Thursday, October 26th, 2006

9 to 5 = average

9 to 5 = average
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I’m a hard-ass. Some would correct that by simply removing the word “hard”; but I digress. There are a number of people who find me rather difficult to be around. I would go as far as to say that our staff – both past and present – would unequivocally agree that working with me is daunting at best. Understandably, I have long searched for the reason behind this. Aside from my somewhat abrasive personality, I believe that the problem stems from alternate notions of purpose and commitment.

Honesty is hard

I wanted to be a professional cross country skier. Odd as that may sound, I thought it would make my dad proud. For many years, I dreamt of gold medals and Olympic finishes, and how great it would be to share that passion with my father. By fifteen, I knew that I just didn’t have what it would take. I didn’t have the “motor” for it, but worse than that, I didn’t love skiing enough.

By my teen years, I decided to be a pro-skateboarder. This meant that I spent a lot of time looking at skateboarding magazines, talking about “air”. I hardly ever rode my skateboard however. When I did, my poor balance generally resulted in me falling, and that wasn’t so much fun.

Later, I decided to be a rock star. My parents dutifully purchased guitars so that I could indulge this fleeting fantasy. The challenge however was that I posed in the mirror and read guitar magazines, rather than actually practicing. I could go on for hundreds of words, describing the many fanciful tangents that I pursued, but rather, let me present the one thing where this was not the case.

In grade school, I was behind on tests, because I liked to perfectly balance the numbering in my margins. I desperately wanted to draw Mad Magazines, so I collected all of my pre-adolscent potty humour in a knock-off of the magazine, composed on scraps of notebook paper. I drew Garfield in many assortments, and liked to design logos and play with ideas. By high school, I often handed-in weak papers and plays, as I had focused instead on creating variations of cover pages.

By art school, I would paint until three in the morning, and often be in class at nine. This of course led to me sleeping through some of the lectures. I just couldn’t find another way to paint as much as I wanted without staying up quite as late. Where the actual skiing and guitar playing were less seductive than the fantasy, drawing was always enough. I didn’t need to think about an end-goal, the “doing” was what I loved; therefore, this has never felt like work.

Tom Hingston seems to share the sentiment, as he notes in Stefan Bucher’s All Access, “I never thought I would get away with not working as hard as I am. Seeing something grow from nothing is very exciting. When you begin to realize that you can create your own tiny universe, that’s a big motivation.”

The paradox of the applicant who becomes an employee

When I meet with other designers who own their own shops, a similar topic often comes up. They often lament how the designer who applied with talk of passion transformed into a worker-bee within weeks of being hired. Certainly, they put in all of the time that they are contractually bound to, but that sparkle which seemed ever-present in their application letter and interview, is gone.

As I have clearly stated before, I’m probably the kind of employer most of you would really dislike working with. As much as I try to be affable, the work remains the most important thing in my mind. Perhaps it would be different in a larger firm, or if I didn’t care so much about the work that we produce. There’s no question about it; I have limited tolerance for those who aren’t entirely committed to what they do.

To date, I have worked with a number of people who have been kind, likable individuals. Some have also been quite talented. That said however, at five past five, most are off for the day, and only rarely does that supposed passion for the work truly materialize, either by taking the initiative to expand their proficiency, or by putting some thought in to a challenging project after-hours. This leads me to wonder why they chose to include the word “passion” in their first discussion.

Most times when I ask about this incongruity, someone will remind me of their desire for balance between work and personal life.

Balance may not lead to breakthrough

Balance is healthy, and I think it’s reasonable to say that it is quite necessary. That being said, balance does not commonly equate with greatness. Those who choose to move beyond others often have to go to some lengths, and make sacrifices in order to meet their goals.

In Jim Collins’ Good to Great, he presents the story of Hawaii Ironman winner Dave Scott, who in addition to a rigorous training regiment chose an equally stringent diet. In it, he would even rinse his cottage cheese to remove any excess fat. From the text, “The point is that rinsing his cottage cheese was simply one more small step that he believed would make him just that much better, one more small step added to all the other small steps to create a consistent program of super discipline.”

Being exceptional takes work, and some careers are really hard to be good at.

I have read of resident physicians who work 100 hours a week. Many articles note that lawyers routinely work seven days a week, twelve hours a day. (And frankly, they are lawyers. That can’t be nearly as much fun as being a designer.) On the creative end of things, just think of the countless individuals who work long hours at gaming firms, or architects, who after years of schooling and apprenticeship often commit hours that others would criticize as being excessive.

Design is a particularly challenging profession at this point in history. It requires understanding of cultural issues, history, psychology, multiple media forms, ever-changing tools, and roles which can often mutate with time. Is it realistic for one to become an outstanding designer, working 37 – 40 hours a week?

I want to restate that neither I, nor the other studio principals I know, want people to work 80 hour weeks. In fact, I don’t think that many would ask for 60 or even 50 hour weeks. I do however, think that in order to back-up such terms as “passion” and commitment” some occasional extra evening hours, or the odd day on the weekend – when a project needs it – wouldn’t be overly demanding. If you are passionate, design should be more fun than other extracurricular activities.

“Design is about commitment: if you want to have a nine-to-five existence, become a civil servant. We’ve already noted that the life of a designer is privileged — but there is a price to be paid for this privilege and that price is unflinching commitment. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices.” Adrian Shaughnessy, How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul.

You can always choose to be competent

Some people enjoy hockey games and picnics on the weekend. Many like to get home at five o’clock to kick back with a bag of Doritos, and some time in front of the tube. I deny no one that right. But I believe that comes with its costs as well. First off all, one might find that awful orange stuff in their teeth; more importantly however, it may lead to not as many interesting projects to work on, or less growth in one’s career.

Choices in life are often difficult to make. They can however be made easier by truly understanding one’s own nature and purpose.

I don’t particularly like days off. As such, I’ve chosen to immerse myself in design. It’s everything I do. But what about you? Is this really a commitment worth making? Perhaps you have other, more personal needs. Maybe time with your spouse is more important. On the other hand, you might find it more enjoyable to go to concerts and movies. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and it certainly doesn’t imply that you won’t be a fine designer.

Do however make your choices accordingly. If this lifestyle suits you, I urge you to seek out a casual studio, or perhaps a firm that doesn’t make it their mission to push every project. Look for an employer who is relaxed and has a nice, fun work environment, with ample lunch breaks and maybe some perks like a foosball table. Additionally, there are countless in-house and production settings, in which supervisors and other non-creative staff will praise your abilities and you will not have to deal with an overly particular and tough art director.

Whatever you do however, if you are looking for a casual and less than demanding environment, don’t work for a shop that puts the work above all else. These environments are by nature rather serious and require rigorous work. You’d be a fool to join the Marines, and then get pissed about the hours.

If you choose the tough road

Every studio is different, so I’ll limit my points to smashLAB. Here is an overview of the kind of designer we look to hire.

If you landed a job here, I would be happy to learn that you were open to exploring ideas, and felt that there was plenty to learn. You would be one of those long-term people, focused on the project on the hand, while aiming to be a great designer. It would also stand to reason that you would deliver a great design in the allotted time. If the job now and again became a little boring, you’d know that this is how it goes, and would pass in time. I’d also think that you would sometimes say or ask such things as, “I don’t know, but I’ll look in to it”; or, “What do you think I can do to get better?”

You’d be in a few minutes before start time, and would likely not balk at the idea of putting in some extra time if a project needed it. You might even bring in some of your personal projects from time to time, in order to share them with your co-workers.

Where others might blame the client or art director for not giving them the feedback they wanted to hear, you would focus more on the needs of the client or those of the studio.

Should some reading be suggested, you would likely find the book, and read it in your off-hours. You would be interested in doing so, and recognize that such knowledge would build your skill set, and in turn, your career. As Rick Landesberg notes in his article Passion Matters, on the How Magazine website, “Eagerness to learn is an invaluable design trait.”

