Portfolio Night

Dear J.D.,

That portfolio deemed too dangerous for a court of law by the Ada County, Idaho, sheriff’s office?

Designed and built four years to the date prior to being incarcerated by mental health professionals who do not know the difference between Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh, let alone David Carson and Massimo Vignelli, yet nevertheless “teach” design at the state mental hospital, in unrealistic preparation for attending Seattle’s advertising industry’s 2010 Portfolio Night.

That year sponsored by global ad firm Publicis, I did not learn about the event until two days before.

Which meant I was able to get in free of charge.

Can you believe? The global ad execs were trying to bleed dry job supplicants for the privilege of desperately seeking innovative talent?

Rapidly stale MFA in hand, with three years of teaching experience which meant reviewing portfolios first in drawing then in graphic design studios, I was still mystified by what it takes to land a job two years into the Great Recession. Now I realize it is healthy community and mentors helping you network into those jobs, on top of all the skills you learn in school if you work really hard, but of course I lack those first two prerequisites. Back then, pounding the pavement along with all the bankers laid off when WaMu went tits up, I would have been completely happy with any brute survival job and coming home and painting at night, but even survival jobs were not to be had with the national unemployment rate hovering around 20 percent.

Even the temp agencies were shutting their doors. Standing outside the window of one such agency, I shot the image of the ‘now hiring’ sign that I will use as my journal header until that neon comes on for me. Or WordPress goes out of business. Whichever comes first. The neon never came back on for that agency, and their retail space in a building with seaside views sat empty for many months (or was it years?) before the leasing company got lucky again.

So I did what I always do when faced with a problem I do not know how to solve: I went in search of experts.

Scrubbing the Internet for hiring expertise, I came across design impresario Michael Beirut’s fresh-out-of-college portfolio that landed his first design job, from school in Cincinnati to the Big Apple. Mr. Beirut drops some hilarious quotables in Helvetica. You should watch it, if you haven’t already. I refused to sacrifice studio class time to show it to my drug-addicted students at the University of Idunno who missed out on the film when they skipped lecture class to sleep in after partying all night with their friends. I call that not rewarding bad behavior.

No offense to Mr. Beirut, but my graduate school portfolio was stronger.

As well it should be.

Graduate school work should be more rigorous than college.

By then, coming from a family background where my parents tried to prevent me from going to college, I had nearly twenty years of experience on some kid fresh out of art school, especially from Ohio, the state that, in the 21st century, prohibits visual communications on its college campuses.

He shows one very sweet illustration of himself as a toddler with gigantic crayons scribbling on the walls of his room.

The problem was, just my You Have Seen Me series alone would have filled two of Mr. Beirut’s fake cowhide portfolios to nearly bursting, and what about the rest of my work? What if the global communications agencies wanted to see, I dunno, posters or typography or something in addition to drawings?

you have seen me screen shot

You Have Seen Me, 2007, series of 24 drawings, each 76.5×57 cm, charcoal and Prismacolor on Fabriano Artistico, 2010 web build, HTML, CSS, JavaScript. Any work in series leads to comparison between one and the other, seeks to find commonalities, brings to light differences. The length of a series requires work on the part of a viewer, the time of walking, a walk of memory or mourning, or traversing, trans-, movement. In a digital environment, the viewer sits passively before a screen while in this scrolling presentation the script moves the work. The images enter from the right and disappear into a visual reference to a boundary between analog and digital technologies. An artist statement is presented in a typographic layout that borders the digital image files above and below and continues in the “mark up comment.” The viewer may choose to interact by either pausing the script or speeding up the action.

