The Collective, The Collaborative and The Commons

When I was at University, a classmate of mine had formed a collective with some of his friends from his old school. If I remember correctly, it was a collaborative effort that merged music, photography and design. I'd not heard of a 'collective' before — not if you counted The Fugees or Wu Tan Clan. Slightly threatened by his confidence in his work, I paid very little attention to this very subject that I would come to write about seven years later. Before left home to pursue my Graphic Design BA, I'd lived in a smallish town about an hour from London, with very little cool and hip movements in the design or art world. In any case, I certainly was never hip or savvy enough to envision my own collective. Instead, I was a type of nerdy girl, set on doing things the 'traditional' way, working my way up in the industry. I suppose I always felt insecure about choosing an art-based subject where its connotations were not as notable as more theoretic/academic studies. So I crammed as much art and design history into my head as possible and filled my speech with "Well, typography is almost as old as mankind"...wahwahwah. 

 

"the tides were turning, and new ways of becoming a graphic designer were developing"

I charged myself with art movements and manifestos (most of which I'm extremely rusty on nowadays), learned the names of big design agencies, artists and typographers. I was taught earlier on in my art and design education that this is the way design careers had to be started. And while this was somewhat true, in that it had been the way success had been achieved for a lot of people, the tides were turning, and new ways of becoming a graphic designer were developing. I'm reluctant to use terms like 'the future of design' or 'changing' in this type of text because the idea of design as a constant cog of change is a vague subject to grasp in one sitting.

In the same breath, the concept of young people setting a tone for their creative lives, and establishing themselves as designers before their studies had finished was a notion I shunned very hard...I felt that it was all so entitled. So you can imagine how I turned my nose up at someone my age wanting to carve their own path so early. This classmate of mine believed he could and so he did. He merged his creative abilities together with some other creative people in different fields and they just did what felt good to them. It was a crew based on a creative commons. Though through this experience, I learned to find the value in the 'crew' and 'clique', something was still missing for me. I had never grown up in one place, let alone had people in my life who were also creative like me, so to not have any allegiance to any particular creative 'clique' was a little alienating. 

"I was lucky to work, and at times intern for companies who really taught me valuable things"

I still find value in the encouragement that, given the right circumstances, students ought to join established firms first, learn the ropes, then venture out on their own...if only for a little while. My experiences at *established firms and agencies gave me the confidence that I have today. Through having multiple commercial jobs in the design and publishing industry, I learned how to deal with seemingly impossible deadlines, work-place conflicts, redundancies and much much more. I'd never take any of those experiences back...okay maybe I'd take back working for one or two of those companies... But I was lucky to work, and at times intern for companies who really taught me valuable things, both in skill-set development and professional conduct. My freelance jig is now a much richerer experience because of working in the industry first. 

I was speaking to a close friend of mine about how design businesses are steadily harnessing a new form. We both agreed that we didn't want to be freelancers or in an agenct but that there ought to be a middle ground. That we could take the good out of both and merge them as a sort of microcosm. Using the example of my classmate's collective concept before, without creating a clique (as many design agencies/studios are/do), designers would just exist as collaborators and collectives. 

What if we started to utilise an index of people who would be willing share a brief and people worked together per project. To put things into perspective; a brand approaches a print-based designer about a project. The print designer knows that the project is exciting, but could be fulfilled to a much greater extent with use of web design and motion graphics. This designer then enlists various people in his index to see if they can bring the project to full completion. Now of course there's a hole in this instance — money. How would finances be resolved? If a brand approaches one designer, they're paying for what they're getting — one designer. How will you convince the brand to employ you and five other people as a collective? I haven't figured out the full answer yet. But I will say this, sometimes brands approach you with a singular request; they see the end product without fully realising what the whole package of that product could become. They see their product as singular, but as a designer, it's your job to help them envision it as diverse as possible. That's brand identity design 101. 

 

"the world is becoming (or already is) increasingly multi-channelled"

Finally, the reason why I'm becoming more and more convinced that the collective approach is the way to go, is because the world is becoming (or already is) increasingly *multi-channelled. A magazine 20 years ago would've thrived being just a print publication, but now that same magazine needs to be able to translate well online and potentially as an app. Who fills these boots? Certainly not print designers who would've designed these publications 20 years ago, but that doesn't mean that these designers are to be pushed aside in favour of UI/UX designers, or motion designers etc. It just means that there is now, more than ever, a need for collaboration and collectivity of the wide array of designers we have currently. Of course I'm aware that these types of design ideologies exist already, but I call to light that this mode of work should be a natural option when conversations are being had about current work methods of freelancers graphic design and design studios.

Notes: 
*Established: Main job providing comfortable income, having employees, and/or with capability to expand.
*Multi-Channelled: is just a fancy way of saying that brands are using multiple ways to reach customers, from billboards, to installations to apps...basically everything.