The RareViz Manifest: Why now is the time to work smart

A manifest for designers and visual artists who are tired of the unsustainable grind. A process that gives you joy and energy, instead of the “1-week work, 2 weeks rest” death spiral.

It is no secret that our industry is one of the hardest most brutal industries for mental health and general well-being.

It is common for people working in the creative industry to experience high levels of stress, long hours, and tight deadlines. In a 2020 workplace stress survey it was shown that 85% of media and marketing professionals are likely to commonly experience work stress, the third most stressful profession. 

What is it about our profession and the way we work that tends to naturally push people towards an unsustainable process?

Through my work, at huge tech companies, and in smaller scrappy studios I have seen it all. From the intern fresh out of school working his tail off looking to make an impression — to the older corporate designer who has lost all joy in the work and is now doing the bare minimum to stay employed and be able to see his family and friends.

A common theme among designers is that Studio and Agency work is a young man’s game. That the work pace is too fast. That there is no time left over for family and friends and that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a pipe dream. Agency work is deemed the battleground for young designers battling is out, cutting their teeth, and just barely getting by (on red bull and copious amounts of sugar) until they finally give in and get a comfy corporate job.

Designer and founder of the agency Brand Nu Radim Malinic found himself in a position where “no” had become an entirely foreign concept: he was working 18-hour days for a year straight, and eventually had a breakdown.
I was part of this unsustainable cycle and I questioned why I felt this way. Was I not dedicated enough to the craft? Did I not want it enough? Why would I need a week’s rest every time I finished a project?

It wasn’t before I started getting introspective and examining the cycle like a system that I finally started seeing where I went wrong. Specifically, there are some fundamental opposing goals at play that cause stress and anxiety and prevent us from sustainably doing our best work, builds on past success, and give us energy and joy. The unsustainable process prevents us from exploring the areas we are naturally curious about, from reaching further and going places to achieving visual work, you never thought your work could achieve.

One of the central themes that we will be writing and creating content about here at RareViz is how to get closer to a process that works for us. Where we still create awesome magical visuals but get off the daily grind train, stop the stress and anxiety, and where both the client and we are happy at the end of a project.

The myth of the lone wolf genius designer

Our Industry is full of lore about the unique individuals who faced incredible odds, endured the pain, and succeeded in shipping work that is completely amazing. People like Solomon Ligthelm who can’t do any wrong in my book, and Ash Thorp who continuously does amazing work. The truth is that these individuals are one-offs, crazy dedicated to their craft, and not always happy with their situation — they themselves acknowledge it:

I was wondering if it’s worth it. Is it worth feeling uncomfortable, feeling pain, feeling absent and in my head, feeling slightly depressed? Is it worth it for my “art”? I don’t know if my wife can handle it. I just don’t know. It’s like the artist and the husband wrestle with each other all the time. I wonder if there’s a world where the two can coexist.
We need a process that works for the average designer — a process that will have you sustainably working on this magical craft, energized and being happier, more productive, and be sustainable for the long term (the “time for family and friends and hobbies” kind of long term)

If you look at the best of the best work out there chances are that most of the work is created by entire teams with separate departments handling individual parts of the job. In the case of a complex video, like the docuseries for Google below, you might have as many as 13 credited contributors — ONLY for the motion graphics portion of the video (and excluding Google’s own design and animation team).

We inadvertently compare our work to these massive productions with people having put in the work day in and day out — and we feel our work is not at the same level. This creates a tension between where our work is and where we want it to be

Presenting the RareViz flywheel of easy productivity

  • When things are easy they are sustainable
  • When it is sustainable your impact compounds
  • When impact compounds it creates leverage (the ability to do more with the same resources)
  • Leverage makes things easy

When you start with a process that is actively adding to your happiness you will stick with it long enough for your efforts to compound and give you exponential returns. Willpower and trying to power through will eventually run out. Real joy and a sense of progress make it doable.

A way to know that this is happening is by checking in with yourself daily:

  • Am I genuinely engaged in what I am doing today?
  • Does this work energize me?
  • Did I enjoy the work today?

Supplement the above questions with the answers to this: How can I catch non-joy-inducing tasks in my life and how can I bend them towards joy?

The new RareViz

In coming up with a direction for where I want to take RareViz I think the pressing need lies in helping designers make this a sustainable way of exploring creativity while making a living.

I see far too many great designers and artists suffering from the unsustainable process and creating less work unhappily in an unhappy day-to-day. And It is time I start sharing what has helped me throughout the years.

For accountability and my own sake here is a preliminary list of topics RareViz will be dedicated to in the future:

  • Prioritize what you say yes to:
    • Eliminating, Delegating, and Automating the parts of the job that are not essential to the unique value you bring to the table.
  • Free up Time
    • SOPs: Systemize your process to consistently do the basics and free up time for creativity.
    • Create time for creative exploration, research, and development
    • The Leverage spectrum
    • Automation, Keyboard Maestro, Make, Publer, etc.
    • Reusable asset libraries
  • A sustainable process:
    • Executing on your flywheel
    • Continuous improvement
    • Project and task management
    • Efficiency through technology, Diffusion models, AI
  • A sustainable business
    • Running your process like a real modern business.
    • Marketing for designers
    • getting paid without the hassle

One small step towards a better process

Working hard is like driving in first gear. Everything is manual and initially necessary, but eventually, you need to change gears and start working smarter, if you don’t you will get stuck and eventually burn out.
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This change won’t happen from one day to the next and is as individual as you are. One thing to keep in mind that I often forget is that moving in the right direction, however slow that movement is, is still a lot better than moving at full speed in the wrong direction. Even if you go more slowly in the right direction, you will see your efforts compound over time.

The Navy Seals have the principle: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast” — applied to our endeavor: We need to slow way down, determine the direction and end goal and make things work on a smaller scale. From there we can start scaling up and adding speed. But first, we thoughtfully and methodically make things work.

Today’s homework is as follows: Get a piece of physical paper or create a new note anywhere you won’t miss it (I like the app TickTick for managing todos with notes) and have it visible at all times during your next project. At the end of each day, you ask yourself:

  • What was great today?
  • What was bad today?
  • If I had to do today over again I would:
  • If I had to produce what I did today 1000 times, what would I do differently?
  • How could I make today a 10/10

These questions are made to bring the inefficiencies and unsustainable actions to the forefront and will help you on your path toward a sustainable process.