In Rem Koolhaas’s library I found a book or two on creating design portfolios, which the graphic design authors described as your “design book.” And much of the work that the authors extolled wasn’t even all that commercial. Why didn’t my design faculty just tell me what hiring managers want to see? Here is a book I wrote, illustrated, designed, set the type by hand, and bound after college:

6 little girls

6 Little Girls, 2002, 26.5×36 cm when closed. Letterpress from handset lead type, Van Dyck brown and linoleum block prints, back cover machine quilted from vintage fabric remnants, edition 10 signed and numbered, one included in Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

I even designed and built a box for that one, prompting one passive consumer of mass retail product to inquire, “Where did you find the box?” Cover printed Van Dyck brown exposed to sunlight from negs from family photos kluged together with 72-point cold metal Bembo scanned and enlarged using an antique version of Photoshop and a Tektronix dye sublimation printer, I would never design a book like this now, but I still love that lowercase Bembo ‘G’ like the child I will never have.

In grad school, I designed and published another book. I called it my MFA thesis:

wild child

Wild Child, 2008, 26.5×28.5×6.5 cm. Pigment ink jet and letterpress on Magnani Pescia, paste paper covers on museum boards, linen thread, exposed hemp cords, variable edition 6 signed and numbered, included in the collection at the University of Idaho Library, Moscow.

To get permission to rebel against the banal design standards for theses and dissertations, I designed another book. This one I titled A Double Petition. It’s a reference to Jacques Derrida, but expecting ad execs to be familiar with deconstruction might be setting too high an expectation for Portfolio Night:

double petition

A Double Petition, 2007, 26×28.5 cm, Early mock up for what would become my MFA thesis. Digital and lead type, laser and letterpress printed, paste paper endsheets with 23k gold leaf, signatures sewn onto hemp cords, hand-sewn silk headbands, edition 2 signed and numbered.

Some books I designed and built after grad school:

studio detritus books

Studio Detritus, 2008–09, 26 square or 23×26 cm, one-of-a-kind not-quite blank books with pastepaper covers with exposed spine on hemp cords.

I called those books Studio Detritus because they were sewn with wastepaper from my studio interleaved between blank paper for drawing or writing. Granted, my studio waste is prettier much more lushly beautiful than the final product of many manufacturers, including some folks calling themselves design studios.

They were maybe my way of asking, but must reduce reuse recycle mean some ugly, grey, formless park bench made of former milk cartons or used tires?

The graphic design portfolio experts lodged in the globally renowned book repository in high-tech Seattle recommended searching office supply stores for design “books” or, if a newly minted design student was going to make her own, using first aid kit tape (!!!) available from retail drug stores.

As if a book is not also designed.

As if the Internet had not been invented yet.

Since the Seattle office of Publicis was located just down the hill from my apartment, I thought about strapping a bungee cord around my rolling flat files and hauling my portfolio into Portfolio Night that way:

portfolio on castersBut.

Queen Anne Hill, with its sweeping views of the Space Needle, downtown Seattle, and Puget Sound, gets a little steep:

portfolio downhill

Maybe I should bring my laptop instead, show the ad execs my online “book”?

cat and miceBut.

The Dell was mostly a warm nap place by then, and my Mac that did not outlast the Great Recession or our jobless economic recovery, designed in Cupertino and built in China before Air, would have meant lugging a laptop in my backpack, and arriving all sweaty, and what would that do to my “game face” that all the hiring experts maintained I must wear?

putting on my game face

Image edited from setting up for photo shoot for Explicit/Incipit after Italo Calvino, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, (work in progress)

Kind of Margaret Bourke-White-ish, don’t you think?

What does game look like, anyway?

And wouldn’t a global ad firm have its own computers and access to the Internet, especially in the high-tech city of Seattle home to technology gagillionaire Bill Gates?

Still, the last-minute email blast from Seattle’s ad school recommended bringing a design book.

You cannot, it turns out, write, design, print through a cantankerous Epson 3800, and bind a book in two days. I gave it my best effort, but I didn’t get this finished until the day after Portfolio Night:

2010 lookbook

My 2010 “look book,” or print interpretation of that year’s web build, demonstrating my range of skill from identity to traditional print to digital and multimedia.

Now, does that look too dangerous for a court of law to you?

