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Design is not a cure for cancer.

They were the final words Ken Cato’s wife said as she slammed the door behind her and left the building.*

Harsh but true. Design is not a cure for cancer.

An early boss had a very similar message during my very first role as a design studio manager. I was 24, bright eyed and bushy tailed (figuratively not literally) and quite excitable when projects didn’t run to time. He would ask – often when my T-shirt was over my head and I was running in circles – who is going to die if we don’t get this project out in time? Of course he was right, but at that stage of my career, I thought he wasn’t taking his, or my, career seriously.

I took the responsibility of handling my client’s money, of delivering a job to brief, to budget and on time, and managing a team of five designers, very seriously. Him, not so much. I stayed long enough to realise our cultures were not aligned, but when I left I took some of his survival techniques with me.

The importance of survival techniques was proven this week when Greg and I attended the funeral of design colleague.

He seemed to have it all.
He ran a successful business that was over a decade old.
He employed a skilled and loyal team supporting a great stable of clients.
He was married to a childhood sweetheart with two lovely young sons.
And, we learnt, he was an accomplished guitar player.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to balance the demons in his head.

There are many examples of creativity being linked to mental health. I can understand that.

From the outside design looks a fulfilling and satisfying career. What others don’t ‘see’ is being creative is about 10% of energy spent. The other 90% of energy is spent negotiating. Negotiating with other designers, with clients, with suppliers and with stakeholders. Negotiating about briefs, about deadline, about work:life balance and about budgets.

Continual negotiation can be exhausting.

As I was writing this article, Jim Antonopoulos’ weekly journal popped into my inbox. Jim has been thinking about mental health:

All I know is that work isn’t everything and we can’t let it impact our health and our lives in such negative ways. Yes, work can be personal and can be very much fulfilling from within — a life long passion yes, but we have to be conscious of its impact on our mental health just as much.

As always, the complete article is well worth reading.

Similarly, Andy Wright, managing director of Streamtime, has just launched an initiative called Never Not Creative.

Never Not Creative is a community of creatives who want to make our industry a better place. We hope to support, inspire and come together to create the ideas, tools and solutions that improve the wellbeing of everyone in the industry and promote the value of creativity in the world.

It’s designers supporting the wellbeing of designers.I think this initiative deserves our support.

I also think we need to support ourselves, and we need to support each other.
As Jim says, the consequences are serious.

What do you think? Want to share your point of view? I’m all ears. Please feel free to email me.

Carol Mackay

*Story told by Ken at an AGDA function of the same name.

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Carol’s design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information to be easily understood and digested. 2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she transitioned from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School.

Carol has just written a new program for the The Design Business School. The Design Studio Management Program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path. Contact Carol for more information.

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