Written by Edison Chee on 20 October 2014
Tags: burn out, quitting
This is a diary entry written on 27 Nov 2013, the day I decided to leave my first job at a design agency. Names have been changed for privacy purposes.
In this current economy and especially in Singapore, finding a job as a designer is quite an ordeal. However, I had no hesitation in resigning from my job right after the probation period. Reason?
I burned out.
Lint Design is the digital arm of the design firm, Mancer. Mancer is a traditional print design company trying to break into the web design market. I was hired as a web designer/developer in August 2013. The Managing Director runs both print and digital teams with a heavy-handed (read: micromanage) top-down approach, often trying to shoehorn print processes into digital design workflow. Because she had little to no understanding of web development, our little 3-man digital team often found ourselves having projects with unreasonable scope stuffed down our throats.
Someone spoke about how it’s not just about pouring 10,000 hours into doing something to achieve mastery. It’s about the hours that matter, however few they are. We were raking up 80-hour work weeks, where all the hours were spent on projects with no soul. Let me explain.
The way our team was run by the Managing Director, project pitches became about ticking the right boxes on the requirements; following trends for the sake of doing so, and choosing colors just to please the client and etc. We were also going down the road of design commodification. That means competing with other agencies by lowering profit margins, which translates to squeezing more time out of employees to deliver more work in a shorter amount of time. There was no purpose in design, and we were not solving any problems for our clients. Clients would come to us saying they hope to increase sales in a retail mall. They thought a website redesign would do the trick, and we would sell them a website redesign. Because a website redesign is a magical solution that will make people buy more junk, right?
In essence, we were not doing real design work. We were selling rubbish. My conscience gnawed at me. This is not what design is.
Thanks to a lively and passionate global web design community, I was able to see through the lenses of eminent designers and understand their thinking processes. TED talks; Creative Mornings and a plethora of conferences gave me opportunities to catch a glimpse of what good design is. The things I learned are not ideals in a perfect world. These are principles and methodologies that designers are using right now to create brilliant work. To have my eyes opened to such things and yet working in a design agency with an archaic culture was a living nightmare, to say the least.
As the 80-hour work weeks piled on, I became increasingly jaded and was just deadbeat tired every morning. One day, I reached home at 2.30am and said to myself, “I’m going to quit”. Never mind the fact that I was about to receive my confirmation letter for “doing a good job”. It seemed like a rash decision then, considering the fact that I had a student loan to pay every month. But I knew that even working as a barista at Starbucks would give me a clearer conscience. And so, I rejected the confirmation letter and asked for a reasonable notice time to finish up my work and hand them over to my colleagues. I still remember that feeling when I walked out the doors for the last time.
I felt alive.