With such tight turnaround, I had to give up, and decide how to salvage an evening that had required my advance RSVP:

  • Not show up, and run the risk of a black mark beside my name with the design community in what turned out to be a small town posing as a mid-sized city, not to mention a rapidly shrinking globe?
  • Show up empty-handed, in spite of the warning not to, if nothing else to view the competition, maybe the chance to ask of employed designers and creative directors what are you looking for in prospective employees?
  • Show up with my pile of letterpress printed luxury stationery product stuffed into a paper sack?

letterpress product samplesIn the end I decided if I could not have the best-designed portfolio, I would arrive with the smallest.

A business card should be adequate reminder to connect to my portfolio site, right?

So I adapted a structure that paper-engineering extraordinaire Hedi Kyle coined her “blizzard book” for use as a business card holder designed neither to U.S. nor European standard business card sizes, but to ubiquitous credit card specifications, and stuffed them with both letterpress printed and ready-to-be-colored-in business card samples.

And brought along a box of crayons.

Kind of inspired by the illustration from Mr. Beirut’s portfolio, only a little more interactive.

Twenty-first century design is nothing if not interactive, right?

The email blast invite gave no indication whether the portfolios were to be displayed at stationary tables, with revolving visitors or viewers (no), or to be moved around, carried with me (yes).

In 2010, Publicis was designing ads for T-Mobile:

  • As I recall, one ad featured young girls who, stereotypically, like to do lots of shopping at malls.
  • Another featured the dysfunctional marriage of an older couple, with the husband stereotypically controlling the finances and the wife stereotypically nagging to get the new phone she wanted.
  • And still a third showed stereotypically black basketball players kowtowing to their stereotypically white owners.

For selling communication.

Hoping to attract a racist, sexist audience suffering through severely dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, perhaps?

The jabbering televisions in the back lobby of their oddly designed building were thankfully shut off by the time I arrived. T-Mobile’s signature jangling ringtone was one of the reasons I switched mobile vendors at the earliest opportunity. Their badly designed web interface was another. Customer service reps who do not listen to their customers was a third. A phone so badly designed and built that after three months it stopped recognizing the touch of my fingers was still a fourth, even though I guess that speaks more to design flaws at Motorola than the communications experts fronting T-Mobile. Sexist advertising was low on the totem pole as a fifth; since I do not watch television, their advertising rarely affected me.

Their building complex enjoys some strange bedfellows, with the ground floor lobby attracting my attention earlier that spring with an installation of portraits screenprinted onto repurposed scraps of wood. Given the context, maybe prejudiced by my experiences putting my prosecutor ex-husband through law school, I thought they might be pictures of most wanted or convicted felons. From their own branding and naming decisions, I had naïvely wondered if the office might belong to one of Seattle’s many public defenders. But no, after my inquiry prompted a personalized, one-on-one tour of the Publicis offices, I learned they were advertising professionals.

Publicis sounds like a nice name for public defenders, though, don’t you think?

From my years of experience in real estate development, I cannot imagine what the leasing agent was thinking.

Desperate for dollars?

Or is there an affiliation between the federal agency tasked with waging that “war on drugs” and the data and licit drugs pumped by Microsoft-backed Razorfish? But how well is that shift from methamphetamine to prescription psychotropics working out for their clients’ clients?

On Portfolio Night, I entered their lobby about the same time as a leggy blonde wearing a leather jacket and carrying a mobile phone. From the disorienting configuration of their back entrance, I struggled to wayfind to their elevators. Luckily years of rural living leave me confident in striking up conversations with passersby. As the blonde came stalking past me, I hazarded a guess that she was another attendee of the same event rather than a DEA agent, so inquired, “Do you know where you’re going?”

She glanced at me, up, down, no more than a cold flicker of her eyelashes, and went back to thumbing her mobile device, “No.”

An elderly gent in a tuxedo joined us while waiting for the elevator, also puzzled about which floor to choose.

