only crafted an identity from the fruits of their labour, but a trademark 'Style' to boot. Somehow they had afforded themselves a select set of skills/services and, by specialising in said craft, they had gone on to attain mastery over their domain, rising up like beacons of aesthetic hope in a murky sea of design professions. Being at the start of my career, I didn't have the luxury of a well built, hard earned portfolio. I had no reputation nor following to back me up. Instead I was left to scrounge for scraps in the back alleys of Seek and Gumtree. How incredibly unfair. Like all junior designers I was already having a hard time building myself a name and now it seemed my stylistic struggles had become par for the course. Give me a break! As my bitterness threatened to consume me, the mighty weight of social media bearing down on me, I received a text from my mother. I was to be having dinner at theirs tonight. Saved, I was snapped back to my senses: I was the victim of yet another of my melodramas gone wrong.

Being at the offset of my career, and I'll admit that I've been here for a while, the hyper connectivity of the Internet has done little to fan the flames of my practice. My idols seem to have a style or niche with which to revel and it's too darn easy for someone like me to sit back and wish and wait- much of the time I am filled to burst with envy. Like most if not all things creative, Style is inherently personal. It's a fully realised opinion, dogma, vocation or passion, organic in nature, evolving and growing alongside the designer/artist. Styles streamline our creative process and alter what we say and the way in which is said. This is how we, as designers, build ourselves an Identity. Well as far as I can tell anyway- I've never really had Style nor Identity- and I regret that during my education I did not learn about either.

I was educated at one of those institutions which neglect soft skills in favour of technical skills. Pragmatically, the presumption that those skills alone will suffice in a modern world of Design has been the trend of many educational institutes for the past decade as the industry shifts towards streamlined business models. The result is that many design graduates, myself included, leave university or college with little knowledge of how to actively participate in Design. We're rough around the edges and hard on the eyes; we have skills but we don't know what to do with them. Perhaps I should have paid more attention in class; read between the lines. Perhaps I ought to have taken more Fine Art subjects. Then again, what does that say about the segregation of the 'creative' discourse?

Like all academic writing, I'm completely butchering the purity of the subject matter: Style. Academic writing (though I am keenly aware that I am more 'creatively' oriented), fails to tune into the humane and spiritual subconscious of the creative practice: it fails because, whilst the work is out being made, the writing sits there thinking about it. Does that make sense? I think so... so probably not. Academic or not, unfortunately this blog- my musings- is the only 'Style' I've got at the present- how I express my opinions, vocations and passions. For any designer at the offset, myself included, as we take our first steps- as we forge ourselves a name- perhaps we should first educate ourselves about 'Style' and the role it is to play in our practice, with or without our educators. Are there benefits? Are there drawbacks? How do we structure ourselves to be flexible and open minded, so as to stay grounded, so as to grow and evolve?

When that client comes along, the one without a brief, wanting something left of field, how best to adapt so we can provide a solution yet remain quintessentially true to ourselves, our style- our designhood? Well the truth of the matter is there is no true way, there is only compromise. Thankfully, having found our vocation; being versed in our discourse; having developed an aesthetic; we might just be able to channel our Style into any work thrown at us. Our souls may be crushed but at least it won't be half as melodramatic as this blog.

Sam Dunn