You would choose this road because you wished to surpass expectations and conventional measures of competency. You would be one of those rare individuals to whom the work is the reward. You would become indispensable to the firm.

The numbers are against excellence

Most things are done acceptably. That’s just life. We rarely demand exemplary food at lunch, instead making do with fare from the food-court. We watch television that is alright, but hardly inspiring, and popular music is manufactured for the lowest common denominator. Most things just land in the middle—not too good, not too bad, but just okay.

That being said, most of us still enjoy the notion of being outstanding at something. I suppose that as designers, many of us want to be like Erik Spiekermann, but equally many are unwilling to put in the time.

So, don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Really, it’s only design, and it doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. No one cured the world’s ails with a better creative concept or perfectly kerned type. Just be average. Your mom will still like you, and you will likely have a fine life.

If on the other hand, you do prize this craft, and want to push yourself, you may have to simply embrace how hard it will be, and just get down to it.

I’ll wrap things up with another quote from Stefan G. Bucher’s All Access, featuring Rick Valicenti’s reiteration of a series of phone calls from a friend, “Hey, Rick, wanna go out tonight?—Ah, I think I’m gonna stay in the studio.—Hey, Rick, wanna go out to a nice hotel for the weekend?—Ah, I think I’m gonna do some writing.—Fuck you Rick, you’re such a snore.”

If you do choose to do it, don’t do it for your boss. Do it because it’s what you would do anyways. Do it because you love it.

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Sean says:


    There are factors that you don't mention that influence passion and productivity. Everything you're describing suggests that a person's internal motivation is solely responsible for the passion they have for a given project or job. While I agree that internal drive and passion are extremely important, there things that you are responsible for as an employer which have a direct effect on passion:

    Environment - Is your studio an attractive comfortable and stimulating place to work? Is there ample ventilation, natural light and enough opportunity for people to get in a flow state while at work?

    Interpersonal relationships - You start out this post describing yourself as hard to work with. This alone has the potential to reduce the passion of your employees to levels that are likely unacceptable to you. People who have good relationships with co-workers are more likely to be passionate and productive.

    The work - I suspect that you pick each project that comes in and decide what's worth working on. How much say do your employees have in this matter? If a person is involved in the decision making process and can take ownership of what they're working on, they will be more likely to get and stay passionate about a project.

    Reward - Do they have enough of an incentive to do a great job on each project? Do they share in the profit of each job or get bonuses when a client comes back for a second project? Do your projects benefit the society, and if so, can your employees see the connection between the work they do and the benefits they produce for others?

    I agree with most of what you've written, but internal motivation and passion does not exist independently of the environment or relationships. If you're interested, I suggest the book Good Business by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for a better articulation of these ideas.

  2. Peter says:

    I must say that you have over looked a huge portion of designers, who despite incredible talent, choose to work at places like colleges or large corporations, producing less than glamorous work, simply to fuel their personal ambitions. Other people have families that they must care for, and take jobs that are nine to five, where work can be put off to the next morning. I know many designers who have upwards of five children, come to work late, leave early, and still are producing top notch work.

    Sean's points bring up many issues that I see as huge problems internally at my current job. Designers are being given awful and simply boring projects by sales people who care more about money than keeping quality talent under their roof. So they simply put in their 8 or 9 hours a day, and shove out. Maybe they should leave and work else where, but other factors may stop them from leaving (such as leases).

    An article like this is extremely difficult, because while this may be true in your experiences, other designers are as fortunate or simply have a different philosophy about design and life.

    I am 9-5er, and while I produce work that I am generally proud of, my best work appears outside of work, on my own time and my own dime. And honestly, that is the way I like to keep things.

  3. Richard Bird says:

    I'd love to have the time to write a comment as verbose as the message post, here, yet my 85+ hour week will not allow it.

    One clear thought comes out of this for me: True leaps in progress - or even greatness - are rarely seen 9-to-5.

    The best of my work, the greatest of revelations, the most notable and meaningful achievements, the biggest leaps forward in business and creativity (read: results versus concepts) happen in extra hours, extra sweat, extra passion and, yes, work/life balance sacrifices.

    Very, very few will achieve greatness between 9 and 5. Many more are more likely to make a difference with a much greater degree of commitment.

  4. THANK YOU. I guess I must also be a hard-ass and difficult to work with, because passionless clock-punchers drive me bonkers (short drive). I actually left my last job in part due to that issue, finding that it's hard to inspire passion -- or even professional interest -- in those who have checked out and are happy just collecting a paycheck. Try to get people to read, critique, engage in a conversation, and all you get is blank stares. That's fun. So I left. Better to take a risk on freelancing than lose my love of design just to keep a "stable" job.

    I don't think I'm a workaholic, but I really want nothing more than an engaging project, even if it means working crazy hours to get it done right. That doesn't mean abstaining from everything else in life (family, hobbies, etc.) forever, though it might for a brief while.

    I've always believed that if I couldn't love my work, then I shouldn't be doing it. And, 95% of the time, I love being a designer. That makes it all worthwhile.

  5. Bla says:

    If this web design is an example of your passion, then I think you have delusions of grandeur.

    Who ever achieved greatness working for a jerk? If people enjoy what they are doing, they do it better. If you're working for hire, you're not doing what you want. You're doing what someone else is paying you for.

    Do you pay extra for your required over time? Do you pay extra for great results? Do you give any other incentives for great work? Do you allow your employees to be creative - to explore things not related to the project at hand?

    Has it entered your head, that you may be the problem, and not only that you can't find passionate employees?

    As your teachers at art school probably rated your paintings - this rant seems naive at best.

  6. Richard Bird says:

    If people enjoy what they are doing and they do it better... no problem. (That's the point.)

    If one does not enjoy working for another as an employee, i.e.,: for hire with regular pay sans consequence, I encourage him or her to submit resignation sooner rather than later.

  7. peter says:

    Richard - I completely agree with you on the point that if "people enjoy what they are doing and they do it better." However, I find rants like this to be only fodder for discussion (which is good a thing) simply because of the various reasons people take on jobs in the design industry. Even in school I knew people who complained about doing homework for their design courses (something I still have yet to figure out).

    Yet I still maintain my previous statements from before: my (and others) 9-5 gig provide us with a stable base to explore what makes us happy after the working hours. Work for me is good, but I rarely find the satisfaction on the job as I do off the job, when working late into the night at home on other projects that do not relate to my 9-5. Yes, some employers do look too favorable on freelance work, because it takes away resources from their company. And maybe I have yet to find the right fit for me (this is only my first job out of school; I should note that I have been designing, by the way, since 1997). But there are more designers out there than agency designers, and articles like this tend to belittle what we do and why we make the moves that we do.

  8. Monostereo says:

    This idea of the 40 hr work week (40+ I should say) is so against a utopian vision of the future. Aren't robots supposed to be doing some of the work by now? Or more seriously, wasn't the computer supposed to shorten the amount of hours we needed to work per week? When will the backlash come that states that the 40hr work week is less than human? Why can't a good living be made by working only 25-35hrs a week? People wonder why our culture continues to be corrupted, why children are 'out of control', and why community bonds are weakened or non-existant. Could it be that we are using too much of our productive time on making a living?

    Anyway, enough about that. Usually when you read a rant that is supposed to inspire you to greatness, it does just that. This one makes some very valid points but fails as whole due its own peevishness.

