February 7th, 2011 by Justin Kemerling
In late January of 2011 I had the pleasure of giving a talk for the Art Directors Association of Iowa in Des Moines. Katie and I made the trip from Omaha. We totally had a great time and it was very nice to meet all the creative folks from the area. (Thanks for listening, and thanks for buying some prints.) And damn, we went through the super impressive wind farms of western Iowa. It was like seeing the future, one where you could still breathe the air. The gist of the talk was on Work. I've been an independent designer since July of last year. It's work that I really enjoy doing and I wanted share the framework I've put together to help guide it as I move forward. As of now, the structure of my practice consists of four parts: 1. Project/Client Work (Traditional Graphic Design) 2. Volunteer Design (Design as Community-Building) 3. Collaborations (Design as Extracurriculars) and 4. Self-Initiated Projects (Design as Art/Entrepreneurship). Taking all of these together, I’m good with designer for the answer to the question, “what kind of Work do you do?” It's more than acceptable for someone who, when I was a youngster, fit into the category of people unable to answer the all important question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And as I have a VERY hard time deciding on what to do at any given moment, designer is definitely doable. It allows for me to "mix it up," which is a huge benefit. I made this diagram when I turned 30. This helps explain things: [caption id="attachment_4172" align="alignnone" width="540" caption="Why a Designer?"][/caption] Lately, I’ve been thinking about work a lot. Not only my work and what I do, but the nature of work. What kind of jobs exist in our economy? What would I do if I wasn’t a designer? What is meaningful work? What would I do if the work all dried up, what then in all of this uncertainty, in the worst economy of the last 50 years? Economy, economy, economy was the driving force in the November mid-terms. The official unemployment rate is just under 10%. Uncertainty abounds. Students I talk to are terrified of their job prospects. Twenty-seven million people are un- or underemployed in America today. And I have the great privilege to do something I enjoy every day. Because of course, it’s not all uncertainty. There’s also opportunity and discovery. Big rewards for big risks. Change, excitement, renewal. It’s an extraordinary time we live in, and you don’t have to look far to see all the amazing things happening. So for me, with this great privilege I’ve found myself in after I’ve “grown up,” to be doing work I like, partnering with exciting people every day on a wide array of creative projects, some kind of guide is crucial -- a framework that will help keep my work on an intended path. A manifesto, if you will. So for 2011, here is my very much work-in-progress (with various shout-outs), 11-point mini-manifesto on what I want living and working as a designer to mean in these days of uncertainty and opportunity. I WANT TO DO WORK THAT... 1. is part of things, 2. experiments, 3. delights, 4. is optimistic, 5. gives a damn, 6. is community-minded, 7. moves people to action, 8. points us in a direction, 9. picks a side / annoys certain people, 10. makes things better, 11. has heart, Work that feels like a natural extension of who I am, that is pushing boundaries and trying new things, putting smiles on people’s faces in unexpected ways and speaking to the better angels of our nature. Work that cares, is informed and speaks to the larger world around us. (I guess I’ve been to too many “graphic design” get togethers that seem so unaware of life outside “the profession.”) Work focused on my community where I live and call home. (Part of the push for a new economy built around local.) Work that is action-oriented, outside of consumer logic and more social or political. Work that is part of the debate in terms of how we move forward and is not neutral but is certainly part of a particular view point. Work that advocates for the side of opportunity and renewal that is out there and sometimes only needs a little push. And finally, I want to do work that has heart. (Unable to define. Will mean different things to different people.) I've been a designer for 8+ years. The Work I look back on that I really love, both paid and unpaid, fits nicely into this framework and covers each point quite well. (The specifics are detailed in the Talk.) Now, it's a matter of doing that, and only that, over and over again. Finding more of this type of Work, and turning down the other stuff that just doesn't fit. The great balancing act of holding true to the meaning while keeping the compromise to a minimum. I'm 8 months in, and with a few hiccups and detours, things are moving along at a good pace. The only thing left to do is keep on keepin' on. -- Justin Kemerling, Designer.

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3 Responses to “WORK–>HEART”

  1. daphne Says:

    this is fabulous. ten of your eleven points are on my list in some form or another. caleb’s too. i call them my business intentions. i hadn’t thought so much about annoying certain people. but i like that too.

    i love your words of wisdom: small is beautiful. i think slow is beautiful, too. john ruskin said something poetic about there being no harm in it.

  2. Justin Kemerling Says:

    thanks daphne! i definitely didn’t think of “annoying certain people” either until i apparently really did. now it’s just how some things need to be. small is beautiful is from an economics book by EF Schumacher that is just so good: “Economics as if People Mattered.”

  3. Mary Harding Says:

    The work you did for my campaign meets a lot of those goals. I still hear people say my signs set a new standard for front yard messaging. Thanks!

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