There’s no use sugarcoating it: the COVID-19 crisis has hit the creative industries hard. Back in May, reports indicated that nearly half of unemployed creatives had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. At the same time, a whopping 70% of employed creatives revealed that they were moderately-to-very worried about their future. This climate of tension remains even today, ebbing and flowing as projects are delayed, postponed or cancelled altogether. The question on everyone’s minds: how do we survive in a pandemic?
To help us help ourselves, WDCD joined forces with Designplatform Rotterdam to organise a series of online gatherings for creatives who had been seriously impacted by the crisis. In the spirit of solidarity, we called this initiative Designers for Designers, and defined it as a safe space for advice-giving, brainstorming and mentorship. Part German strategiekreis and part self-help group, the format was developed by Lucas Verweij and Jeroen Deckers of Designplatform Rotterdam. Together with WDCD we opened it up for the international community, bringing experts, students, employees and employers together in a set of interactive (but anonymous) peer-to-peer coaching sessions focused on sharing experiences. Six months later, we’re here to break down some of the key highlights and insights from our last three editions, all of which took place over Zoom.
WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?
To guide participants into an open and meaningful discussion, each session of Designers for Designers was moderated by a rotating group of creative movers and shakers, including designer Bianca Spierenburg, urbanist & designer Anna Swagerman, artist Guta Galli, and even our co-founder Pepijn Zurburg. Each digital exchange welcomed some 20 participants from various countries and disciplines, and lasted about two hours. In the introductory round, participants were invited to share where they stand with their work in this challenging time. Some explored practical concerns, while others focused on how they’ve been managing expectations or building coping mechanisms. Many talked openly about those dark days with no creative inspiration, the pitfalls of #workfromhome, and the pressure to adapt to what feels like constantly changing circumstances.
“For the past four months, there has been zero income.
We’ve been soldiering on, but the crisis hit us big time.”
“The hardest days are those when I don’t feel creative at all.”
“A lot of people in the UK have lost their jobs, and they’re re-thinking their lives right now. A lot of people want to change careers, or start a business.”
“Somedays I want to cry. Somedays I want to quit.”
“I don’t have much experience to back me up, just school.
How do I establish myself in this very uncertain time?”
“I’m still struggling to adapt to the team because everything is done virtually.
The human contact isn’t there.”
Often, the first round of talks would end on a collective sigh of relief. One moderator observed: “You never have these discussions. It’s always about work and deadlines. But you never zoom out to talk about what’s keeping you up at night.”
In the second round, participants broke into smaller groups for 45 minutes of peer-to-peer coaching. We discussed practical problems such as how to talk to clients about money, and professional advice such as how to use this time to learn new skills or reinvent your practice. Participants also shared different perspectives on the changing value of design, and most notably, on the inherent resilience of designers.
“We are facing a challenging time, but there is always something to do.
There is always opportunity there.”
“I decided that Covid actually helps me to start doing the things that I was postponing.”
“Some clients are having trouble seeing the value of designers right now. They see us as the cherry on top of the dessert, at a time when they need to save their ship from sinking.”
“I actually think designers are needed now more than ever. Companies are rethinking their business models and where they are going.”
“I’m looking for another view of my position as a graphic designer.
How can I turn my career to do something for someone else?”
“This has been a time to reboot. To ask: Why am I still alive?
How am I contributing to change?”
All three sessions ended with a plenary round of reflections. Most found the experience helpful, if not cathartic. When all was said and done, three things stood out in terms of practical advice. If you’re looking for a little support, here is what we learnt about how to build back stronger in the weeks and months ahead:
1. Be confident.
Good design is needed now more than ever. In the right hands, it can be exactly what a business — and certainly, what our planet — needs to adapt to the changes we are living through.
2. Get real.
This can be your moment to talk more openly to your friends, colleagues and clients, especially about topics considered taboo (e.g. money, value, ethics, success, productivity).
3. Go with the flow.
Remember that designers are comfortable in crisis, so this is nothing new. Creative people are resourceful and resilient. Set your sails, know that you’ll be okay, and be sure to take good care of yourself.
Many thanks to all the participants, and to Designplatform Rotterdam, for making this series happen. Follow us on Instagram for news about future sessions of Designers for Designers.