When you research and design an actual product for mass production, the proximity heightens your awareness. ‘What am I doing’ or ‘What am I contributing to’ taunts you every so often. When comparing lifestyle beliefs with the real world outcomes of your daily work, sometimes it doesn’t line up. For many, including myself, it influenced my next career direction as I weighed my moral beliefs against my contributions to the creative and consuming communities.
You might be thinking, ‘Well, with a degree like industrial design (or product design), what did you expect?’ It was the problem-solving aspect, and support from a few peers, that pulled me away from graphic design into a more 3D pursuit at RISD. The skills, thought process and wide possibilities kept me engaged and devoid of any moral concern or judgement during my education. Everything I made went through a conceptual, rather than a real world, evaluation. My projects were a bunch of one-offs that only got as far as a portfolio and my mother’s ‘what my daughter makes’ collection.
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I sway more minimalist than maximalist with my consuming. Today I purchase with precision to ensure current choices won’t become tomorrow’s regrets. However, my purchases during art school did not require much thought as they affiliated more with needs than wants. They included project materials, day-to-day necessities, entertainment (okay, that’s a want) and second-hand clothes that could get covered in one of the many dusts and residues from building prototypes.
You would think it would take a short amount of time to tie morality to my job when gradating into a recession. But at this point I was in survival mode with rose-colored glassed. An odd combination. For the first few years, even as I watched the financial industry recover - from what it seemed like - a terrible addiction, I thought nothing of my work’s contribution to consumerism. My love for the brand, process and team protected me from real world implications.
When I became more involved in sales and merchandising conversations around product projections and performance is when I realised what was happening. There got to be a point where I looked around and said, ‘Does the world need another one of these?’ In a Disney movie, this would be the part where I triumphantly leave the footwear industry holding my morals high. But the real world works on different terms.
For all of you struggling with the same dilemma, don’t fret or fear. It takes some reframing and remembering to get you over the murky waters. When working with mass-produced products, problem-solving stood as my favourite challenge - much like during my studies. But this time, it involved others. Figuring out how to do something better, quicker, with more transparency and on a team gave me hope. Working well with my colleagues added meaning to my day-to-day activities. It’s connections that got me over consumerism.
It can be hard not to take your work personally, especially as a creative. However, it’s how you deal with it today and direct your future development that matters. For me, it meant sharpening my practical and social work skills to then gain further perspective by changing industries. Over the years and years most of us have as working creative professionals, these questions will surface. Take them as motivators over deflators on your quest toward your constructive creative contribution.