lukas gave a talk a while ago referring to himself as a ‘dependent’ designer, articulating the many ways in which his professional practice is supported through repeated collaboration with a small network of designers/clients.
in discussing the short professional paths lukas and i have taken we often repeat our admiration for a (suspiciously) large number of ‘independent’ designers that graduated from Yale’s masters program in the 2000s — 2010s. Their practices didn’t have many historical counterparts to be modeled after given that a large number of these individuals were either immigrants, or, weren’t initially trained as designers.
It was only recently that I was able to fully articulate the different contexts that we (designers leaving undergrad in the late 2010s-2020s) occupy compared to those that we modeled our practices after.
There is a shift in monoliths that has been rapidly accelerating as we (designers leaving undergrad in the late 2010s-2020s) have begun our transition into adulthood. The economic monolith of the global market has been slowly overshadowed by our concerns for planet, climate change, mass migration, food shortages etc. (All things that graphic design won’t ever address). I think an initial interest that kept us practicing and in our respective degree programs was the initial promise of working adjacent to existing economies and diverse fields of professional practice that we could temporarily insert ourselves into and assist. At the time (2016) it felt like there was something productive about living through a mechanism such as the gig economy. But that ultimately is just a culmination of the just-in-time economy with us as the products being manufactured and delivered.
I started this note on dependence because i think at the core of my current insecurity is an inability to fully describe what i am dependent on and whether or not that fits within the ethics that ultimately pushed me towards a path of ‘independent’ design.
Not to speak for anyone else that occupies this same position, but for me, I feel shocked at my own ignorance, my inability to acknowledge the dependence created through the pursuit of professional independence, the idea that you are even moreso beholden to the ideologies of the superstructure that supports you. My initial aversion to studios/agencies/corporations was their inability to accommodate critiques or represent the mass of workers that it is comprised of, it’s not a democracy after all, it’s a machine with a single directive. Yet in their absence I am floating, objectively alone and surviving as a parasite on the luxury economies from which the majority of my work comes from (art, real estate, ‘cultural institutions’ with funding from oil and pharmaceutical companies, etc.)
My frustration now is that the path that I am currently taking is one that simply reaffirms the deeply rooted neoliberal identity that captured the American people under Reagan/Thatcher and has pushed this country into a state of economic isolation, the effects of which will most likely be fully experienced at the peak of the corona virus pandemic.
I want to contribute to meaningful production, i only want to be a producer if the products are necessary. I want to belong, i want to have community. These desires make me feel delusional at times because these ‘should’ be achievable (or i have been told that there are ways to remedy my concerns and that I just haven’t done my part to fix them, [i’m just a lazy millennial after all]). I’m left wondering if there is really anything to be discovered in the coming turmoil of COVID-19 and the amount of times I’ve seen the word ‘unprecedented’ in corporate newsletters seems to affirm this.
To avoid ending on a cynical note I just want to quickly mention some ideas I had about working in isolation and online work. Since undergrad there has always been a collaborative network that I’ve worked within, usually online. The shift to working remotely recently has in many ways made my online work/personal relationships feel more emblematic of the ‘wholeness’ that I hope to feel in the presence of peers/community members. The ‘realness’ of working remotely something that i never really experienced my first two years freelancing. That is to say, when I was previously freelancing, none of the digital relationships I had felt real, there was no permanence because (from where I observed behind my computer screen) the world seemed like it was engaged in a system physically larger than what i had the ability (or interest) to traverse. Now that we (designers leaving undergrad in the late 2010s-2020s / our clients) are confined to our/their homes, i can see the borders of the village that we occupy, the isolation that we are experiencing together.