“I’ll follow you,” I tried joking with the tuxedo-clad fellow, “You’re well-dressed.”

He bristled with pride, nodding and bobbing, and not until then did I notice that his tuxedo was shabby and one or two sizes too large, and I really had made a joke. He turned out to be the magician, rented as entertainment for the evening, along with a psychic selling his skills as a cardreader.

The frigid, animal-slaying blonde continued thumbing her mobile device throughout the brief elevator journey, disinterested in the world outside her personal screen.

The creative directors huddled together in a white, male circle of exclusivity.

Looking back, I was still comparatively shy then. Nowadays, after my recent experience design directing an all-male team to competitive success, I would probably go disrupt their circle by commenting in my very best imitation of a grad school colleague’s furniture saleswoman purr, “Gentlemen, what do you think this is, a high school dance? What brings you here?”

Instead, I mingled with as many other job-seeking designers as possible; maybe I could meet potential colleagues, perhaps make friends, learn what real designers and their design books look like?

I met a young woman who described herself as a copywriter. Fresh from ad school in San Francisco, she must have been a copywriter, as her book was visually reprehensible, encompassing badly designed ads, comb-bound and laminated to boot. Yes, laminated. Plus the kind of writing that you might read on the backs of cereal boxes and think, “Some poor schmo gets paid to write this stuff.”

I remember laminating my first book. In high school. That book also included moving parts, a volvelle, pop-ups, and pull tabs long before Carol Barton taught me how professionals go about making those book structures. Her fabulous workshop included an impromtu tour of the facilities of a global shoe manufacturer located in suburban Portland, Oregon, where a German designer busily slicing into the entire side of a calf with the then-new technology of laser cutting tried to argue with me about how wrong I was about a subject/object disagreement in his one line of copy – in English – before he cursed something I could not translate and changed the settings on the laser cutter to shred the cow that had sacrificed its life for a typo.

The global shoe manufacturer has a really fun materials library though. I would love to play in it.

My laminated high school design book included illustrations somewhat comparable to Michael Beirut’s college efforts. I wish the documentation images that my art teacher had taken with his film camera had returned from the developer before I gave that book to a six-year-old. For free.

A man not too much older than myself, yet already balding, confessed he was hoping to be “torn apart” by the creative directors. As an art director for a local television station, many of them were his friends, he boasted.

“I don’t watch television,” I told him apologetically.

“Neither do I,” he laughed.

Then he latched onto me, telling telling telling his job woes, or what in psychology is described as his trauma narrative – monologic, rote, monotonous telling – of numerous unresolved conflicts in his workplace.

My crayons and business card blanks seemed to encourage his one-sided comfort.

A shy, teary-eyed woman of perhaps 50 told me she felt trapped in her design job at an insurance company, unappreciated by her superiors, and rushed and unfulfilled in her work. She had taken care of her husband through his career, provided care for their children throughout their school years, and now she was wanting to take care of herself for a change. I would have liked to have talked to her longer. She did not show me her graphic design book.

The masochistic art director showed me his book that he printed through Blurb. It was slick, glossy, filled with unmemorable, corporate, but sure enough, professionally paid graphic design work, although the book itself was poorly laid out and uninspiring.

A youngish gay man arrived late, tired from his day job at Brooks Brothers, wolfed down food, and needed no further encouragement to show me his Addy-award-winning, insipid graphic design work in a commercially manufactured leather portfolio. He did not bring a business card with him, and expressed no reciprocal interest in seeing my book.

The magician reappeared later, disrupting my conversation with the copywriter as if desperate for an empathetic audience for his card tricks. I neglected to draw a line on his rudeness until he held up a pencil next to me and launched into a joke about measuring a woman’s attractiveness on a scale of one to 10. Then I met his bloodshot eyes in his leathered, reddened face with his Adam’s apple jerking out of his too-large tuxedo shirt collar like some barnyard rooster, and debated how best to place a boundary on his crude sexism, given our positions relative to the host.

