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Exhaustion, Obsolescence, and Self-Worth

Photograph of Jason Santa Maria used with permission.

In May, designer Jason Santa Maria published an article speculating on what course his career (and life) would take should he ever stop designing websites. Considering the impressive trajectory of his career, the article was notable. Santa Maria is a Senior Designer at Vox Media, founded of Typedia and A Book Apart, formerly worked as creative director of An Event Apart and Typekit, served as an AIGA/NY vice president, authored On Web Typography, and currently teaches at SVA’s Interactive Design program. What would make an individual with such extraordinary experience question his future in his chosen field?

In “What’s Next,” Santa Maria explains that he’s preparing for the possibility that someday he won’t be able to (or interested in) continuing his career in web design: “I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that there will be a time when I don’t want to, or can’t — due to fatigue or professional obsolescence — work in this industry anymore.” He worries that his own fascination with bygone skills, such as handset typography, and his drive to explore deeply into topics will leave him off-guard as technology progresses. He concludes by speculating that “[f]lexibility in work habits and in thinking, rather than languages and programs, might be our most useful skills.”

However, in a follow-up article, “Correspondence with an Ex-Designer,” Santa Maria reveals a deeper disquiet that lead to his soul searching. A reader named Ruth responded to his earlier article by describing her journey from designer to sheep farmer, reassuring him that “(w)hat’s next — all depends on you, what motivates you and what makes you happy — there will always be new challenges, but that is what life is all about…” In his response, Santa Maria spoke of his “exhaustion [that] comes from the industry often taking more from us than it gives” and his growing sense of disconnect. Again, he found that Ruth’s reply was on target: “Keep working on it — it is important to you, in your own personal development — that development is important — not the expectations of anyone else. Self-worth is so important.”

With the daunting external factors facing creatives — marketplace pressures, client expectations, the unceasing need to up one’s skills — the exchange between Santa Maria and Ruth is particularly reassuring. It highlights the commonality of professional burn-out, and provides some insight into the personal strength individuals can draw from. Here’s to hoping that Santa Maria continues to find his inspiration, and in doing so, share his story.



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