a leap into the unknown

Anthony Noel's picture

Good day one and all.

After much deliberation I have decided to resign my position and stake in a graphic design firm I established with friends while at university nearly six years ago, and set off around the world on a mission of discovery and personal development. Leaving aside the questionable wisdom of this decision (I'm essentialy abandoning a secure job with a successful firm in which I have 25% ownership) I'd like to ask if any of my typocolleagues have made a similar move, and specifically to help with some advice.

The split from my company is perfectly amicable and I have their full support for the decision. I don't have much in the way of personal responsibility (no wife, kids, goldfish etc) compared with my colleagues who are all now at various stages in the family way. This disparity is possibly one of the reasons for my deciding to make a move: we now have rather different incentives and frankly I don't have the same financial imperiatives they do. It does create an imbalance, as hard as we might try for it not to.

But enough background. One of my anxieties about a long trip like this (and I'm sure there will many more; I'm working an eight month notice) is that I'll lose touch with the industry and that my skills will atrophy. I don't know whether these concerns are founded or not, but they seem like a good reason to look for work or volunteering opportunities in my field while I'm away, as well as experience foreign cultures by living and working amoung them. How realistic is this? Are permits and visas for skilled work easy to come by? I'm intending that the leisure side of the trip will take me through North Africa and India towards the far east. Would I be best advised to contact organisations before I leave, thus potentially commiting myself to a schedule before I've even left the UK, or should I just let my nomadic perambulations take me where they will, hoping that something will come up?

Things that occur to me as possibilities might be teaching work or writing assignments, and I'm considering contacting the Building Letters people to see if I could do to contribute to one of their projects. It would be enough to working with designers, and I quite fancy doing something that involves getting my hands dirty - I've kind of had enough of sitting at a desk all day. I'd also like to look for opportunities to widen my professional experience. I'm senior designer at my firm, and we specialise in brand comms, which means I have to be something of a design generalist. I have personal ambitions to get into magazine and book design or even just publishing in general. Should I attempt to look for work in this area?

Are there any organistaions within our industry that can facillitate volunteer work, or are there any recruitment companies who could help with placements? I've been daydreaming about this for a while now and I've made the assumption that such things exist. Now that I've made the commitment, the reality is probably rather different, but I really don't know where to start, except on this discussion board. I would really appreciate any advice, experiences you can share (good and bad) or just reassurance that I've not just made the most reckless, self-indulgent and long-term career wrecking move that, in the slow hours of the night, I think I might have done.


PS I'd rather not be taking a laptop with me if at all possible.

Paul Cutler's picture

Design is the sum total of your experiences so I don't see how this can hurt you if this is what you want to do. The only thing your going to miss out on is 8 months of current trends, consider that a blessing.

I don't have any advice about working abroad, I've only done that playing music and that was all arranged for me.

What you're doing takes courage - good for you. If you have the cash just go and see what happens - that's the great leap of faith - I wouldn't sweat it too much.

Need a traveling partner? :)


pattyfab's picture

No constructive advice to offer alas but man have a great time and best of luck!

And please report back to us if you find yourself near a computer.

If Not4George's picture

Wow, you really blew it, didn't you? You gave up the American Dream to go gadding about and now you want us to indorse your descision? I don't think so. What do you think life is supposed to be? Fun? An adventure? I'm sure that going to new places and seeing new and exciting things will absolutely destroy your sense of design, not to mention render you unemployable upon your return (as most employers are seeking individuals with limited experiences and little or no curiosity). Also, by the time you return Adobe will have probably released CS4 (or even CS5) so you'll be so far behing you'll never be able to catch up.

Now I, on the other hand, realize that a person's true design potential is realized only by avoiding anything new or different and staying focused on the important things in life, like how much overtime one can accrue and how many Adobe seminars one attends. A true designer has to go to the chiroprater at least once a week to un-gink his neck from sitting in front of a computer monitor for hours on end. A true designer has carpal tunnel syndrome and a fat butt. A true designer couldn't imagine going to places like the cave of Lascaux, or Nefertari's tomb, or the Taj Mahal. If you really must see these place, why not just take the on-line tours when you have a break at work? Many of them include those panoramic 360 degree flash thingies, so it's just like being there.

