Recently I read an interesting article in the most recent issue of Communication Arts, the Typography Annual of 2013, called Cooperative! Part 4 Torn between me and we. This piece, written by DK Holland covered some provocative issues starting with a presentation of post 9/11 design “I Love New York More Than Ever” by Milton Glaser. She uses this work to illustrate how times of crisis can pull a community together, and that conditions for change are often created by crisis. She goes on to show that the logo created by Glaser, both his original “I Love New York” and the expanded “I Love New York More Than Ever” came at just the right moment and was instantly embraced by a hurting community.
Next, she points out that crisis creates cooperatives and moves into a case study to of a food co-op that she co-founded named Greene Hill, after the two neighborhoods that the co-op served Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. In this example, she outlines the various challenges and hardships that the group faced in starting this cooperative, including the “design by committee” process that the branding was produced. After trying several directions and presenting them for feedback from the committee, he design firm had to come up with an entirely new approach based off of that feedback. The new work was unanimously approved and the co-op eventually opens up with everyone doing their part.
Lastly she goes on to talk about peer-to-peer networks, democracy and the need for people to work hard and learn from repeated failures. She makes a great point that “Persistence in many ways is more important than talent or intelligence: trying a new path when one doesn’t pan out, not being intimidated or defeated when at first you don’t succeed.” She ends talking about how changes often take a village and we need to see ourselves in the larger picture.
This article, while only loosely weaving in the design work, made really interesting points about cooperation through crisis and people coming together to solve issues in a democratic, self-organized, power-decentralized way. It really has me thinking about the state of the advertising and design industry and how our current economy has affected so many talented people. The industry has always been competitive and difficult to navigate with corporate pressures and politics that aren’t taught in art school.
When I graduated from art school it took me almost a year of applying at every agency in town and going on multiple interviews to get my big break. Nowadays, it’s at least that difficult if not worse for designers entering the field. In my small design studio, when I put out an ad for an entry level designer, I get dozens and dozens of resumes and portfolios… many of which are from designers and art directors with more experience than me! Large and medium sized firms have continued to downsize creative departments over the past several years and more and more designers are out of work, forced into freelance or other non-design jobs all together to stay afloat. Only the most persistent (not necessarily the most talented) will survive.
The co-op idea is very inspiring and I have heard of groups of freelancers and one or two-man shops that come together under the same umbrella and employ the co-op idea. I myself, early on in my effort to start my own shop, got involved in a “virtual agency” type set-up where I developed a handful of strategic partnerships with very experienced people that had complimentary skills – An Account Man, a Programming Guru, a Copywriter and I served the role of Creative Director. All of us had our own separate businesses, but we would operate as a team when a project called for it. I wonder if in this “New Economy” if the co-op agency set-up will become the rule and not the exception? Here’s a cool example I found of a team in South Dakota that has taken this idea and run with it, The Creative Co-op.