“You know,” I said casually but firmly, “The thing is, I do not like men who objectify women, and I do not like jokes that treat women as objects. I am not an object for your gaze.”

Which I continued to meet, until he jerked his head back, and, unbelievably, the evening’s entertainment launched into a tirade at one of the guests. He insisted his jokes were so funny. He had been using the same schtick for years. His audiences laughed at his jokes, and on and on and on…

“Sir,” during a pause in his rampage, I patiently explained what a former Vegas girl should never have to explain to a lounge act, “Your jokes are offensive to your audience. Who is your audience right now?”

Then I pointed to myself while, from my periphery, I noticed the copywriter abruptly turned away and busied herself with more food or drink.

“I do what works!” more red-faced railing from the rumpled cock.

One of the creative directors ventured outside his circle of white male friends then, and the magician distracted himself by starting all over again with the same sleight-of-hand card trick: he asked his fresh audience to pull an “invisible” card out of an “invisible” deck, tell him what the “card” was, and shuffle it back into the “deck,” before he pulled out an actual box of cards and fanned them until he revealed the named card, of course face up in an otherwise facedown deck.

The creative director was either genuinely amazed, or did a damn dang fine theatrical production miming amazement.

He left, and another creative director wandered over. The second CD acted amazed as well, and what I found even more amazing was his level of naïve egocentrism, revealed by his comment, “Oh, I guess I just have a feel for it,” meaning he “magically” guessed the card right side up in the deck.

And Idaho’s mental health professionals tell me I’m delusional.

Derrida definitely would not have worked with that crowd.

From my perspective, the entire evening was badly designed by the global ad agency:

Project management, sound design: a last-minute scheduling snafu, communicated via an unnecessary microphone blasting too-loud in a low-ceilinged, too-small room crammed with too many people who did not stop talking long enough to listen to the young woman who sounded like an extra-loud version of Charlie Brown’s parents, left me redundantly interviewing with two fellows from the host firm. One after the other. Because the global ad agency couldn’t handle the logistics of calendaring or seating charts. Or organizing poster sessions, like an academic conference.

Or mingling, like at a party.

Architectural space, installation design: two rows of long tables were pushed so closely together that the creative directors, once they managed to get seated back to back, did not have room to push their chairs out, so they could not stand up, should they have needed to escape. I clambered over chairs and swirls of mini-blind cords to take a seat on the opposite side of the interviewing tables pushed too close against one wall. Like a zoo. Or a cage. But who’s on the inside, and who’s out?

Graphic design: remember that wayfinding signage lacking in their lobby and again at their elevators?

The first fellow from Publicis played along with the crayons for a moment, and you could tell he was tempted. I almost had him too.. Until he remembered that he was a Serious Businessman in a Suit, silver-haired, working long after six o’clock, and he would be damned gosh-darned if he was going to sit there and color. He glanced through my business cards, briefly, only to announce:

“There is no concept here.”

Of course my entire presentation was conceptual, a concept even a small child would understand:

Play.

But at least he offered a tiny sliver of insight into the world of marketing, “Just make stuff up. That’s what we do.”

Permission! To make stuff up.

What I am already really good at doing.

Plus he encouraged my interest in designing an entire alphabet of brands. I never got beyond the letter ‘A’ before I decided to apply my skills to real problems in between these seemingly never-ending job application cover letters and maintaining a blog that a job recruiter at that global shoe manufacturer assured her audience that is all that it takes to get a job, though she did not explain how one blog out of eight billion or so on the planet was really going to bump me to the head of the mob, and as if writing is not, itself, work:

a**hole productions identity

Identity, A**hole Productions.