  9. tot10 says:

    principals want designers to be passionate, bring personal inspiration into the workplace and put in the needed time to exceed expectations. designers want principals to give them a quality work environment, recognize their creative contribution and compensate them for the merit of their work.

    when this doesn't happen, one of the two, or both get frustrated.
    good principals and good designers need to have some perspective and understand the others point of view. designers get jaded from being overworked, over promised, under paid, under appreciated, etc. principals get tired of designers dropping the ball, holding back, giving up, giving in, etc.

    each wants the other to show undying loyalty and selflessness before the other will commit. someone has to give first to find out if the other is going to reciprocate or you don't get anywhere.

    good designers put in the time and appreciate the dedication a principal has and strives to exceed his/her expectations. good principals push hard and recognize and compensate the efforts of a designer that bring their best before they've become jaded.

  10. Thoughts from a 5 pm - 9 am guy. Work comes first. 9 - 5 = average.

    The quote "Design is about commitment" can also be applied to ANY vocation as well. It's where your passion or calling really is that you then make the best strides. I can't expect someone to be fired up about work they're not into, let alone be great if they just don't have the craft or talent.

    Anyone can get better by practicing their craft, going to some seminars, etc. But I think it’s unrealistic to expect great if it’s just not in the cards for them.

    Feels like in the last decade or so the emhasis has been on people having a life outside work, and not just in the field of design either. That's fine. But the idea of a 'career' in this regard seems fundamentally at odds with the idea of being great at something. Not pointing fingers, I'm just pointing it out.

    A 'career' is PART of your life. To be great though, (or at least aim for great), requires way more sacrifice. It just does. Hey, people are free to have all the ‘career‘ they want. I just don’t know any great agency or design firm that gets by on 30-35 a week and ends up in CA.

    Have to say that a lot of this 9 - 5 mindset I run into is on the production side as well, where things are more cut and dry in terms of process. Seems like there, the nature of retouching, file prep, etc., is more about getting it done than it is a case of 'let's make this a great piece of work'.

    If you're just starting out though? There are certain things you need to learn early on that require you put in the time.

    Later on, I think your hours naturally lessen, or at least, become more productive. (As an aside, if still they're insane, then I really have to look at how workflow is being managed in the studio to see if assets are being allocated properly.) You understand process better and can work smarter, etc.

    The agency will reward those that put the time in. If not? Then it's up to the person to move on and find a place that appreciates the effort.

    As for the others who don't care about moving up? They'll keep punching the clock and complaining.

    Same as they always did.

  11. Neil French says:

    Eric, old chap, Thanks for the heads-up; I enjoyed reading your bit, and was agreeably surprised at measured tone (in the main) the responses you gleaned.
    First of all, I don't think your piece is a rant. It's a heartfelt opinion, expressed forcibly but without any finger-pointing. Ranting tends to involve banging the desk and frothing at the mouth. Ranters are usually losers.
    You sound rather a reasonable cove, to me. It seems to me that you work hard because you want to. You'd like it if others wanted it as much, and seem to be a bit surprised that most of them don't.
    The fact is, Eric, that ninety percent of the people in this business, or most other 'non-essential' professions, have different priorities. The best of luck to them, I say. Problems only arise when those who try to have two lives also want the plaudits and financial success that come with single-minded obsession with only one.
    I thought that Richard Bird put it simply and well. Nobody deserves conspicuous success merely by turning up and leaving on time. Everything has a price, and if you want something, that price must be paid.
    Don't be cross with the hewers of wood and fetchers of water, Eric; they're an essential part of business and of life. They make it possible for the good to become great. Only one caveat, mate: It's not necessary to be a hard-ass. Accept that you're employing people on their own terms, and presumably paying them exactly what they deserve. Try and recruit people who are better at the job than you are yourself, and bask in their reflected glory for a while, before they storm out and leave you and write their own rants about how you held them back! Then smile. It's only rock'n'roll. Actually, it's not even that, it's only playing with pictures. Nobody dies.

  12. Anjali Amit says:

    What I got from the post is to find your passion and then work on it regardless... Will that put bread and butter on the table? Maybe not. We sell out on our passion to the second- or third-choice job because that provides stability, security, a roof over our head. It is still our choice though.
    It is like flipping through the rolodex (what an old-fashioned image) and stopping at the card that says 'job security'. Then we should/could make this choice our passion. Simply put it is about doing our best, no matter what we our doing.

  13. Dan says:

    It's interesting to hear your perspectives. Living in the ivory tower of academia, I often forgot about the rest of the world that doesn't work >60h/week. That being said when things are going horribly wrong I long for 9-5. In fields that aren't merely vocations (ie manual labour), if you want to succeed or even keep your job for that matter, more than 40h and a weeks vacation are required. If you aren't willing to put in extra effort, you're in the wrong field, start looking for a new job. I know that there are utilitarian, proletariat minded folk out there that will jump all over me for making such statements, but it's reality. Sure you're happy doing the bare minimum that is expected of you, but you can be sure that you will soon be replaced by someone that is willing to go further and do more. It boils down to a cliche that I find myself muttering a lot lately "shit of get off the pot", basically if you're so unhappy that you are only willing to put out the bare minimum effort and are doing nothing to change that, shut up.

  14. Keith says:

    Everything worth doing can easily be done in a simple 37.5 work week. It's the belief of corporations that the number is much higher, like twice.

    But a good designer must be out in the world, experience it, be a part of it.

    A triatholon athelete is something all together. You're practicing a set number of actions, no creativity there. But a designer? You must explore, learn, play.

    Get out into the world, you'll blow all those 60 hour a week designers right out of the water.

  15. peter says:

    The more I think about this topic, the more I understand that I was simply attempting to justify the last few months at my job, where I left nearly every day at five.

    While I still stand by my sentiments that there are many out there who work jobs that are less than engaging (or provide less than stimulating work) simply so they can go home and work their own projects, I understand that many jobs require that extra push.

    Talking with my manager/art director yesterday about this very issue. He completely agreed with every point expressed here. And looking back over my last year of employment (I should note that I am an in-house branding/marketing designer for an industrial design firm in Minneapolis; this is a job that generally does not require late nights because it also involve lots of sales, and most people we are selling to leave the office at 5), the points where I've needed to work late or over weekends have been the projects that just required more time, whether to program or to simply understand and work out what needs to be done better. And these are the projects that have come out the best.

    The reason that I am actually admitting to this is that I have to do work over the weekend; with a short notice ad due on Nov. 1, it has to get done and there is no other time to build the ad with other things on my plate at work.

    So, I guess to close, I understand the points, and I think that Eric is basically 95% right; I just wish he would have addressed these points.

  16. Ph il Dj wa says:

    Why should you be doing what drives you passionately in your "off hours"? Keep the focus on the passion instead.

    But people can be great without the 60-hr week. Shakespeare from all accounts was a 9-5'er! :-)

    Eric, as you point out, it's not about late hours all the time but more the *occasional* pedal to the metal. That's fair to ask.

    But I know that when as a boss I ask for "committment" I'm asking for loyalty and attention to the project, not to a larger sense of design. People are aware of where the cheque is coming from.

  17. Ph il Dj wa says:

    One more point -> One aspect relevant to the life/work balance is that to be truly great at work you need to be refreshed, relaxed and creative. To be creative is not easy when you are burning the midnight oil for the 2nd week in a row. If you don't have the balance in your life, and even if work is your passion, you will quickly burn out. We all know (and might be ourselves) the people that burn out from simply too much.

  18. David Terrell says:

    Shouldn't we live design? Just because I clock out doesn't mean I'm not working. I feel that people have failed to mention this. Design is a mental excercise, a creative profession. Who said that I leave my drawing pad at the office and don't have a computer at home. Those are my sentiments as a recently graduated designer.

  19. Mr. Designer says:

    I found the point of view interesting in the above article. It makes me wonder if Eric has his perfect job and might be rubbing it in our faces. Some designers do have to make a living and might land “not so passionate” jobs but continue to do their best. The design industry can be rough and designers get beaten down. The design passion a college grad has can disappear.

    Just remember, not every person may be passionate about her/his job. That doesn’t make a bad employee. Many people believe in doing a job right the first time.

