The curse of being a designer

The curse of being a designer


I’m cursed. Possessed. Bedevilled by a typeface-obsessed, colour-fascinated, layout-focused spirit controlling my every thought. But don’t freak out, I’m not about to levitate with my head spinning while shouting random hex colour codes. So put the straight jacket down and hang up on the exorcist. I’m not a threat. Just sit back, relax, and let me tell you all about it.

In 2003, I began a new career by enrolling in a web design course in London. At the time, web design was a rather new discipline and the Internet as we know it today was still in its infancy. Internet Explorer ruled the browser world and Flash was the go-to technology for interactive web content. YouTube didn’t exist and social media hadn’t yet taken over people’s lives. My attention span was still intact.

First encounter

In addition to web design, the course curriculum also included some coding, illustration, video editing and so on. I was enthralled by it all. A few weeks into the course, as I was still learning the tricks of the trade, soaking up every drop of that oh-so-sweet design knowledge, a design spirit wormed its way through the meanders of my spongy brain and took over my subconscious.

Design spirits typically dwell in the subconscious of designers and tend to overpower their host with obsessive design thoughts. They have the characteristics of a shape-shifting demonic parasite combined with the qualities of a well-intentioned imaginary friend. Let’s just call him “Ed”, as in “Ed the voice in my head”, for the sake of this story.

Oblivious to its presence, I went about my business, but it wasn’t long before he manifested himself. One day, as I was desperately trying to replicate the design of the award-winning Flash websites I was so fond of, a little voice in my head whispered “Zoom in. Move it down. A little more to the right. Yeah. Bigger. Not that much! Nice. Now, rotate it 45 degrees clockwise. Perfect!”

Here to stay

Ed didn’t go away. It was all fun and pixel-pushing games at first, but as the years went by, things got out of control. Ed became increasingly pesky, pedantic and persistent. He was omnipresent when I was designing, but more alarmingly, even when I wasn’t. I started doing things differently. I started seeing things differently. I soon found myself unable not to design anything I made and unable not to look at the design of everything.

Be it a spreadsheet, presentation, specs, notes, flowchart, you name it. I would have to design it to some degree. Elements must be evenly spaced; columns must be of equal widths; text must convey a sense of hierarchy; colours must be in harmony; and content must be aligned left, right or centre. I just couldn’t help it. But it didn’t stop there. Even away from the screen, Ed was still on my case.

At a restaurant, I’d analyse the design of the menu rather than choose a dish to tuck into, always being the last one to order. I’d scrutinise all the adverts plastered on the train during my daily commute, often missing my stop. On TV, the bevel, glow, gradient, double-stroke and shadow on every single element cluttering the screen would prevent me from enjoying the show. And in a bookstore, the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” would obviously be entirely irrelevant to my selection process.

All too common

Nowadays, I've become accustomed to Ed's nagging presence and learned to dodge his constant assault on my perception. And although he doesn’t pay rent, he’s welcome to stay.

This Ed-powered hyper design sensitivity is a double-edged Honjo Masamune sword. On one side of the blade, it enables me to absorb all the great design around me and get a rush by simply looking at a nice typeface on an elevator’s button. On the other side, it prevents me from ignoring bad design, which often feels like being repeatedly poked in the eyes with a handful of toothpicks. It can all get a bit overwhelming sometimes.

All designers have a pesky Ed pestering them to some extent. I’m not special, nor does it make me an exceptional designer. I suffer from imposter syndrome just like the next man. I also imagine the same exists in most professions. Developers, for example, see the world only in 0s and 1s and the voice in their head makes all decisions with if/else statements.

Ed is in a way my kuroko, to borrow a term close to WOVN’s heart. He’s always there, unbeknown to all, working his black magic behind the scenes.

# Writer Profile
Name(or pen name) :Val
Division :Product planning, Design
Length of WOVN :2 years

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