I could not afford to hire a copywriter pitching the brand identity, so I wrote my own:

The first time I met with A**hole Productions, they complained about not being in the public eye. “Nobody sees us,” they whinged, “They think we’re a waste.” They wanted to be dealt with as professional a**holes. They wanted a hole new look. My design solution is a kick in the pants. Their new identity is flexible. It can expand, to include more than one a**hole in a room, or contract – omitting the line of type still leaves behind a readily recognizable mark. A**hole’s new identity reproduces both large and small. It works in black and white or multiple colorways. From their humble beginnings, A**hole has plans for expansion, and may one day include another generation of a**holes. Wanna bet? It’s an ace in the hole.

Now, what are hiring managers looking for, again?

Lighting design: the second fellow was outright hostile from the get-go, snorting like a hippopotamous even while I was in the midst of resituating – through the tangled web of miniblind cords – from one chair to the next, and who could blame him for being so cranky, squished as he was between tables and squinting in the glare of poorly placed halogen track?

Fashion design: his hair hung lankly on either side of his face, and looked to be unwashed for several days. But maybe he had applied Very Expensive Product to get it to look like that. On purpose.

So much for whacking off two feet of hair in my move from country mouse to city mouse, concerned with looking more professional for all those Great Recession job interviews that never quite materialized.

Maybe I should’ve just stopped showering.

Without bothering to return my introduction, the big city CD pawed through one of my two little accordian-folded books.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” he snarled.

“What do you usually do with a book?” I queried, nonplussed.

He pulled out a handful of my business cards letterpress printed on mouldmade 100 percent cotton rag Magnani Pescia and shoved them back into the book I designed and built in the midnight hour.

“These are all the same,” he snarled again, his sadistic hostility exactly the response the masochistic art director sought.

But I seek colleagues healthy enough to reciprocate my respect.

I repeated my explanation that I had received inadequate notice of their function, that you cannot write, design, print, and bind a book in less than two days, though I did try, had debated about bringing my laptop instead, then decided—

“Then you should’ve brought your laptop,” the inattentive creative director at a global ad agency in the high tech city of Seattle threw up his hands in a gesture of disgust.

“—but surely you have computers and access to the Internet here at your offices? So I—“

Trapped in his cage between tables, the CD at the global ad agency shot a frantic glance toward the hallway leading to their design moshpit of large, flat screen computers – I remembered from my springtime tour – before glaring back at me, “Not right here.”

“—decided to not miss out on the opportunity to meet face-to-face with experts in the field to ask what it is you look for in a design portfolio?”

He pulled out a well-worn soapbox, “We want to see someone who can really dig deeply into a brand, someone who can truly understand a brand’s DNA…”

Of course for an audience with discriminating taste in print design, my business cards were not all the same. Au contraire, I had gone to some considerable work producing an array of cards made almost unique by printing the first run over many weeks, with color changes from whatever ink happened to be on the press at the end of any given workday, careful registration with lead and wood type, and playful copywriting that corresponded to typography selections on reverse, emphasizing the depth of impression of type into the softness of paper.

six other press business cards

Six Other Press, 2008, identity on letterpress printed business cards.

My thesis work went so deeply into the identity of Magnani’s 600-year-old brand that I produced letterpress printed images of their paper fibers at microscopic resolution, and debossed (printed without ink) the text ink into just one two-page spread ultimately edited from the final publication, and my expert knowledge of critical theories of identity readily applies to any field populated with human beings. But maybe ad industry experts do not recognize identity without the Nike swoosh or the Coke ribbon? Maybe I should have done more design research earlier, so we could have found Oreo cookies in common?

…Meanwhile, the ad guy sounded as if he might be working up a hard-on under the too-tightly wedged together tables, so enthused was he about DNA.

Next, I confess, I was a little bit naughty.

I know better than to insinuate to an enraged passive aggressive communicator on a power and control trip that he might not be as smart as he likes to think he is, especially when his web content shares his self-judgment as “whip-smart, ridiculously fun and über responsible all at the same time,” with a lack of respect for the Oxford comma, but by then I realized something that the advertising folks had yet to figure out: communication works both ways. And there was no way I was going to land a job in the hostile, regressive environment at Publicis.

