toggle me
Comments: 0
Category: Blog, On My Soapbox

I watched Up In The Air last night, and this morning I find myself replaying scenes from that movie in my head as I sit on a plane to Boston for a business trip. I am also remembering my Dad, who was a travelling salesman for most of his life, and had plenty of his own experiences to share from his air travels. He was a pro, just like Clooney.

The life of a travelling businessman, or woman, is not for everyone. In fact, I believe it takes a rare breed of person to endure the rigors of such a lifestyle. But instead of observing that type of personality, I’d rather apply it to what I know, and talk about designers as business travelers.

Air travel is very familiar to me. Between the age of 3 and 18, I flew on a plane at least 3 times every two years. Then, after 18, college, weddings, funerals, vacations, etcetera turned that average into more like two to three flights a year. I’d say that’s probably more than 50% of the American population, however not staggering by any means. Now, I’m not mentioning all of this to brag, but rather to illustrate my flying history so that I can eliminate that as a variable. I know how to fly, I’m comfortable with it, and I love that technology allows us to travel cross-country within hours. And most of the flights I have taken in my life are 3+ hours, so I know how to sit in coach for those trips.

bag of cricketsDesigners on a whole, I believe, share common traits. Our inability to sit still for extended periods of time without day-dreaming, doodling, or fidgeting is a near impossibility. We thrive on stimulus, and our minds are like a plastic bag full of crickets. Some of us are more sedate than others, but make no mistake we all share in these characteristics in one form or another. In fact, I’ve seen an alarming amount of ADHD in younger designers – I’m not sure if this is a new development, or the result of an over-stimulated youth. But that discussion is for another day.

I can hear it now – “So what, Bryan? I’m all of those things too, and I’m not a designer. Why does that make me any different from designers?” Easy. We’re paid to be this way. It’s our profession in life to be creative and to tap into those traits that used to drive our parents crazy. So the idea of suppressing those urges to get up and down, doodle and wander off (in mind and body) is ridiculous. Try telling the Olympic 100 yard sprinters that they have to speed walk for a medal. Talk about torture.

There are things we can do to help ourselves, I know. We can bring stuff on the plane to keep occupied, like I’m doing now. But then there’s the time surrounding the actual flight: travel to and from the airport, security lines, waiting in the terminal, hotel rooms, and so on. All of these are things the average road warrior has mastered. But designers aren’t road warriors. Some of us travel more than others, however I’ve never heard or known of a job that required weekly or monthly travel for a professional designer. I believe there are a few particular reasons for this:

We can’t exactly take our tools with us. Laptops will suffice for certain things, but can’t do everything. Brainstorming, for one, is a pain (at least for me) on a computer. Even then, there is a familiarity and ease of use with Apple towers over laptops, not to mention how much faster they are.

Then there are the little idiosyncratic things we do while working, many of which require things we can’t always travel with. One example is my business partner Ivy – she has a bamboo plant that has been with her for years. I’m certain it provides a certain level of subconscious comfort for her. As for me, I chew gum like crazy, and I am VERY picky about my keyboard and mouse set-up. I need a huge mousepad to the right, keyboard, slightly at an angle, to my left, and my chair that tilts just right.

Sure, with a little time and some ingenuity, we might be able to reproduce a mini-version of our cubes and offices for the road, But for the most part, I just don’t see it happening any time soon.

… and any designer out there that denies this needs to look in the mirror. Don’t be embarrassed by it, embrace it! Being weird doesn’t mean people don’t like you, or you’re messed up in some psychological way. No, your oddness makes you who you are. Me, I’m a dork. I fit in pretty well with the normal dredges of society, but there’s no escaping the fact that I am a dork.

Does that mean I make a terrible business traveler? Of course not. What it does mean, though, is that we’re a bit segmented in the business world. Art departments are isolated because those “normal” folks don’t get us. Our jobs don’t revolve around our ability to schmooze clients on the road, because that’s not what all of us are good at. The limitations I have as a designer allow me to be better at that sort of stuff, hence being a business owner. I’m not nearly as creative as some designers out there, and that’s OK. Regardless of who each of us are personally, we still have the “flighty creative type” scarlet letter on our chests, and we’re rarely the first pick of people to be sent to close a big business deal.

Now I do have to admit that this point may well apply to more than just designers, but it’s still worth mentioning. Vacations, trips to see family and friends, and random getaways are fun and exciting; we get to see people we haven’t in a while, check out new places and things… it’s all leisure time. But business travel is surrounded by monotony. For example, how many variations really exist with rental cars? Or hotels… there are some pretty cool ones out there, but most expense accounts don’t have room in the budget for “cool.” Clothes must be professional – not the usual trendy, usually casual, attire that we love. Food, while probably the most flexible, still can be limiting. There may not be enough time in the day to check out that great joint you heard about across town.

As I said, this probably applies to more than designers. But remember back to our personality traits: constant stimulus. Have you ever seen a designer’s home? We change things around because we get bored. We’re creatures of habit, too, but part of that habit revolves around mixing our lives up to keep it interesting. It’s just our nature.

So should designers never be allowed to travel? Heck no! Business travel gets employees out of the office, allows them to experience more than the four walls around them every day. And breaking out of a personal comfort zone can be very healthy. Talk to new people, experience new places, change the day up.

George Clooney with a puppySitting here, on flight American Airlines flight to Boston, does make me a bit jealous of George Clooney in Up In The Air. That sweet 10 million mile card he got at the end probably has some cool perks. And I’ve been in the Admiral’s Club – pretty swanky! But alas, my company’s expense budget won’t allow such luxuries. So, for now, I will enjoy the simple pleasure of not having anyone in the middle seat back in coach, a warm cup of watered down coffee (I’m a dark roast snob,) and my Apple Powerbook.

But dang, I can’t stop shaking my leg and chewing on this straw. I need to get out of this chair. Sigh.

©2010 Bryan Lester, The DesL Group

Comments are closed.