Who Are We Fighting For?

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The Art Directors Club (a professional organization for designers, typographers and art directors in the advertising and design business) hosts an annual “Young Guns” competition for working professionals under 30. It’s a great organization and this intense competition has highlighted work from some of the most talented members of the design and advertising community.

Unfortunately, each year the competition’s marketing materials are more and more offensive as they rely on common themes of “staying up late”, “drinking coffee”, “eating take-out”, “wearing headphones” and “working on the weekends.” What does this mean? Is this all that we are? Young bare-knuckled designers fighting it out to see who stays latest? I like coffee but I like my weekends too! wtf?

While many of us work very hard at what we do (I like to think I’m a pretty tough worker myself), the exploitative nature of these messages is becoming clearer and clearer in a modern world where battles for maternity (and even more laughable in the US, paternity!) leave become louder and stress, shitty take-out food and basic work/life balance become part of the national health care issue.

These agencies and the ADC itself seem complicit in perpetuating this message and forcing it into the minds of young, often recently graduated, creatives. The message appears to be: to be the best you must work long, hard hours (thus reducing your entry-level wages even further), eat free meals (Thai again anyone?) and only socialize with your co-workers (make sure to drink heavily and bond with them at the ping-pong table before getting back to your computer).

They are telling us not to cook at home with our friends (friends from different industries perhaps?), not to have children (as if you would think about such a thing in the design/advertising world) and not to take on any personal projects (doesn’t the google staff have a personal project mandate?). Our loyalty seems not to be just to creativity itself, but to the desk, the physical space.

I suppose I’m at a loss for real answers but I have a lot of questions like, “is this ethical?” “is this sustainable?” and “how do we justify this extreme loyalty in light of current events?” Will we be too busy staying late to finish a pitch and miss out on the next revolution? Will we be fighting with each other for ADC awards and not have the energy to creatively solve crises in our own community?

Also, if we call foul, do we risk being seen as weak? Uncreative? Un-hireable in the professional design/advertising world? Personally I’m trembling with fear as I type this. But why? I already mentioned I’m a hard worker dammit!

And ultimately, are we just following a previous generation’s lead? Is this wise?

[Editor’s note: Read ADC’s Young Guns committee chairman, Justin Gignac’s rebuttal here.]