“Perhaps we are just not communicating on the same plane,” I suggested, feigning naïveté, and speaking slowly enough even Idaho’s mental health professionals would have had no difficulty whatsover following along. “To me, DNA means deoxyribonucleic acid. But why don’t you share with me what DNA means to you?”

“I’ve been doing this for 17 years,” the Mad Man bawled, sneering, “I got a job right out of school, where I went to New York and started working on the Pepsi account!”

Another naughty confession: my face can be very expressive. As much as I might try, I was never any good at poker.

Until playing cards in the absence of psychotherapy at the insane asylum.

But that probably doesn’t count.

There was no place to cash in the chips.

And all of the other players were falling asleep by 10:00 p.m. from their nightly meds.

Probably, even under the glaring halogens, my expression shifted between possible options for my response:

(“And your mother must be very proud?”)

(“How do you feel about spending 17 years of your life selling carbonated sugar water?”)

I opted to try to diffuse his rage by treating him as if we were equals, “Okay, so when I am reviewing portfolios, what I look for is not so much product but how that person thinks—”

“I’m not paying you $2,000 a day so you can sit around and think!” he raged, nostrils flaring.

Technically, he was not paying me at all.

In retrospect, wow, that’s double the per diem billed to the State of Idaho by its corrupt private contractor for their privilege of violating my constitutionally protected freedoms. I’ll take it.

That must be what Ms. Dalrymple meant when she tried to explain the state’s gap between available jobs and funding for toilet paper by snarling at me, “Well, sometimes, you can be overeducated.”

“—but that’s just me. Why don’t you tell me what you included in your college portfolio that got you the job in New York?”

Strangely, the 17-year creative veteran proved unable to describe his work using visual vocabulary: line, shape, value, color, let alone combining those elements with visual grammar, or the principles of design.

Instead, he waxed nostalgic into a description of doing a fake ad for Keds, cutting something out of a magazine, and Photoshopping it. In a tone of voice that heaped much media scorn on Al Gore for trying to claim he invented the Internet. The worst part was, his description reminded me very much of a very, very bad ad layout that one of the undergrads brought into lecture class, essentially cropping a pair of Keds from a published magazine ad, placing them smack in the middle of her composition, and making no changes other than adding a black box, plus maybe a sparkle or two on the laces that may or may not have been in the original ad, with a line of copy in light Helvetica slapped across the top, and then tried to claim design credit. Something like this:

keds with sparkles

Note this is not a real ad for Keds or any other product.

I tried very hard to not let the horror of that memory reveal itself in my facial expression.

But I probably failed.

“I can hire coders,” the Publicis CD continued sneering at the innovative talent that slipped through his grasp after she explained her experience ranged from traditional print to web media, “But somebody needs to tell them what to do.”

(Presumably the guy he’s not paying to think is telling the coders what to do?)

(While the CD leaves for his three-martini lunches?)

How well is that creative direction helping T-Mobile build healthy, long-term relationships with its customers?

Sure, the Publicis ad sneering at the poor went viral, but did it solve the problem of its client desperately seeking 1,000sf of office space to better minister to London’s homeless population? And what’s behind the screaming visual illiteracy of their site design with its painfully drop-shadowed identity? In my experience, severe abuse must be going on there. Are the narcissistic Mad Men (and Women) at Publicis designing ads for themselves?

I do still remember, dimly, what a man smells like. And Old Spice smells more like a pedophile than a man to me. Someone so severely stopped up in his early childhood development that he is afraid to engage in relationship with adult women. A funny uncle. Or the textbook grandpa rapist. What “change” are these mid-20th-century definitions of masculinity and femininity “leading” into the 21st century?

“Maybe next year, you can advertise your event further in advance?” I suggested encouragingly.

“It’s been on my calendar for three months!” the 17-year ad exec raged narcissisticly.

Back to the importance of graphic design when communicating with your intended audience…

Still.