    Some of us believe in exercise and good health. Working extra hours means putting on extra pounds, eating poorly and less exercise. Health is important. All those extra hours of sitting on your rump will catch up to you when you are 50 and your arteries are 80% blocked.

    Plus, lets just add in a commute, doing laundry, taking care of a pet, cooking a real dinner, chores, food shopping etc onto that 40+ work week. Would the extra-dedicated designer Eric wants even be able to develop other facets of his/her life? Or would he/she end up being just a “designer,” someone who can only be one-dimensional that just talks about design on dinner dates.

    In college I was a snotty designer, probably like Eric. Boy was I an asshole. I had a lot to learn.

  20. Ethan Fremen says:

    One of the things that always amused me about employers 'expecting' their employees to be more committed than 40h a week is the difference in compensation. Eric is the boss; he's got the equity, and he sees the real return on investment of putting in those extra hours.

    As the employee who was expected to work 50+ hours a week while being billed out hourly, I mostly saw it as a way for my employer to increase their margin at my expense.

    Regardless of how committed to my discipline I may be, I'll punch in at 9 and out at 5 and then spend extra time on projects in my discipline that I choose, rather than donating more hours to my hard-ass boss.

  21. Stephen says:

    This is certainly a loaded debate. There are clearly many agreeable points your statement Eric, that any agency partner/principle would agree too - we all want top shelf talent that is willing to break their back for the good of the firm, as we as partners all did in our early days.

    What you've left out are some general points in regards to the business of design, and the ethics of business. It is a vicious cycle however, as we try to provide higher quality, ground breaking work with each new client/project. What design shop partners need to keep in mind though, is we need the 9-5 worker bees (as Mr. French notes above) to balance the talent that keeps the quality up, not to produce mediocre work, but to deliver on the less crucial client requests (I would not recommend putting a Sr. Designer on data population).

    Another key issue, is the idea of billable time, and to what extent you over work (beyond project budgets) your staff. As creativity rarely happens when required, between 9-5 or not, we do have expectations that creative must take place when it does, whether during normal working hours or not. Some of my best concepts have come on the walk to work, or while waiting in line for a morning coffee, and as partner, I would expect that my staff (not only designers) have those same 'moments' and bring them to the studio.

    In regards to the 'passion' and 'commitment' that we all seek in our employees, the real balance comes in ownership or shared reward, but these are both business decisions that need serious consideration. Its all part of the sacrifices that we might expect of our employees - we too need to make sacrifices if we truly expect certain commitments from our employees.

    I think overall, there is a reason why some of us run design firms, and some are employees - these are both hugely valuable parts of the bigger equation. Some are better off leading a team, whereas some are more content being on the front lines of the actual client work. At any level, every design professional needs to experience the world outside of design, and design websites, and design books, in order to be innovative. We also need to avoid the workaholic mentality or we face burnout - which leads to mediocre work.

  22. Eric,

    Thank you for your article and its accompanied honesty. You bring up subject that many of us designers should dialogue and meditate upon more often.

    As I was reading your reflections, I was reminded of Charles and Ray Eames. I remember first learning about them in my Design Awareness class at ASU. I was captivated not only by their innovative design, but by their collaborative passion. Together, with their strengths and drive, they became great, worthy to be noted in history. Their passion and partnership in design was inspiring and romantic.

    Yet as all things romantic are, reality was missing. During that presentation, I also learned that Charles was first married to his wife Catherine, not Ray, and that together they bore a daughter, Lucia. Charles married Ray only one month after he divorced Catherine. The presenter quickly moved past this "small detail" to make way for Charles and Ray's "greatness of design".

    Eric, you brought up the point that greatness comes with a cost. It seems that for Charles, greatness came at the cost of his wife Catherine and his daughter Lucia.

    I'm not sure what your situation in life is and therefore, I can't and will not make any judgments about your decisions in life. For the rest of us and myself, we must consider the costs and our beliefs. What really is valuable? What is true greatness?

    Your article hit a tender spot in my heart because I'm frequently confronted with these things. The one thing I've learned from Charles and Ray Eames and others alike, is that I must always be on the guard to make sure that my passion does not consume myself, the ones I love, and those whom I work with. I look to God for this strength, and in return He rewards me with contentedness and joy in my work. Whether the Lord chooses to give or not to give me greatness in my career, it is up to Him. In that, I have great rest.


  23. Megan says:

    And who says you need to have a drawing pad or computer to be working? I come up with my best ideas when I'm not supposed to be working (out for a walk, in the shower, trying to fall asleep, making dinner, you name it).

    For me this sort of comes down to your own personality and values. It's a very individual thing. My husband is a perfectionist workaholic. The advice in this article describes him perfectly - he's on his computer for most of his waking hours (he's a programmer). I enjoy spending time on other things. Balance is important to me. If that means I'm less great at what I do, then so be it. I'd rather be happy than "great", but I also think that balance makes me better at what I do.

  24. Adrian says:

    Since you are giving the opinion of an passionate employer, let me give you the opinion of a passionate employee. I am a person that needs to be producing things that I am passionate about. When a project goes bad at work, or I am foced to create something mediocre, I hate my job. When I am producing things with value, I am happy as can be. The "bad" projects usually have to do with working with people that aren't committed to building something good - and that is extremely frustrating. I go through spells where I am just cranking out the work during my "day job" so that I can invest my passion into any of the serveral design projects that I produce outside of work. I guess that between my real job and my personal jobs, I probably am designing close to 70 hours or more a week. The only job that feels like work is my "day job" when it is not filling my creative needs. However, I don't think that hours work really has much to do with passion. I know people that work longer hours than me that I would consider to be much less "passionate" about design.

  25. Brian says:

    I haven't taken the time (because I simply don't have it) to read through all of the comments here; but I'm sure I'm not the first to state (and I'll put it in no uncertain terms) that to imply that the level of passion, skill and "greatness" at your job is a direct correlation to the number of hours per day you are at work is...well...unfortunate to say the least. Let's take a look at two people; we'll call them "Rob and Jim." Rob gets to work on time every morning at 8:00. He comes in, works hard, takes a quick 30 minute lunch, and continues to work hard until 4:30 - 4:45 when he leaves for the day. Jim arrives on time at 8:00 as well. He spends 20 minutes or so socializing with his coworkers before heading to his desk. He takes a full hour for his lunch break, continues with active socialization for about 10 minutes per hour for the rest of the day and ends up leaving at 6:00 that evening. By your logic, Jim is the more "passionate" and "great" worker.

    I find it quite discouraging that in an age where technology is supposed to be making our lives easier and creating greater efficiencies at work that employers are more often expecting an even greater than 40 hour work week from their employees.

    Total hours spent at work are not in any way an accurate reflection of productivity, passion, or talent. Employers may eventually start to understand that.

  26. Michael says:

    This is the problem with the American work ethic. If you're not working overtime, your not working hard enough. Why does extensive "face time" equal true commitment? I've worked with people who were percieved as "committed" because they spent every waking hour in the office, but produced the same results that I did in a 40 hours a week or less. Just because a designer chooses to "have a life" outside the office doesn't mean they're any less committed to the job, mission or whatever.

    There have been many times that I left the office but continued to work on solutions to problems OFF THE CLOCK. Does that make me any less committed? I don't think so.

    I say results matter, greatness is subjective, and commitment is what you make of it.

  27. Doran says:

    After reading everything here, I feel less guilty about my the 40 hours I put in for my job. We don't get overtime so there's always that dilemma; stay longer to make a good impression or finish something, or go home at 6 to pick up my daughter from my babysitter.

