I’ve got to the point in my working life where reflections on things about this industry creep up on me. After all, it still comes as something of an astonishment that I can call myself a designer. It’s how I still make a living. So that must be what I am. Maybe it’s guilt. I suspect that’s one part of it.

Creating things for a living, even in the shallowest of senses – it’s not like I’m solving a Leibniz–Newton calculus controversy, finding cures for terrible conditions nor contributing towards anything that could claim to fixing social catastrophes – though,  does seem in some ways an amazing place to have pitched up.

Ok, it’s only commercial art – commerce is at the core of what I do – but conscience aside and conscious of the practical boundaries of my skills, the circumstance seems less surprising with this benefit of hindsight. Which is what I wanted to share, if you can bear any more old bore.

For a start there can’t be (at least I can’t think of something I might have done to make a living) many other practical activities where creativity was at the heart of the matter. So there has to be some kind of compulsion that drives it first, right? Unless you knew from the moment you could express it that you wanted to be a doctor(and I know I didn’t) I can embarrassingly recall getting shade from some school teachers for filling pages of exercise books with mindless doodles. Not that I thought they were mindless. I loved rubbish doodling and drawing. Unfortunately it didn’t appear everyone shared this appreciation of a good, mindless daydream, at least at that time. 

That problem lead (or rather didn’t) to not feeling any particular calling. You don’t earn a living from drawing was the line. But you didn’t have to, at least if you could scrape by to get to art college – which didn’t call to me as I had the amazing fortune to find someone who called it to me. So Mr Charman, pottery teacher, if you’re reading this (wherever you are), I never thanked you. I wish I could now.

And then you discover there is this craft, something that you can keep learning from and leaning on. 

The next time you hear the ‘well, anyone can be a designer’ you can smile knowingly. Because, no, not everyone can. There is a rather particular space, with a not-quite-but-nearly singular set of characteristics that aren’t really part of the career-paths. It’s neither of the three ‘c’s of the title. It’s all of them, combined.

You’ll likely not end up famous if you take (or stumble into) being a designer. Rather than being any other job description but it really is ‘being’. Not just doing. It will reward you for ever. Which is selfish, I know, you could be doing something that is more rewarding to society, the environment, the people you live with or between. But even design can take you there, but only once you recognise that design is a compulsion, a calling and craft. 

So here’s a big shout to the people in schools and colleges who still believe that drawing is a useful skill and one worth defending. The STEM’s will always find support. What some politicians and parents need to remember is that art always matters.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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