If you haven’t yet worked for a real design firm/ad agency, you may not have been exposed to frequently working late hours, weekends or when you’re flat out of ideas. This is the agency life. People work at different paces, with different styles. But in a design firm, you have to “put in the work” in order to be great. IdeasOnIdeas has a an article titled 9 to 5 = average, in which the author comments on his belief that being great at design more or less *requires* you to state late, work harder than the next guy and essentially throw aside any hope of a balanced life.
Design is a particularly challenging profession at this point in history. It requires understanding of cultural issues, history, psychology, multiple media forms, ever-changing tools, and roles which can often mutate with time. Is it realistic for one to become an outstanding designer, working 37 – 40 hours a week?
The author of this article suggests that “balance” in your life leads to being an average designer. While I agree somewhat with the overall theory behind the article, I’m not sure my 20+ years of experience proves his theory correct. Being a designer requires a good work ethic and dedication. Being a great designer requires you to go the extra step. But what I’ve found is that you can stay late, work weekends and be as passionate as you can possibly be and there’s a very good chance you’re still going to be an average designer. Just like there’s a good chance that leaving the office at 5pm and having a well-rounded life outside the office will lead you to greatness. I subscribe to the theory that “I work to live, I do not live to work.” I think it makes me better at my job. Too many designers who make their career their entire life tend to make staying late and working weekends a badge of honor to be worn on their chest with pride. I consider it a badge of stupidity. Now don’t get me wrong, I think you have to be dedicated and willing to do whatever it takes to be great at your job… within reason. But just how great do you want to be? Just how great do you need to be? This is your career we’re talking about, not your life. Unless of course you let your design prowess define your life. Also remember that part of being a great designer (which is all about communicating with your targeted audience) is knowing the trends, interacting with people, visiting places and seeing “what’s out there.” You can’t do that sitting in your office, not matter how many free snacks are available or how many gadgets you have on your desk. As the owner of a design firm or ad agency, I would much prefer an office full of designers who rate a consistent 8 (on a scale of 1 to 10) who on occasion turn in work that makes them a 10 – rather than having an office full of 10s who get burnt out after 6 months and leave. I would rather have happy employees who look forward to coming to work each day and have life experiences to share. I do not want someone who has nothing to offer but their design, no passion beyond the work. This is a business about communicating with PEOPLE about their life. If you don’t have one of your own, it’s hard to speak to someone who does in a way that invokes passion.