    As a wife and a mom, I find it tough to be the "passionate" designer described in the article but I do think of myself as a passionate designer because my passion is not limited to manifesting itself in what I design at work. I like taking artsy photos, buying unique pieces of clothing, dressing up my daughter in a funky way, or making invitations for her b-day party, arranging my fruit bowl... there are so many things I do in life that makes me the kind of designer I am today.

    I do like my work but for me and here's how I would break it down.

    50% the design I do, looove making things pretty.
    40% love the people I work with, they're inspiring, supportive, and just nice to be around.
    10% it's close to my house and to the babysitter's.

    Obviously work is not my life. It provides me with a way to enjoy my life. As someone put it above (can't remember the name!), I'd rather be happy than great.

  28. John says:

    I wish my job allowed for the oppertunity to be so creative. I work 9-5 in a job not in the design relm. In my off hours I code, I learn, I code more, and learn everything I can. I wish I could code 9-5, and then continue into the late hours of the morning.

    Once I was able to code at work, 9 hours later I cracked my back, and said "crap, I missed lunch."

    I understand the passion you speak of. All of the nay-sayers help prove your point. There are those of us who get hooked into it, and there are others who simply do it for a living.

    Keep up the passion, and excellent writing. If you ever need a coder keep me in mind. LOL.

  29. Greg Scraper says:

    I think it's important to realize that the author (I arrived via Speak Up; not quite sure where I landed yet, and the author is uncredited on this page) isn't advocating 80 hour weeks attached to your computer screen. There's definitely a balance to be struck between personal and professional. What he's saying is that if you prefer to go home than finish a piece the right way or would prefer to half-ass something because it's preventing you from watching your re-runs of Dawson's Creek then you have no business calling yourself passionate, and maybe you should find a nice comfortable job doing production work.

    There's also a huge difference between putting in long hours and actually producing anything worthwhile. I read an article not too long ago about Practice vs. Targeted Practice, where scientifically they were able to prove that certain kinds of work are more beneficial. Just putting in long hours doesn't cut it; you have to put in practice at becoming better. It doesn't matter if you submit 3, 17, or 56 layouts for a single page one-sided print piece if all of them are mediocre at best. What does matter is actually trying to improve on each design. It takes some people longer, but ultimately what you do and how good you are at it depends on the experience level you have at it, and your willingness to improve, not just sheer time spent.

  30. Callie says:

    "Whatever you do however, if you are looking for a casual and less than demanding environment, don’t work for a shop that puts the work above all else. These environments are by nature rather serious and require rigorous work."

    The way I see it, if a firm really does "put the work above all else", it will be shoving its designers out the door, MAKING them – rewarding them, even – experience theatre, art, music, dance, nature, film, television, traveling, life in general. Design is not a discipline to be performed in an all-consuming vacuum. That is when is when it starts to become stale and boring.

    I remember one of my professors in grad school telling us before every vacation, "Go out, watch movies, read books. Take a break from design. Your subsequent work will be better because of it."

  31. Eric says:

    I think you're right, greatness requires sacrifice, but I think the title of your post "9 - 5" and talk of 40 hours is really missing the point about greatness. I've worked my ass off for extra hours for weeks on projects that were never going to result in anything great. I have also created work that I think is great in just a few hours. So to me, greatness is about choices. A lesson I am learning is that being great means more than working like crazy, it means making the right choices:

    Choosing projects that inspire and motivate me.
    Choosing co-workers that can critique and elevate my work.
    Choosing a manager that supports me and can keep me on track.
    Choosing the right project schedule so that working like overtime is not necessary.

  32. Skinnyj says:

    Like many of the comments posted, I agree that commitment is key and time spent is irrelevant. This commitment to greatness should apply to any endeavor or journey you take. For some, this is inherent. For others, it is learned.

    I strongly agree in leading and living a balanced life. I believe that I possess a desire to be a great designer, but I also greatly value my own free time and experiences. It is those experiences that will ultimately help make me a great designer, so I in no way intend to deny myself that time. Does this make me less committed to work? Not at all.

    On another note, in regards to the working environment and your "abrasive" personality, I can speak from experience that having a boss that is "abrasive" or "hard to get along with" will suck the commitment and loyalty right out of an employee, not matter how high profile or "great" or rewarding the work is.

  33. Brian says:

    Any project I've ever worked on that I felt passionate about had to do with the project itself. The subject matter, the goals, and the challenge of the project is what will naturally inspire passion and commitment. When that happens, I find myself working late even into a Saturday night, oblivious to what time and day it is because I'm so entertained by the task at hand.

    That aside, I found the article to consistently present contradicting and often condescending points. To be blunt, I found the general attitude to be simply juvenile, greedy, and ultimately inhumane.

    The entire notion just reeks of over-compensation and lacking self-esteem. Even the website that was referenced (smashLAB) was condescending and seemed to try harder at convincing themselves then convincing their clients about their identity.

    If passion could be defined as "an intense desire or enthusiasm for something", and the writer of this article has often or is often finding themselves in the company of employees who lack the desired passion then I would suggest that perhaps it is the employer who is not making proper use of their assets.

  34. Guin says:

    I guess this article also proves that putting in more than 9-5 does not make a great manager.

  35. Mike Roberts says:

    It's not that I don't want to work past five o'clock. It's that I don't want to work past five o'clock... here.

  36. I Work Nine to Five says:

    I have passion and I know I am great. and most importantly I am happy.

    What do you have to say about me?

  37. Ben says:

    Jesus. What pretentious twaddle. You're not olympic athletes you know. What extra do you gain from asking more in raw, unqualified hours from those who design? Is there some graph which shows quality of output is proportional to time applied?

    Honestly, I think this is one of the most supercilious and arrogant articles on design I've ever read. And I already think a lot of designers are up their own arseholes.

  38. Mark says:

    My background is in programming, not design, but I do work in marketing, where design and technology integrate; we're all in the same boat.

    I have a close friend that I've worked with for years who is one of the most committed, dedicated and productive people I know. He has shaped projects that have delivered tremendous outcomes.

    He also has a wife, three kids, and lives outside the city, commuting by train. She's a professor and her schedule gets her home before the kids half the week.

    The other half it doesn't. My friend has made it clear to anyone he's worked for that on certain days he has scheduling requirements that must be met. On those days he gets in the office by 7:00, leaves at 3:30. On other days he gets in around 8:30 and often stays late to work on a task. It's not an inspired burst of productivity or creativity that keeps him late; he's planned on staying late.

    On those 3:30 days you're apt to find him get up and leave a meeting to catch his train. You're also apt to find him signed onto IM at 8:00 that night, working again.

    As I contemplate moving further outside the city (we work in Boston) and relying on commuter trains, and as I start a family and find it important to be present for them, I face the same decisions. Where I work now, close to an hour's drive north of my current home, I plan my day around traffic patterns. I'm unlocking the doors by 8:00 most mornings, then I do leave right at 5:00-5:30.

    My point: I understand what you're getting at in your post. Being accomplished means giving into the cause and committing to following through, going above and beyond when you're making progress, and capturing that inspiration that you've found in the moment. I understand the title, it's a quick hit that people can relate to. But I'm also struck by that constant, nagging feeling that many of us contend with on a daily basis: Is my boss judging me or perceiving my commitment incorrectly because I leave at 5:00 on average? Not to mention that past experience has shown that *many* people who stay past 5:00 are the same people who stroll in past 10:00 in the morning.

    For those of us who are driven and commit to the work, we never really leave the office, right? It's there when we're in the car, on the subway, in the shower. Sometimes it wakes us up at night. There's got to be a more qualitative measurement of employees' commitment and contributions than the clock.

  39. arjan says:

    It's a misconception that you can't be creative between 9-5. If you can't be, then it's not your profession. Chances are you're doing things that are not important for the creative process. If you can focus on your job, 8 hours a day is more than enough to come up with great work.
    Focus is key.
    And passion is not expressed in time invested in the process. Passion is the fuel that can make outstanding work. With enough passion, you don't even need 8 hours day. It's called talent. The rest is just work.

