One of my first jobs was at a top-tier graphic design agency. That firm won so many awards, its competitors begged them to stop entering competitions. My colleagues and I admired highly original thinkers like Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Saul Wurman (founder of TED talks).
I was a rising star in my field, but I soon felt trapped inside a “bubble” that kept designers on the inside and the general public on the outside.
Even as I won design awards, I felt less connected to non-designers. The gap didn’t bother my peers, but it drove me crazy. Eventually, I quit my job and joined a maintenance crew on a huge state forest. I was determined to meet whoever lived in the “real” world. Bingo—a long year of sweat, snow, sunburn and snakes worked perfectly.
My crewmates cared more about Budweiser than about Bauhaus, but we worked well together. Getting to know each person helped dispel the myth of the “general public”. I was finally meeting the people who would someday need, use, and appreciate my work.
My work as a graphic designer has been informed by that part of my life. I give credit for my design awards to the influences of non-designers.