Stuck in a Box

posted on 7th of february, 2008

Do you ever get the feeling that you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of clich├ęs and stereotypes? If you do, then you might be an In-house Graphic Designer.

Yes that's right, If you, like me, once dreamed of that awesome job in the creative world, where you and high end magazine publishers would rub shoulders, and have the ability to tell some of the best photographers in the industry that there shot doesn't look quite right for the ad for Nike, you too would have been struck with a large dose of reality upon graduation from the creative school of your choice.

Reality hit me, and it hit hard. I graduated in early October of 2001, literally three weeks after September 11th, and one of our nations biggest tragedies. The only people that showed up to our portfolio review were parents, crickets, and priest. The priest were there to give us the last rights to the new careers that hundreds of bright eyed, and hopeful creative had just dropped many thousands of dollars on. It was dismal. Advertising budgets were slashed, and those fancy design firms were firing designers right and left.

Thus I began my journey, with my overly large portfolio case, filled to the brim with all of the exciting things I had managed to create...and some things I wish I had not. I went to marketing firms, and magazine printers, to local publishers, and marketing sweet shops. Finally I found myself trying just to get a job. Both the grocery store and Blockbuster thought that the portfolio case was a little strange.

After a year of stomping the ground in the south Florida Metropolises, I ended up in a small town in Central Florida. I interviewed, they liked my stuff, and I was commissioned, "A In-house Designer". And that is where I stepped into the box.

In art school a person is told that the possibilities are endless, at a company, they are told to get it done, fast, and exactly how we want it. I didn't mind pleasing clients when I did freelance, but now I was forced to please one client, the same way, all of the time. My first introduction to this world of design was a business card that had so much information on it and about 6 logos. I was told they wanted all of the same stuff on the new card, and that I had to make it look good. I went home and cried. Not because it was so hard to do, but because I knew, at that moment, that I would be doing things like this for the rest of my life.... troubling.

If they need a photo, I am the photographer. If they need copy, I am writing it. If they need a coffee, oh wait, that's not my job.

Now I have been doing Creative work as an in-house designer for six years and two international companies. Don't get me wrong. The work is good, it pays well, and you get the benefit of a more solid environment. The only thing it lacks is the ability to be spontaneously and genuinely creative.

To beet this "in the box" mentality, I have come up with some interesting ways to remain creative, fresh, and sane. Some of these things are quite simple, like I buy and look at magazines. I try and get the most popular magazine I can find, in what ever I am interested in at the time, and then I peruse it for ads. I tag the designs I like, and if I have time, I create a way to sell any product using that style. It can be quite difficult. Try selling soda using a wedding themed background.

Another technique I use to keep me fresh is to work on freelance projects as much as my time allows. By doing projects for other companies I get to branch out and give unique companies, unique designs that match their style.

One of the things that I do to keep myself fresh in the box at work is to design ads that they would never use in a million years. Yup. Ads that are pure concept, beautiful designs, great art, unique approach to the subject, and so out of their character that they would never use them.

So, If you are an in-house designer, or the Creative director of a company, with only one creative person in, then cheer up. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and hope for your artistic mind. Just remember not to settle, sit still, or let your creativity stagnate and you will always be sharp, in or out of the box.

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Photo credits: Andres Rodriguez, Ryan Pike, Natalia Sevriukova, Paul Cowan, Dana Rothstein.

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