  40. So many comments--thanks to all of you!

    As I've noted in the past, I try to avoid commenting on my own posts, as I worry that I will either muddy the debate, or simply seem to be defending what should have been a well-established argument in the first place. That being said, as this topic nears its 40th comment, I felt it might be a good idea to add a couple of quick notes.

    This has been an interesting topic and I've enjoyed reading the many varied opinions. I must say that I have particularly appreciated the insights of those who have reflected upon the article and formulated such thoughtful (and often impassioned) responses. Regardless of whether we agree or not, I feel the discussion is one worth having.

    At the same time, I'm a tiny bit perplexed by a couple of responses which seem as though they were written in haste or without fully reading the post. (I know that I can be long winded, so allow me to paraphrase my argument for those who didn't wish to read it in its entirety.)

    1. I believe that you should do what you love
    2. If you love what you do, it is less likely to feel like work
    3. If you are passionate about your work, the odd extra hour, when a project requires it, shouldn't seem unbearable
    4. Choose a lifestyle that suits your needs and desires
    5. Embrace both the positive and negative aspects of such decisions

    I love to work. It makes me happy. For me, design isn't limited to identities and websites; rather, I believe it to be a powerful medium that can be harnessed to improve things. As such, I work to understand how to do this. As I grow, I seek to use this knowledge/capacity to do good. This is simply how I wish to spend my life.

    Much of my work has required a great deal of consideration, exploration and dedication. A few have noted their ability to produce brilliant work with less effort. I admire these people. They are clearly fortunate to be so gifted. I must say that they are the lucky few however, and most of my peers acknowledge that it has taken great effort to build sound creative work.

    I'd like to share a couple of articles which readers have sent to me as a result of this post:
    - Balance is Bunk
    - A Star is Made

    Both are worth reading and present interesting points that relate to some of this discussion. Perhaps you too will find them insightful.

    In my mind, the entire issue comes down to choice. What does one wish from life? How comfortable are they with the price associated? In my experience, most everything comes with a price.

    I hope you will all join in for the next article. :-)

    Best wishes,


  41. andy harris says:

    You titled your post as 9 to 5 = average. You knew it would start a fire. That's just good copywriting. Check out Alan deBouttan's book titled, Status Anxiety. It's a fabulous read. Your formula reveals the underpinnings of a man who is longing for the love of a parent in the transmuted form of public accolades. Why is the word "average" even important? It's a ranking contrivance meant to compensate for our loss of unconditional love from our parents that we (should have) recieved as small children. Somehow the myth of merit permeates the disscussion as if we should really be concerned about that. The material argument is about ranking not commitment. So, naturally, people are going to get fired up. You can love who you are and not tie it to career achievement as you've done so intentionally or not. The fact is, most people do but not everyone does.

  42. Alan Fletcher put it quite simply: "I'd sooner do the same on Monday or Wednesday as I do on a Saturday or Sunday. I don't divide my life between labour and pleasure."

    He lived it, too.

  43. Nick Asbury says:

    Yes, true creatives don’t switch off at 5pm. But this argument is too often used as a cover by cynical employers looking to squeeze more productivity out of their staff for less money. This is sad, but it’s naive to think it isn’t the case.

    There is a compromise. By all means, encourage staff to pursue their passion beyond 5pm, but insist that any work done after that time is on self-initiated projects, rather than day-to-day work. This is a way for staff to explore their craft and pursue their passion, without the possibility of the cynical employer taking advantage. (Google do a similar thing and haven’t done too badly.)

    The irony is that, if you instil a culture where working late is considered to be the primary sign of commitment, then staff simply end up taking more time to do the same amount of work. People chat all day, work more sporadically and then ‘pull a late one’, which they then make a point of talking loudly about when they come in the next morning.

    Just as an experiment, try a ‘work your hours’ month, where people are positively encouraged to go home at 5pm, no matter what. I suspect you’d be amazed at how much gets done and how much more motivated your staff are.

    One last thing: I'm sure the reason Alan Fletcher was able to come up with such inspired work at 5am, 2pm or 11pm was that he wasn’t sat at his screen churning out work for an anxious employer. He was out there experiencing life, finding inspiration, soaking up influences. Spend all your working hours in a studio and your imagination moves in ever smaller circles.

  44. I believe great work can be done 9 - 5. I believe great work can be done 9 to midnight.

  45. David Zeibin says:

    Thanks for writing this. It's like all these floaties in my mind coagulated right here.

    I'm an architect, very early in my career. On more than one occasion, people have described me/my work as passionate/filled with passion, and it was just this evening, prior to reading this, that I was wondering just what "passion" means. Because sometimes I really hate the vocation, and sometimes I just need to go home. But, yes, the work, the process/product - that's what always makes me come back.

  46. Leslie says:

    Some of the posters have alluded to the time they spend commuting as adding a lot more time to a typical work day. That is the reason I love telecommuting. I work with clients all over the world but I don't drive anywhere. In a previous life I worked for a corporation where I commuted and that added an extra 1.5 to 2 hours to a 9-10 hour day. I now use that time for working, learning, and creating. Telecommuting is the wave of the future.

  47. John says:

    Marines=Designer. Nice analogy.

    I agree with Ben above-pretentious drivel. It seems to me your past failures haunt you.

    Nice try, now grow up.

  48. CaptHowdy says:

    The post doesn't jibe with my 15+ years of experience at all.

    The best designers I've worked with worked FAST. Their solutions came fast, the execution went fast. If you're not quick, you're losing money. If you're working all night, usually it's because something went wrong somewhere and your project is likely a loss leader.

    If these guys worked a lot it was only because their services were in great demand, not that they wasted a lot time wringing their hands over every decision. While I agree that design is a great discipline worth practicing and putting your all into, I've found that now that I'm no longer twenty-something years old, success is measured by how quickly I get to the solution, satisfy the client, and GET PAID.

  49. Blake says:

    Great article. Design shouldn't be a job. That's the catch, *is* a job. Shouldn't be, but it is. It's doing something we'd do for fun anyway, as something that pays the bills. It's very easy to equate the thing that pays your bills as the thing you'd rather do least. I find myself in the office late, much to my girlfriend's dismay, out of drive to excel. Sometimes it's drive to excel, other times it's because I simply love designing. I think it's very important to have the right reasons behind choosing the harder road...don't do it because that's "what it takes." Of course that's what it takes...but do it because, besides that fact, it's your choice because you realize you love what you do. That's the difference.

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  51. Andrew Haig says:

    You run a business. You work hard. You're passionate about what you do. You expect the same or similar attitude from employees. Fine. I'm in the same boat. You/your company reaps the financial reward of a large project, whilst your employees who are working hard, doing great work merely get their normal salary (rarely without paid overtime in my country: Australia). That after a while begins to suck for employees - even though creatively they're quite happy. Profit-sharing (within reason) with the entire team is nice (and warm and fuzzy).

    Plus – much of the original post seems a little, um. last century... ever heard of working smarter, not harder? I've seen too many good designers work real hard (not smart) and burn out and leave the profession. I have to agree with CaptHowdy - the good are fast, in every regard, especially in terms of thinking - lightning fast.

  52. Herman Goering says:

    I sense slight anger and frustration in the blog post. I think "hard to work with" isn't something that should be advertised by a partner in the firm. My guess is you scare your staff to an extent.

    Relax, it all means less than you think it does.

  53. hina says:

    i'm with keith...a designer who holes him/herself up shuts out a huge number of potential ideas/concepts. Design is about interaction - with people, with life.
    While Shaughnessy had a lot to say about what a employee may/could be he didn't really mention what an employer may/could be. A little one-sided, no?
    For those of you who say 'if you dont like your job, find another one' - I'd like to know what planet you're living on and if I can move there too.

