23 September 2017

One in a Million, Maybe More

Written by Sam Johnstone

I’ve always had a specific idea of what I see when I say the word design. This thing, this concept, which is broad enough to apply to any human creation, but modest enough to avoid implying any actual quality of its own. An object can be poorly designed, and that object can be either as large as a language, or as small as a price tag. Something can be well designed, and can be beautiful or functional or functionless or ugly. It’s so malleable, and because of this, it invites anyone who wants to to identify with it.

When I was young I loved comics, but I didn’t love reading comics as much as I did looking at the character designs. I loved music, but only if the record sleeve assured me that I should. I was always drawn in by packaging. The whisper you subconsciously hear when you look at something that tells you “you are engaging with a piece of a whole, a part of something larger than what you see here”. Because no designed work exists in a vacuum, and all human expression builds off of the work that came before it. It’s always been very important to me to understand those lineages, and to understand how the things I make fit within their greater culture.

When I started working professionally as a designer, I was mesmerized. Getting to see the whole pictures that I could only see fragments of growing up. Seeing the decisions get made that would translate into the same artifacts that I obsessed over before I knew how to decode their symbols. Becoming the person who makes decisions, knowing that my work was going to be seen by another kid like me, a kid eager to be drawn into a bigger world through the visual totems that made up their environment. But in the same way that as a child I peered into a universe larger than I knew how to be a part of, as a working designer I peered into endless facets of the design industry. Not only are there so many different approaches, processes, shared industries and languages, but there are also so many lenses through which designed work, and the idea of design itself can be viewed. It’s always been important to me that I create work that allows for dissection and fascination. So that if a kid like me finds my work, they can be drawn in, and see the magic that I did when I looked at the graphics that consumed my imagination. That’s only one, small point of view amongst so many. But it’s one that I never want to forget about.

One in a million. Maybe more.

When I met Natasha, we were in a group of other designers, all strangers. I was about to start a new job, and she was a year into one she was excelling at. And I was looking for community. We were all together, stranger designers, talking about design to try and not be strangers anymore. But something wasn’t clicking for me, listening to these soon-to-be-not-strangers talk about their projects. Until Natasha started talking about hers. The things she was working on were pure passion projects. She was simultaneously proud and anxious about them, because they weren’t obvious pathways to success. They were things that she needed to make, for only the reason that she believed that they should be made. The others on the trip were talking about their ventures as ventures. As investments of their time that would lead them higher up in the food chain of their communities. But Natasha was working on things that were deeper than that, more personal and more inspired. She didn’t know that she was having such a meaningful impact on me, because I didn’t share anything myself, I was too absorbed with everything she was saying. She was making for herself the work that I pined after from designers when I was young.

Since then, it’s been clear to me that we should work together. We look at our work in the same way. We get annoyed by the same things, frustrated by the same things and inspired by the same things. We both treat our work as something unfinished that can always be improved, learned from or built upon. We both believe in the responsibility of designers to make the world more palatable. And that there is ugliness, harshness and indifference that we can help to improve. There are so many types of designers. There are plenty who can make a poster, create a logo or a website, but I’ve only found one who cares in the same way I do about how important those artifacts can be, and is driven by their own need to create something meaningful.

Night Shift is a gamble for both of us, but it feels like it’s important that we start it now. Because it’s rare to find someone who compliments your abilities, rarer to find someone who shares your drive and focus, and rarer still to find someone willing to put their livelihood at risk for you.