Valuing Generation X

What’s happened to integrity and honour in our profession? It’s all very well specifying recycled paper, but not when it’s at the expense of human beings and certainly not when the only values we pass on to young designers are monstrous myths, says Janice

Yet another new year to wearily trudge through on the long trek from the cradle to the grave. I wonder what this one holds in store for the mighty design tribe?

Manwatching during the recession has taught me to take a more philosophical approach to life, business and design. The development of your own personal code seems an indispensable item for the survival of the soul in this dog-eat-dog world. You need only watch David Attenborough on television to work out, somewhat sadly, that most of life on earth is “looking after number one”. Most earthlings relish the opportunity to devour fellow creatures, but I’m an old fashioned gal who believes there’s more to life than a fast buck and an ugly conscience.

I’m not thinking primarily of clients when I ponder man’s inhumanity to man or tribal warfare or the behaviour of primates, I’m thinking more of our design professions, the creative tribe at the centre of the universe (they probably created it), the honourable ones who seek to heal the world through design evangelism.

Maybe I’m just getting long in the tooth when I can no longer get angry over yet another piece on speculative pitching or a report on who’s in and who’s out on the competition circuit. It all seems to wash over me when once I felt it would drown me if I didn’t try to change it. All this is nothing when we consider that the integrity and democracy once at the very heart of our creative professions is dying, our tribal honour faces extinction.

Meanwhile, designers fail to halt the rot and continue living a myth. My perspective on what is important in design has changed. I am far less concerned with specifying groovy typefaces and far more interested in the usefulness and democracy of my work and those who will help produce and eventually use it.

I get this gnawing feeling that many of our tribe feel increasingly disenfranchised, removed from the action, the money, the power, the awards, the publishing and the public face of the design industries. Many of our number are small one- and two-person organisations who can’t afford competition entry fees, don’t drive an executive car, don’t live in London or have lots of all-expenses paid trips abroad. Or maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe the professions and the education industry are not moving with the times, maybe they’ve become trivial and financially oriented.

One thing is for sure: the apparently liberal exterior of the design professions betrays a middle class, clubby and extremely hypocritical interior. Although they would like to believe they are above all that class thing and the political thing too, they still shop exclusively in the M&S food hall and send their kids to private school.

They smugly think it’s so clever to be creative, society’s enfants terribles. They think having a social conscience is living in Hampstead and specifying recycled paper without really caring one jot about the human economics, or God forbid, the party politics of paper production. It’s so convenient for designers to have a professional social conscience about trees because they certainly don’t have one when it comes to people.

Generation X, the ones I see in significant numbers at art school, can’t relate to our diminishing tribal values. The values we express through the myths we persist in propagating – myths about big cars, japanese suits, vast wealth and keys to the friends of the internationally rich and famous club. We are indeed infuriating liars and dangerous myth-makers.

I’ve met precious few designers who’ll risk speaking out and even fewer who’ll get their hands dirty dealing with politicians. Far too many designers commit tribal genocide through myth-making and generally unprofessional behaviour, cannibalism through speculative pitching, all in the name of a Thatcherite free-market, bullshit economy. It’s tantamount to selling granny and lying to the kids, because it’s convenient to do so. Do designers who speculatively pitch tell their children to go into the world and work for nothing? To take and not give? I don’t think so.

So much for Generation X, tomorrow’s creative tribe, who will inherit the professional reputation we create for them. I feel sorry for them because they have few steadfast and honourable role models to help them.

Charity begins at home, so let’s do the honourable thing for once – face up to the truth about life in the design industries and do something unselfish to make it a better place to live and work.

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