Eleven Months Later

Completely by chance, this post comes exactly 11 months to the day after the last one.

2016 has seen a lot of change so far, and we’re still only just over halfway through. Politically and socially things are a shitshow, but ― at least on paper, in some parts of the world ― some things have improved over the past five years. I began my decent into contingent teaching and the ascent to one-man-band hustle of freelance smack dab in the center of the worst of it and am still here to write about it, so there’s that.

This year finally saw me being offered a full-time teaching position (which I turned down), in part as response to the deadend-ed reality of what passes for an ‘academic career’1. I’ve since begun to look at how my own practice can grow into a more sustainable, long-term and satisfying way-of-life that doesn’t move me to Timbuktu or make my Life’s Work a conveyor belt of preparing young minds for jobs that don’t or won’t exist. This isn’t to say I’ll be leaving teaching per se, but rather that I’ve come to accept that teaching very likely has no intention of making an honest man of me. I continue to explore options and apply at select schools, because, for all the frustration and unpaid hours, I feel most alive in front of a classroom, talking about the stuff I love most in life. In more practical terms, the financial realities of teaching expose it less as a career than as voluntary community service. The vast majority of academic jobs can’t be relied to make ends meet. I love academics and academia, but literally could not hate The Academy more. This year has been a long and painful breakup that, unlike romantic relationships, feels better when we hang out once a week. I just know I can’t get attached again.

In freeing up my schedule, I’ve been approaching my redirection as a design problem, and have set about the due diligence of research and iteration. The process has been good, forcing me to deeply consider design’s changes throughout my career, weigh opinions on where things may be heading and determine where I fit among it all. The industry is cut into a binary of Specialists and Generalists, with one’s party affiliation determining the designer’s worth on the daily exchanges.2 I’ve been adapting to change so long, now in my twentieth-odd year as a working designer, that the concept or feasibility of ‘specialisation’ feels like an distant luxury reserved for those still just getting started, or those that have either been celebrated for or insulated in a single silo all along. As the lone designer in-house for a decade and an ‘independent creative professional’ for at least that long, my work has become inherently multi-disciplinary purely out of necessity. I savor the generative spark, the iterative process and ultimately feed on completion. Handing off a project halfway feels insulting ― an admission of weakness. Some part of me wishes I could have hunkered down at a magazine somewhere and earned a living piloting InDesign all this time. I must admit a bit of envy for those who were never hung by the ankles over the barrel of Change, and were content hanging over the one(s) marked Boredom, Security or another of the deadly sins my brain has cooked up to make life Busy, Insecure and Mediocre for myself. I’m entirely confident that I’m not wired for the day-in redundancy of a single-minded focus. To shed earned experience in order to better market myself can’t feel anything but a completely dishonest betrayal of what makes me who I am. And yet there is a need for me to stop reacting to change in order to make and control my own. A simple, difficult switch from the passive to an active life.

In opening Primarily Design as a ‘studio’, I am taking the first steps towards establishing myself with the confidence I’ve gained over years of ‘failing fast, failing often’. I refuse to be devalued for the sin of knowing too much. I own not being a specialist while denying any master-of-none nonsense attached to it. My experience puts me in a position to lead others and present our work as a collective whole with pride of ownership in not just the end product but the partnership it took to bring it about.3 The Primarily framework makes an even stronger, unified front of collaborators and the new, the bigger, and the better infinitely more possible. I don’t expect or even want for Primarily to be a large, multinational ‘glass and mahogany’ agency: I just want us to be good in order to do well and do right.

  1. For those unfamiliar with academia, most colleges are run with about the elegance and professionalism of a pirate ship. Back
  2. Which one is preferable, however, shifts back and forth given the time of day and who you ask. Generalists tend to be more suited to in-house roles and small clients, specialists to the more mercenary nature of freelancing and the big money teams. Unfortunately for guys like me, I am both, doomed/blessed to roam the Earth like Cain. Back
  3. Now, please note that in complete transparency, Primarily is still entirely Me for the time being, no more or less than Me when operating as Aaron Winters Creative Professional, or as Abide Visuals before that. Back