This is a good time of year to remember small kindnesses from casual acquaintances; those who spend valuable time assisting others in spite of their own heavy workload. Perhaps you are one of the people who do random acts of kindness on a daily basis. It's a simple philosophy of helping whoever, whenever one can, without judgment, reason or expectation. The payoff works both ways. You get to relieve universal stress and set an example, sometimes one that will affect the recipient for a lifetime. All those generous experts at forums and on lists pertaining to subjects like web design are donating billable time—random acts of kindness are something you can do, too. A couple of weeks back, I stopped at the post office with my final shipment for Christmas. My freelance work doesn't require anything beyond jeans and a t-shirt; I fit in real well with the rest of my rural locals. A well-coifed woman in a mink coat was behind me in line. As I started out for my car, I heard the clerk tell her she was a dollar short. "Oh dear, oh, dear. I'll be right back." As she turned to run out to her SUV, I pulled a crumpled dollar out of my old down coat and said, "Here, save yourself a trip." She was both mystified and delighted; though somewhat wary. Picture the humbled principal on the bus in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when offered some warm gummy bears by a runny nosed kid. Good for her—perhaps she will see the pleasure in doing random acts of kindness and pass it on. We all make judgments; especially aesthetic judgments. But it would be a wonderful thing if we could withhold forming an opinion until there was some basis beyond appearance for forming one. If we applied the same weights and measures to food that we apply to people, no one would eat chocolate. When presented with an opportunity to close the gap between complete and incomplete, seize the moment and become the resolving link.
My distant friend Fred sent me a pop-up Christmas card this year. My other friend, Scott the printer, described it as "production costs to die for" done by someone who uses the high priced spread. There was a note on the back from Fred noting the "drop the ball" feeling present from the uninvolved front of the card to the burst inside. My potter friend said, "What's up with that?" What's up with that is that a very good illustrator created that card. He focused on the interplay of the pop-up, the mechanics, the shapes and the colors. And then he stopped. I think each job has imaginary parameters we put in place, determined by our definition of our place. For an illustrator, his parameters are within that one illustration. Unlike a designer, an illustrator limits his perspective, concentrating on composition, color and technique. But unlike a designer, when his illustration is finished, well, everything else is simple support. To an illustrator, the final piece is simply a pole for the flag; ah, the illustration. It's a valid viewpoint, but probably not one appreciated by the audience or a designer. Job parameters are best controlled by an art director or creative director whose job it is to bring all the elements together to support the whole. If you are freelancing, keep in mind that you must step back and act as overseer with responsibilities beyond a single point of view. Commercial illustration is just one element of a concept that must support a client's intent. Thinking outside the box means different things to different people. Simply pushing artistic technique and applying all the plug-ins may not be enough to qualify for the "outside the box" label in the field of design.
Too many jobs have bits and pieces thrown together as an afterthought, and that earns an industry incomplete. A professional job is a resolved job. It takes time, sometimes too much time, to find the solution when you're just starting out. When the job is done, viewers will feel it works, and so will you, because resolution is the most important aspect of design work, not just aesthetics. If it looks good but doesn't work, well, the work is not done. You're not finished. When presented with an opportunity to close the gap between complete and incomplete, both in your work and life, seize the moment and become the resolution. It's all about making things work—making things better.
Happy Green New Year and may it draw closer to more peace and less pestilence.
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