Thoughts On Designers As The 99%

I’ve been watching with vested interest the activities and growing crowd in the financial district of Manhattan over the last few weeks. Today marks 1 month since the first tarps and tents were erected on Wall St and one of the biggest sit-ins in recent times began. And apparently this weekend it went global with similar scenes across the US, in London and other cities around Europe along with isolated violent clashes in Rome.

Our parents had their issues in the 60’s and 70’s with The Man (but we all know how that turned out) and it seems like our generation is similarly pissed about the financial inequality that is so rife today.

I’m inclined to agree; hyper-wealth is pretty disgusting but, it’s also a by-product of capitalism and designers need to be careful which side of the fence they fall in this debate as it’s actually something which affects us all at the very basest of levels. Even more so when getting involved with this particular situation as there aren’t one but many fences to fall from.

I studied Economic Theory at school from age 16-18 (long story) and, OK, I kind of nosedived. It really wasn’t for me but I got the basics and I understand the models that lead to the kind of profits that huge corporations see. Do I agree with it? Maybe not, but do I understand them? Yes.

A lot of the guys taking home these 7 figure pay cheques have lived for what they do. Wasted their 20’s at the office; pulled 80 hour weeks,; slept at work; sacrificed marriages and relationships; ignored their kids… whatever. That’s their decision. You see that same kind of dedication (and stupidity) in all industries, including ours. I’ve seen so many people sleep at the office that I stopped taking notice. It’s pretty diseased but, some people won’t be told.

But let’s look at those at the top of their game in the creative industries. Find me a famous photographer with a day rate of less than $25k. In fact, fuck that, I saw $350k spent on a 2 day(!) shoot with a particularly notable female photographer for a tequila account very recently. Anyone out there protesting against that? What’s the going rate for a Hirst print these days? Get me a print out of Karl Lagerfeld’s bank account. Executive Creative Directors at big U.S. ad agencies clear the one million mark regularly. Diane Von Furstenberg has a yacht that moors occasionally in the Hudson River. Jessica Hische recently posted on her blog a case study where she was asking $70k for an illustration for a single ad campaign –

It’s a little too easy to point fingers at guys in suits.

Just because you wear jeans and a t-shirt to work, doesn’t mean you’re exempt. The creative industries are not poor by any yard stick, and for a designer to get involved here they either need to have a crystal clear conscience and immaculate balance sheet or be ready to walk away from what they do for a living.

It’s part of the capitalist model that allows us to set up our own studios. To set our own day-rates and to work with famous brands. For those famous brands to even exist, in fact, and have budgets to spend on marketing and to employ you to do something you enjoy for a living while getting paid. That same model allows guys with weird haircuts to own skyscrapers. And the very same model means there’s millions of people in First World living on the poverty line. Which sucks. But for a designer to be out there creating anti-capitalism slogans or t-shirts is misguided.

You think the world needs your limited edition poster? Would society crumble if you didn’t release that t-shirt or rebrand that law firm? Wow that business card is nicely embossed; must be pretty important stuff? Take a step back.

I’m not trying to cheapen what we do, I love my job. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t have an opinion here, as you definitely should, but you should also give it a lot of thought before weighing in. This is the first and probably last I’ll have to say on the subject but just bear in mind there are a lot of folks far worse off than you, would you trade with them? You may think you’re a part of the 99% in this instance, but on a global scale you’re very much a part of the 1%