In 2023 are designers social animals or not and does it matter?

As part of his new series looking at what it means to be creative, illustrator and author Ben Tallon levels on how parenthood and post-lockdown life has made him reasess his relationship with a notoriously social industry.

Until the age of 37, when twin-parenthood and the COVID-19 pandemic changed my life twice in close succession, I was a social creature. Some weeks I spent four or five nights as a face on the scene at creative industry get-togethers in whichever city I lived. After all, no matter to what extent, we all need social relationships to maintain good health.

Ever since walking through the door of design college, I’ve been in love with the vibrant mosaic of personality types our industry attracts. It is within this that we must find the right tribe to creatively empower ourselves.

Last year I commissioned a garden studio build. I’d moved to Salisbury, a quaint and pleasant city, but one that lacked the network or capacity for shared creative workspaces that Manchester provided. Following paternity leave, still in lockdown, I’d retreated to a small spare room in the house and my motivation withered. While I was grateful for a space to work in, and delivered my work professionally and on time, the contrast between my shared studio in the city, bustling with designers, artists, and filmmakers, and my home environment was stark. My wife and I did everything we could to offset the dangers of lockdown isolation for our daughter and son’s development. That we adults should not fight to follow suit flies in the face of the nature of creativity.

Knowing when to persue solitude, togetherness or balance

The college energy of days gone by played a critical role in my own creative development; a place where ideas seemed to accelerate as we explored possibilities and experimented with techniques and ideas. Solitude is essential too – without the headspace and quiet in which this stimulus can process and work its way from unconscious to conscious, it all just becomes white noise. But if the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it was the irreplaceable positive role of community and social cohesion in creativity. This garden studio, if I allow it, can be a lonely place. But it is my space and I fight to maintain the right balance.

In March I’ll be speaking at OFFF Festival in Barcelona for the first time. Héctor Ayuso, OFFF’s founder told me on an upcoming episode of The Creative Condition Podcast that he’s a natural introvert, but has always moved towards the things that make him uncomfortable, or scared, in order to grow, a major factor when making the decision to start OFFF. He is not alone. He says,

‘People said to me, ‘please, Héctor, find a way to keep the festival going (during the pandemic), we need this!’ Last year was the first festival after the pandemic, and I saw people crying as soon as they saw each other face to face.”

The creative industry brings us all together through our shared passion. I routinely meet other designers for coffee simply because we both work in this industry. I might be wrong, but I try to imagine dentists emailing one another at their practice, out of the blue, on the premise of meeting and speed-talking about cantankerous molars and it doesn’t feel as natural.

Finding your tribe

Wherever I go, I find my tribe starting with the local creative industry folk, and it is during the time with these people that I seem to enter fertile periods of creativity and productivity. OFFF’s communications director Nathalie Koutia puts it beautifully in an interview with Neon Moire, when asked what she hoped the audience of the festival would take home.

“The ability to take the step and finally make that change they have always wanted to do or to finally discover themselves and start creating. Make things happen,” she says.

Making things happen is at the core of the story of Loaded magazine founder and editor James Brown. Through his passion for music, he created Leeds-based fanzine Attack on Bzag, becoming features editor of NME by the age of 22.

In his memoir, Animal House, he details how the idea for Loaded emerged because he felt there was a lack of fun in the media of the day, and through his social and professional observations, believed nobody was representing the voice of young men. He describes the office as being in a constant state of a school classroom when the teacher has stepped out, and the way many of the greatest ideas came about in environments such as the pub, where people were relaxed and having fun, which in turn gathered momentum and instilled a culture of fearlessness that characterised his career.

Perhaps even more importantly, despite the well documented chaos and excess, he places equal value on assembling a team of interesting, professional people who were good at their job and who delivered.

Lets value “the currency of social energy”

We’re fortunate to enjoy the connectivity technology affords us and while I might not be able to do it with the zeal or frequency with which I once did, I believe that in these turbulent times, the currency of social energy and collective spirit is more valuable and important than ever before.

At the time of writing, I’m deep into the longest quiet spell of my career, despite being in arguably my strongest ever professional position thanks to 14 years of experience behind me. I hold up my hands and acknowledge the sizeable role of my early-parenthood fuelled complacency in maintaining relationships. But now, as I emerge with a pale face covered in new wrinkles and crow’s feet, I’m right back at the start, snakes and ladders style, enjoying the same rush of throwing myself back into the industry, being a part of it, finding out. Just like back then, I’m sharing passions and ideas, once again, building positive relationships with the people who I feel might value them, energised by the sheer possibility.

You can listen to an audio version of this article in full below. 

Ben Tallon is exploring “the nature, behaviour and psychology of creativity” as part of The Creative Condition. This is a current podcast and a book is set to follow in late 2023.




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