It might sound like blasphemy but I don’t spend my free time immersed in design culture. It just doesn’t interest me that deeply. Design isn’t my life, it’s my job. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love the work, the thrill of creating something unique or the unbelievable good fortune of being paid to work creatively, but when I shut down the laptop at the end of the day, mentally I’m off into my other interests (namely cinema).
For a long time I’ve beaten myself up for this lack of ambition: surely you should fully commit to whatever career path you’ve landed on and aim to reach it’ summit? If you’re not at a top studio, haven’t you just failed? But instead of funnelling energy into a goal I never really wanted, I focused it away from the studio work into various external hobbies. I started writing weekly film reviews, which has lead me to publishing the movie magazine Shelf Heroes and now my new ticket-collection project Tickets Please. Working on Shelf Heroes has been beneficial in many ways; firstly I’m happier and secondly I’m a better designer.
Design is like any other trade, there are days of dizzying achievement and fulfilment, which are offset by an equal amount of tedium and frustration. You try to minimise these by job selection, but they are inevitable. During the periods where a project isn’t going the way I might want, I’m still able to work on the magazine and receive that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment we all strive for as creatives.
Aside from simply putting the extra hours in and refining technique, running any side project encourages you to push yourself creatively. There are no clients to hold you back and no wrong answers. It’s a space to be playful and adventurous and embrace the things you love about the process. Through necessity, you also get incredibly good at organisation and time management.
No one is going to ask you to do the fun stuff. Take the initiative and put it out there into the world yourself. You don’t have to live for the job you do. Creative satisfaction can come from anywhere.
Ben Smith is a London-based freelance graphic designer whose clients include Nike, Uniqlo, Liberty, OTHER/Shop, Casio and Roundhouse.