  54. Colin Chase says:

    It's funny how your posts always seem to coincide with some sort of crisis I'm dealing with.

    I'm a 9-5er. I went to a creativity convention recently, and a visit to a few higher-end studios was a part of the package.

    After the visits, I realized that I flat-out couldn't cut it in a studio. So, I freaked out. Now I'm nervous for the future. I've got a mortgage, bills, and there could be a little sprout-ling in the future. If I lost my job tomorrow, I wouldn't know what I'd do.

    I've been a 9-5er for five years. It's been my only job. Design jobs are very hard to come by in my town.

    This post gave me a good insight of what studios look for. Thank you for this wake-up call.

  55. Jean says:

    Why are all the comments by males. Aren't there any females that design? Makes one wonder!

  56. Michelle says:

    It's all about choice. I guess it depends on what makes you happy when you wake up in the morning and what you want to remember (and have no regrets on) when you'll look back at your life.

  57. tim says:

    How much valuable work time did you waste to write this?

    Just kidding - it's good to rattle some cages now and again.

  58. Jamie says:

    One can do great work and still leave on time, however, the person so involved with their work that they don't even notice the time are probably more dedicated to solving the design challenge at hand.

    In an effort to remain sane and get home at a reasonable hour, I am often out the door at quitting time. However, my best days are when I get so consummed by what I'm working on that I forget to eat, can't hear the buzz of the AC, can't hear the sales calls and when I finally look away from the screen, I notice that most of my coworkers have left for the day.

    Do I need to be "great?" I fine with settling for "damn good."

  59. "that I forget to eat"

    For the record, I will never be that busy.


  60. J. Jeffryes says:

    Wow. There seems to be a lot of anger and misunderstanding here.

    The point is not that you should work extra hours. It is that your time should be filled with design if you wish to be great at design. You might have a 9-5 job, but when you go home, do you watch TV and play X-Box, or do you read design books, work on personal design projects, scour design blogs and/or do something design related?

    That is the point. Great designers design all the time. They can no more stop designing than they can stop breathing. If design is simply something you do for a paycheck, that you set aside at 5:01pm each day, then you are not one of them.

    BTW, I do have children and a good work/life balance. But all my time not devoted to my family is consumed by design. Even reading them a bedtime story or playing games involves a constant stream of design thought in my head. It never stops. And if you truly love design, it shouldn't.

  61. Hi all,

    I think that we've likely been able to share most of our thoughts here already; however, if you are in Vancouver, and would like to extend the discussion, here's your chance.

    New Media BC is holding the event: Work/Life Balance: Empty Promise or Key to Happiness at 4:30 on November 23rd, at VFS. If you'd like to register, you can do so here.

    Here's the description of the event from the New Media BC website:

    Join us for a round-table discussion with top-notch service professionals from Vancouver as we dive into what "balance" means, share personal experiences, and explore the many sides of this issue. Whether you're a design student, an employee struggling to balance a career and a family, or a seasoned pro, this is a critical issue for all new media professionals working within today's highly competitive market.

    Co-moderators Wil Arndt/ (mod7) and Gordon Ross (Vice President, OpenRoad) facilitate a cross-industry panel, including Stephen Beck (Principal, Engine Digital), Ron Bignell (Electronic Arts), Mark Busse (Industrial Brand Creative), Eric Karjaluoto (Principal, smashLAB), Robert Ouimet (Partner, At Large Media), Lisa Vogt (Managing Partner, McCarthy Tétrault LLP), and Jeremy Thorp (Electronic Media Instructor and Designer).

    Hope to see you there. :-)


  62. DG>>> says:

    "Great" design, or inspired creativity, is rooted in understanding and experience. The broader your understanding of the world, life, paper, ink, images, color, widgets, etc, etc, the more focused and creative your design and communication skills will be.

    If you work at a studio for 14 hours a, breath, eat design, where does this experience come from? Your control-freak boss???


  63. Kenny Roy says:

    Your article is very inspiring and motivating. I'm an Interactive Design student graduating next week and I've been employed in my new career since June of this year. As a student I've put in long hours to push my projects and the same drive has also moved into my new workplace. I'm constantly told I need to give myself more free time, but I have to admit I love being in a groove and driving to push out something I take pride in.

    With that said, and your article fresh in my mind, I would just like to extend a thanks. Your words have reassured me that what I'm doing is a step in the right direction.


  64. tim says:

    this is a somewhat romantic notion of what a genius is, or should be. quality is not based on quantity... very likely, someone can create greatness in a short period of time. each person works in their own nature, and should not be chastised, frowned upon, or disregarded simply because they create in a 9 to 5 environment.

    certainly, inspiration can occur in the odd hour of midnight... but to work continuously long hours a week can make a person crazy.. the other aspects of your life become neglected... your life starts to fall apart. just because someone makes a remark against having to work late probably suggests that they already pulled a late one before, or have other events in their life that they were looking forward to doing, and they are disappointed with the "choice" they will have to make... sacrifice.. when you need to.. but do it with judgement that makes you have a healthy life.. this required notion that you have to work excessive amounts a week to succeed provides no alternative and forces everyone to do the same.. what happened to individualism? what happened to the realization that everyone does not react or function the same?

    view the quality -- that shows the dedication.. not necessarily just the amount of time... dont judge someone simply because they dont want to work late into the evening.. on a friday... during the summer.

    life needs a balance... obsession ruins everything else.

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  66. Tom says:

    Quantity does not equal quality. I know many freelance designers that actually work less than 6 hours a day and still produce amazing work. Inspiration and passion are not fuelled by overtime, quite often they are damaged by them. It's very possible to ruin a piece of work by becoming increasingly obsessive and pedantic over it. There are a lot of occasions where leaving a piece and coming back to it in the morning with fresh eyes is far more beneficial labouring over it in an exhausted state till the wee hours of morning.

    Employees produce there best work when they are well rested and otherwise healthy. This means that honouring leisure time as opportunity to recharge and expose the mind to new sources of inspiration.

    Any manager that requires regular overtime from his/her employees in order to meet a deadline is frankly incompetent. Why compose a schedule so tight that it requires your workforce to run it self ragged to complete a project on time? That’s a great way to loose respect.

  67. Kevin says:

    Interesting article, but no employer should expect people to work for free. I'll happilly work a bit late if something needs to get out the door, but I'll also try and make sure things are scheduled next time so that problem doesn't happen again.

    You posted up a Fast Company article. I recall another excellent article from them regarding NASA's programmers, and the method they use. It seems that if you want to program something great, like sending humans to the moon, then you should probably work 9-5:

  68. Kevin, you are entirely right. No employer should expect people to work for free. Not only is it an issue of ethics, it's the law. I really should stress that we do pay overtime whenever we ask staff to work extra hours.

    We also pay above average wages, have benefits packages, go for company-paid lunches every here and there, cover transit passes, et cetera. We spread the jobs out so that everyone has a chance to work on the good stuff; we don't save the fun projects for the partners. We feel these are nice little perks given that we are such a small studio.

    Part of my point in this article is that a little give and take isn't a horrible thing. For example, say that a staff member makes a big mistake on a project that either blows a print job or somehow damages the client relationship. In such an instance, wouldn't it be reasonable for that person to put in some hours of their own as a sign of good will? It wouldn't be expected, but any employer would sure appreciate it.

    When designers are early in their careers, they often are less than profitable to the companies they work for. Ones that do put in a little extra effort often get a lot back. Their portfolios often show their commitment, and frankly, it's really nice to give them raises for putting in such efforts.

    We have one particular staff member who is great. He has been with us for a few years, always puts in a good effort and is a pleasure to be around. I know that our clients are in good hands when he's looking after them. Most of the time he works a standard work week. At the same time, he's open to lending a hand when we're in a pinch. He has grown a lot in his time here and has a strong portfolio as a result. I can't tell you how much we appreciate having him around.