It may not be too late to get your job back. If you go to them and fall on your knees and beg and plead and explain that you've been under a lot of stress recently. Tell them that you have no idea WHAT you were thinking... you just got your priorities confused momentarily but now you realize that you need to stay focused if you are ever going to have a future in this business. They may reconsider and take you back. If that doesn't work I just don't know what to tell you. There may be no hope at all.

hrant's picture

Anthony, my own experience concerning "cutting loose" was in most ways less dramatic than yours is likely to be, but maybe more dramatic in one way: I didn't have a return plan. In fact overall you seem to be planning ahead quite well - I just leapt. It was an age ago, in 1992, after I graduated from college and the career prospects seemed about as inspiring as wet toast*. So I moved to Barcelona, and lived for 6 months off the few thousand dollars of font sales I made by alerting long-hesitant prospective clients that they might never see me again. I had my computer sent over, got my resume translated to Spanish, sent out over a hundred of them, but the rare instances that I got an interview the poor people had no idea what to do with me. So mostly I ended up just taking pictures and reading old French philosophy (Montaigne, Baudelaire, and the rest of the troupe) that I hated in high-school (in Lebanon) but suddenly felt I needed. I also managed to get myself to three Formula-1 races (two of them outside of Spain). So no, I didn't remain in the career loop for whenever I sort of knew in advance I'd end up going back, but really when I left there was nothing to plan to get back to anyway. In the Summer I moved back to LA via Beirut and Paris, and somehow quickly found a job selling pre-press equipment.

* It was many years later than I was informed that in fact there was a
recession going on at the time! :-/ And I had thought it was just me.

The three things I would advise:
1) It's clear you have this bug in you, and this is pretty much the only time you'll be able to do it. As you probably realize once you have a family you're very unlikely to be able to pull off something like this, and you would regret not having done it to the end of your life. Don't hesitate for an iota, it is meant to be.
2) Do keep an awareness of what it will take to re-integrate yourself when you get back, but don't let a servitude to that ruin the whole point of doing what you'll be doing in the first place. For example not taking a laptop is a very good move. And 8 months is not much for somebody smart to recover from in a month or so.
3) Don't plan too much. You will make mistakes, you will "waste" time, but that's the only way to grow. Immerse yourself, but stay lucid, and things will fall into your lap, because you're privileged. There's a certain sad, unfair glory to this, but not leveraging it is worse.

> Are permits and visas for skilled work easy to come by?

No. But what is easy to come by is a willingness for "informal" (read: illegal) granting of work to skilled foreigners. People generally love willing and able Westerners coming to their neck of the woods.


hrant's picture

Elizabeth is probably kidding (for her sake I hope so) but whether she is or not the following is something I'm compelled to add: all those "How to be creative" books are pure bunk. I've found that the only reliable and powerful way to trigger creative insight is exposure to the unknown - and the single best way to do that is of course travel. The things I saw during a 4-day trip to Bangkok many years ago are still causing me to think, are still causing random ideas to spawn in my head. When you get back, you are likely to be on a whole different level than your collegues - qualitatively more ambivalent, deeper, more serene and clairvoyant. Hence more valuable to both your industry and society in the long term.


If Not4George's picture

I left my reply on the screen, my son read, it and he freaked out! He's certain you're gonna take me seriously. That's difficult for me to believe, considering that every time I re-read it I start laughing so hard I almost cry (that's pitiful to admit, considering I wrote it, huh?).

Most of us who've done this for over half out lives would give a left body part to be in your shoes. The sad part about my post is that so much of it is true (not the part about creativity, of course) but how many times do you hear about someone in this industry having to file workman's comp for their carpal tunnel? And how many times have you missed a whole day of daylight working on a big project?

Remember when Wilbur got out of the pen in Charlotte's Web? All the barnyard animals were shouting at him. Dodge and dance! Twist and turn! Run uphill! Make for the woods! We're all cheering for you, and sort of wishing that we had such a wonderful opportunity.

Anthony Noel's picture

Thank you all very much. I'd actually love to keep some kind journal for you guys to follow, and in a way a blog or something similar would be a good way of keeping in touch with reality and the working world. Setting that up would a fun way to prepare and do a little personal project at the same time.

Elizabeth, I had to read your post at least twice to make sure I had spotted the irony... and while what you say is true (in its perversity) it's not the reason for my decision; Paul Theroux reckoned that "travel is flight and pursuit in equal parts", but the hardest thing for me has not been the escapism but the throwing away of something I love doing. In the end it has come down to what I wanted more.

AzizMostafa's picture

State505's story has reminded me of my story with the mighty Artist, British Dr.K who found no better Job in Thailand in 1987 than doing
Goldfish Kaligrafi. I was on my 3rd week at Simon publications doing Arabic Typesetting when the Manager Mr.Mo came with his book "Battaya Treasure". I was immediately fired for my refusal to handle the WhoHow book into Arabic!

jordy's picture

I wish you to best of luck for a great travelling experience. Yes, keep a journal, but write it in pen or pencil, then if you want, post it when you get back. Forget the blog, forget about what you had and move on to the many things that are interesting in the world. Your experiences will make for a full life and, no doubt, a better one. We all tend to be oblivious to it because we don't always focus on it but the fact is that everything that we make is designed, from the pot holder woven by grandma to the automobile and everything else. So my advice - look closely at everything made in every foreign place to which you travel. You'll learn a lot I think.

wormwood's picture

Anthony, I did pretty much the same thing myself once. This may sound like a cliche, but my only regret was that I hadn't done it sooner. This is probably one of the smartest things you will ever do.