The evening was not a total waste.

On my way out, I stopped by the cardreader’s booth, set up in a small room down the hall. Typically, I do not put a lot of stock in parlor card tricks or palm-reading psychics, but since the creative directors had been unprepared to offer mutually respectful dialogue…

A gracious, white-haired woman stood just outside the door, and motioned for me to enter after the next patron left. Not the psychic’s wife, I learned through conversation while we waited. Just a friend.

The cardreader observed that I am someone who is “very comfortable” with herself, in being alone, “more evolved” than other human beings is how he described my journey, in striking contrast to the dueling judgments of Idaho’s mental health professionals bent on stomping out writing and creative thinking.

“It is a lonely place to be,” I observed.

He asked me if I was in a relationship, to which I responded, hesitantly, “Noo,” then corrected myself, “Yes. I am ‘in relationship’ with myself,” perhaps the most important relationship of all, the relationship you must form before you can be in healthy relationship with others. He advised the key to any successful relationship: negotiation.

But how does one negotiate with oneself?

And how does one negotiate with raging passive aggessive family, clients, or mental health professionals without mutual agreement to meet at the table ready to hear each others’ perspectives?

After a few more cards, the psychic hesitated, visibly troubled.

“You do not have to answer these next questions if you do not feel comfortable,” he told me, “Have you been married?”

As he had earlier noticed, I am comfortable, very comfortable in myself and moving freely about the cabin, so I answered, briefly, “Yes.”

“Was there a child who died, maybe a pregnancy that did not come to term?”

“Not as far as I know,” I answered drily, meeting his eyes.

He looked down at his cards again, “I see a child here, who dies, or who was badly injured.”

“My work is about children,” I responded simply, thinking of those You Have Seen Me drawings that I did not lug down the hill to be pawed through by the creative directors of the global ad agency challenged by the concept of crayons.

Keep in mind this encounter was a few months before Sladjana’s story came to my attention, and two years after a powerful dream that coincided with her suicide.

“Children’s needs are very simple. They do not need the latest toys or clothes. They only need two things. Do you know what children need?”

“Food? Clean diapers?” I joked to lighten the atmosphere in the room.

But the psychic’s answer was serious, and intense, while telling me what I already knew, “Children only need to feel safe. And they need love.”

“And what happens,” I asked quietly, succinctly, “When they are afraid?”

(They continue raging, well into their chronological adult lives? Because mommy and daddy both modeled for and then rewarded that bad behavior in the CEO of T-Mobile beginning from when he was about two?)

Maybe another of those moments when you know it is not your destiny to spend this iteration of your lifetime selling carbonated sugar water?

Now, how do I go about surviving this post-Great Recession era of dystopic capitalism?

Maybe someone cares enough about these badly behaving executives to pay for a month-long retreat at Nadine? That should give us time to get to work on unpacking the bags that your parents gave you to haul around. Cold turkey, no drugs, no alcohol, no screen media in a nurturing environment getting in touch with your identity, digging deeply into your brand. Maybe check in with weekly life drawing sessions after that? The view from here, those bags look unnecessarily heavy. And not very well designed.

The psychic offered still more sound career advice:

“You are building yachts for people who want canoes. If a client wants a canoe, you can’t always build them a yacht.”

I wouldn’t privilege yachts over canoes, personally, but Portfolio Night at Publicis taught me to seek out an audience who wants seaworthy vessels instead of leaky skiffs.

On my way out, I made sure to praise the psychic’s companion, “That reading made the whole evening for me.”

“Oh, good,” she beamed back, “That makes me so happy.”

Patiently waiting for colleagues healthy enough to reciprocate my respect.

With love and bananafish,

Esmé

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3 thoughts on “Portfolio Night

  1. Pingback: Why Amazon? | journal6other

  2. Pingback: Resetting Your Moral Compass | journal6other

  3. Pingback: #BetterDesign Than Mass Shooter Culture | journal6other

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