I finished a short-term contract with a prestigious design company the other day. In truth it was the best place I have worked at, in a freelance career only several months old. The floor to ceiling white decor, equally at home in meditation centre or spaceship, was an added bonus, but as in every workplace, the environment is made more by the people than the furnishings, and in this case they were relaxed and friendly, quite obviously capable.
For the first time in my career I am told, if you have to choose between doing something fast and doing it to the highest standard, choose the latter. Which is music to my casuistic ears! A bane of the contemporary design industry is that with computerisation, a job that once took a week is now expected in a day. Ask anyone who has been around more than twenty years and they will tell you this. But this company is a strategy firm, not just a design house, of a higher stratosphere where the thinking behind identity and marketing gets done. I am guessing their fantastic hourly rates give them a dimension of time and breathing space unknown in the lower realms.
They also gave me a creative freedom which is often rare—rather than specifying every step and its measure, they simply tell me what they want to achieve, and then give me the tools. Getting from A–Z is my responsibility.
Unusually, the work was inspiring also. Although my temporary role—scanning and retouching images in Photoshop, creating vector diagrams and flowcharts in InDesign, to be assembled together into a Powerpoint presentation—is in most ways mundane, I am still an important part of the overall process of creating a visual presentation aimed to inspire, inform and motivate—which in this case means motivate a client towards a new way of seeing their own products, and thus selling them, through visually expressed concepts, associations and emotion. We aren't talking about just lifeless images of products, or the cold facts and figures a computer spreadsheet. A designer has scoured magazines for days to find images that will convey a particular feeling, create an impression. I imagine it as an ethereal, almost poetic process, forgetting the consumer capitalism at its core.
A look through several previous presentations on file reveals fast moving slideshows of iconic New Zealand imagery—natural beauty, inspiring people and their motivational phrases. My favourite New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter is in one, as is a former working acquaintance who hit the big-time using a native plant in floral arrangements. I am suitably inspired, and maybe even a little teary, moved by emotions of national pride and a sudden fondness for this little unassuming country. Greatness in our own backyard is so often overlooked—a maxim in the spiritual life and well as the ordinary.
Yes, this is the intended effect of the presentation, a bandwagon-jumping appropriation of the nationally mythic to sell the singularly mundane, but all the same, it reminds me that the days when our sense of self was located somewhere offshore are still living memory here in New Zealand—we have come such a long way.
Now the project is finished, and the stress and raised heart-rate of chargeable hours and high expectations are an afterthought, to be billed at the end of the month. One job is over and another begins, and I am more than financially richer for the experience.