    An average effort tends to lead to average results. Putting in a little extra... well, you get the picture. :-)

  69. dave downing says:

    Honestly, I think most of what you have written is complete crap.

    --I have read of resident physicians who work 100 hours a week. Many articles note that lawyers routinely work seven days a week, twelve hours a day. (And frankly, they are lawyers. That can’t be nearly as much fun as being a designer.)--

    The lawyers and Doctors I know get paid for that extra time. I have, therefore they are simply perusing money, not passion for their work. Perhaps as the Owner/Principal of the company you get a financial reward the rest of us drones don't that helps fuel your "passion".

    --If you are passionate, design should be more fun than other extracurricular activities.--

    This is not true. It is possible to have more than one passion. In the winter I'm passionate about skiing, if i ski for 5 hours during the week, and only work 35 hours, I'll be twice as productive and creative than if I work 45 hours. The balance fuels my passion, getting out of the office makes me enjoy my work MORE.

    --I don’t particularly like days off. As such, I’ve chosen to immerse myself in design. It’s everything I do. But what about you? Is this really a commitment worth making? Perhaps you have other, more personal needs. Maybe time with your spouse is more important. On the other hand, you might find it more enjoyable to go to concerts and movies. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and it certainly doesn’t imply that you won’t be a fine designer.--

    You might not need that "balance" others need, and that's great for you, but you can't judge others for not living by your rules of passion.

    --Do however make your choices accordingly. If this lifestyle suits you, I urge you to seek out a casual studio, or perhaps a firm that doesn’t make it their mission to push every project.--

    I work at an office were most of the staff works extra hours, and between 9-5 they are half as productive and caring as me. They take more time off during the day b/c they know they'll be in later. If you can't "push every project" in 37-40 hours a week, it's b/c you aren't able, or you just don't care. Or both.

    --Should some reading be suggested, you would likely find the book, and read it in your off-hours.--

    And this is exactly why I need to get off at 5pm, so I can have time to read, or immerse myself in culture, or learn more history. All important, but the first thing to go without balance.

    And regarding Dave Scott, or so many others who have achieve supposed greatness, there lives outside of their "passion" is usually very sad. Dave may have more balance than others, but so many have no life I would like to follow. Failed relationships, drug/alcohol problems, etc, usually at a greater rate than the rest of society.

    I am passionate about life, the design I do, the skiing I do, the biking I do, and having a great relationship with my wife and friends. I don't ever want a friend to feel that my work is more important than them.

    I'm currently trying to leave a company that has the attitude of this post.


  70. mia says:

    first of all, what potential employee ISN'T going to say that they are passionate? Duh.

    second of all. Why should I have to prove my passion for design to anyone? I don't see the point in saying 'oooh i think about design constantly and therefore I am passionate and therefore a great employee'.

    You know what? Some people are passionate about LIFE. Their design can either suffer or benefit from that. You can't be prescriptive about what other people should be like. It's pretty rude.

  71. mia says:

    I'd also like to add that fostering a habit of 'one up-manship' and trying to prove your worth amongst your employees is ultimately quite unhealthy. Are they producing results? Then leave it at that.

  72. Nick says:

    People have a passion and people have responsabilities. In most cases if it was easy enough then people would work for themselves. As you mentioned that you would sometimes feel at your most inspired point working till 3am. For others in your company that might be the case also but I wouldn't imagine they can go into your office then. Those who finish at 17:05 will probably not switch off from their tasks and will be mentally thinking about what they can do next or how to make the current better. I am a father and in all honesty if i had a choice of being with my daughter after i had not seen her all day or to work on for you till 7pm and not see her at all that day then i would be home at 17:05. I imagine you as being quite lonely. You don't strike me as having kids or if you do they can't see a lot of you. Nothing in this lifetime is more important than the being that i bring into this world. There wellbeing is No 1. There wellbeing involves being there and making sure they get the all round nourishment they need.
    Finally i have come to a conclusion thinking about your words: You are a prick!

  73. Hi Nick,

    I wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading the blog and also comment on your observations.

    I'm glad that you have a child and that you're so happy to be a parent. I completely appreciate this, in part because I too have a family. I have a lovely wife and an energetic two year old, both of whom I love to bits. (Incidentally, we're expecting another child in January.)

    I love my family and spend every moment I can with them. I don't go to football games or hang out with my pals. I sacrifice such indulgences. I have my family and work, and I concentrate on both wholeheartedly. I bust my ass, because these parts of my life are incredibly important to me.

    So, you'll likely understand my irritation by you implying that I'm a poor father. Of course, you're free to hold your own opinion. That being said, I wonder what entitles you to make such suppositions. You've read one whole article of mine; this hardly qualifies you to impugn my character so. Frankly, I find this a little arrogant on your part.

    You also note that I'm a prick, which may at times be true. That being said, I work with integrity. Those who work with me seem to believe that I'm a decent person. Additionally, I take a few hours out of my schedule regularly to share any insights I can, here on this blog. Weekly I receive emails from designers noting that they've found something of usefulness here. I don't get anything from this; I just like helping out my colleagues.

    And what have you done?

    I typically don't make assumptions about others, but given that you've started the trend, why don't I take a stab at it?

    My guess is that you're a mediocre designer (at best) and that articles like this touch a bit of a nerve because they ring so true. You know that you've squandered your time when you could have been practicing your craft. You remember all those nights at the pub that resulted in you being hung-over and less-focused the following day. And now you're starting to see that all of that did amount to something.

    You see your colleagues getting promoted or starting their own shops and you're stuck in a respectable (but less than spectacular job) somewhere. That being said, you've got a mortgage and car payments, so changing course is no longer an option. You're feeling old and wishing that you mattered a little more, and you fear that the time to do something spectacular may have passed some time ago.

    Somewhere along the line, you managed to have kids, and you too experienced that brilliant and life-changing moment that many of us have had, when everything somehow felt different. No one would question this. That being said, most of us don't try to mask our shortcomings with our role as parents as I suspect that you do.

    Of course, none of this means much. These are simply my "guesses" at who you are. How accurate was I? Did I do as well as you?

    You're pretty content to visit a blog like this, size me up in a few moments, and throw your words around with some abandon. I may be a prick, but I think it's fair to say that your cavalier assumptions about others classify you as a bit of an ass. No, scratch that... an ass who can't spell.

    Good luck to you,


  74. Justin Kropp says:

    Eric - I am a faithful reader of this blog. Sometimes I agree with your ideas and opinions and sometimes I don't, but in both instances I pull something from that conclusion. Something of value. You have a strong personality, I suspect, and so what? I see that as a valuable trait in most industries. With that being said, I agree with your response to Nick and can appreciate your work ethic and willingness to open yourself up here. Keep it up.

  75. Thanks Justin--glad to hear!

    I really do try to make this as useful of a resource for others as possible. In doing so, I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with my opinions; nevertheless, it's certainly nice when we're all polite with one another. :-)

    All the best!


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  79. Karen says:


    Thank you for writing this blog post. I find a lot of your posts very informative and helpful. Of course, we are different people and won't see eye-to-eye on everything, and that includes working hours. I know great designers who work very hard and put everything they can into their job, and I know great designers who work 9-5 and are excited to get home and see their kids and/or spouse. I know people in the creative industry who suffer from chronic illnesses, who aren't able to make into work everyday but still do their best to produce stellar work for their company. To say there is only one way of doing things is to cut out all other possibilities and solutions. There is more than one way to skin a cat. And there is more than one way to be a graphic designer. I encourage people to do what works for them, not what other people say they should do.

    Keep up the good work, and thank you for posting your thoughts and opinions. You have given me a great topic for the next breakfast I have with my design group.

    Yours Sincerely,

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