I agree with most of what the others have said here, especially Hrant and especially his second post.

Here's a few of my thoughts and suggestions...

Don't arrange or plan to work. You're more likely to stumble accross worthwhile activities that feel like the right thing to do at the time.

Plan your trip as loosely as possible and be prepared to deviate.

"I’d actually love to keep some kind journal for you guys to follow, and in a way a blog or something similar would be a good way of keeping in touch with reality and the working world."

No way. Don't take a laptop, write a blog, keep a journal or keep in touch with reality and the working world. Forget about us. It will all still be here if you come back.

Only use a computer once a month to send 2 emails (one to your family and one to all your friends) and only if you really have to. Try postcards instead.

Don't even take a camera. You are a living creature, not a tourist. Just be you, in the world, unfiltered.

Maybe take a pencil and sketch book / ideas book.

Definately don't worry about future work. The artificial career trap is just a form of slavery and social control. You are definately not going to return less talented.

You're skills will not atrophy and the industry and design software etc will still operate in pretty much the same way even in 5 years time.

Be prepared to be amazed at what comes your way.

Be prepared to be amazed at how much bigger your world becomes.

Be prepared to be amazed at how much you change and grow.

But also be prepared for the possibility of dying horribly in some freakish travel related accident involving a moped and a stray goat. It's all good ;)

AzizMostafa's picture

> But also be prepared to die horribly in some freakish travel related accident.

Wormwood, wherever one may be, death will overtake him/her,
though he/she should be in lofty tower?!

State505, 505-500 interests are awaiting you: Ease of pains,
Gain of knowledge (new perspectives), acquiring sustenance,
meeting friends (Typophiles) and making new ones.

Have a nice trip + a chunky Goldfish wherever you leap.
But always remember : Look before you leap!

If Not4George's picture

Sorry Anthony, I was out of town for a few days. I'm glad you saw the irony in my post. I started to wonder if I'd been doing this job too long. BTW, you quit your job. You didn't quit being a designer. You will always be a designer. I had a teacher tell me once that after his class I would never be able to look at type the same way again. He was so right. It's kinda like riding a bike. I had another teacher tell me to always travel with a sketchpad. He was so right, too.

My most recent journey (over the last 4 days) took me to Reno. I don't know if you've ever been to Reno, but trust me when I tell you that it's not the design hub of the western world. Even so, there's design inspiration everywhere you look- old signs from the 60's and 70's, weird paisley print curtains in trashy hotel windows, bad tattoos, etc. I used my sketchpad every day I was there, sometimes to draw a likeness of a pattern or typeface, other times to write out an idea that was inspired by something that caught my eye.

I've even been known to endanger my own life and the lives of others by pulling out my sketchpad out on the freeway while I was driving so that I could jot something down before I forgot. Because of this, my husband bought me my second most valuable travel tool, a mini voice recorder that creates digital files that I can upload to my computer. This has proven invaluable in helping capture some of those fleeting ideas that come and then disappear in an instant. Upon closer perusal these spontanious thoughts turn out to be one of two things: pure crap or pure genius, with a definite tendency toward the former. It's worth digging through the crap to get to those golden genius nuggets, though. The only drawback I see to suggesting one for your trip is the ultimate dependency on a computer, and I agree with everyone else that you should avoid computers as much as possible. But if the idea appeals to you, check into the most recent technology and see if there's one out there that might accomodate your needs. The cool thing about mine is how small it is; about the size of a tube of lipstick. I literally keep it on my keychain.

Good luck Anthony. Even though you've escaped the barnyard you're still a pig. You'll still do all the wonderful piggy things you've always enjoyed doing, its just that now you don't have to listen to a bunch of cows constantly mooing their opinions. (You are getting the joke, right? You realize that I'm making another Charlotte's Web reference, and not actually calling you a pig? Good. I'm just a bit nervous since my last attempt at ironic humor.) Bon Voyage!

Anthony Noel's picture

I don't actually plan on doing any driving while I'm away, so the "horrible freakish accident" shouldn't be the result of trying to sketch Urdu grafitti while negotiating the Karachi traffic... but you never know, and in case it is, you read it hear first. Just don't tell my parents.

There's no way I'm leaving a notepad behind, and an inevitable product of that will be a journal. What's more, I write better when I think I have an audience (I certainly design better when I do) and I can't imagine a situation where I'm not working in some way or another, so I guess you're right Elizabeth; there's something fundamental to my character that makes me a designer.

As far as Wormwood's comment about the career trap and social control are concerned... Well, I'm a functioning member of society and am quite prepared to accept that there are many influences on my decision making, some of them I'm aware of and many that I'm not. To start with, I'm sure that my wanderlust could be attributed to the legacy of British colonialism, if that's how you'd like to diagnose it.

I've still got eight months until I set off, so plenty of opportunity to over-analyse and prepare. One thing is for certain though, whatever my expectations, they are sure to be defied. And that's the point.


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