Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Designing for good

By the time I finished university, I hated graphic design.

I was someone who would stay up working late into the night (and the next) drinking heinous amounts of Tesco’s own brand energy drink in an attempt to make sure everything I’d done was perfect. My heart, soul and usually tears were poured into everything I did. Design was a true passion, so why was I turning against it?

I remember standing and looking around our university studio one day, looking at everyone’s work. A brilliant 3D sculpture that had been appropriated as a poster for Nike, a beautifully packaged bit of promotional work for one of the world’s largest paper suppliers, ynbelievable illustrations, and all of a sudden I felt really uncomfortable.

Now don’t get me wrong, this work was all excellent, we were a talented bunch and working for a huge company or advertising agency had always been held in high esteem, we were emulating what we thought we needed to be.

And I hated it.

Design, to me, has always been about solving problems and finding a way to improve what already exists. To put my time, my efforts and my talents towards doing this for the rich guys and making them richer in the process seemed pointless and frankly, soul destroying. What was this achieving really? The promotion of more products and services that we don’t really need in exchange for the narcissistic pleasure of maybe getting a bigger budget and potentially more creative freedom? To add a recognisable name under ‘has worked for..’? No, that was not what I wanted at all.

My mantra as I was growing up was ‘I just want to help people’, and as I stood there, wondering what the hell I was going to do with a degree that essentially translates to ‘commercial art’, that phrase came flooding back to me and I knew that there had to be a way to combine my passion with what I felt I morally needed to do.

Fast forward two and a bit years and that’s exactly what I’m doing, every single day. I’m a designer at a digital agency that solely works with charities, non-profits and CSR arms of larger companies and general ‘for good’ companies. Not once have I had to create signage for a discount supermarket brand, a splash site for the next start-up tech company or wonder ‘what the hell is the point in this?’, something I’m yet to hear echoed by my peers. It’s a rare opportunity to work only on things that matter to you and to have the knowledge that everything you’re doing is in some way genuinely having a positive impact on someone's life.

We spend our days figuring out how to help charities raise more money for their cause by using clever UX, making sure designs are accessible to the sometimes specialist users of the sites we make, creating apps that keep people safe, apps that have genuinely saved lives. We give people platforms to work from that make their education easier and create websites that enable people to access education that they need - worldwide, by working with some of the most amazing and inspiring charities and non-profits.

I can't imagine anything better.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Roller Derby - The Expected Injury

A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote about how I'd returned to Roller Derby, how I'd transformed my attitude towards it and how I wanted to become a better skater.

Now I'm here to write about how I'm leaving again and how scared I am.

For those of you to whom the words Roller Derby mean absolutely nothing - In a nutshell, it's a primarily female contact sport played on roller skates. It's hard, complicated, exhilarating and ferociously fun.

10 people, 5 from each team, skate onto the oval track. 1 point scorer (jammer) from each team tries to push, jump and skate their way through the rest of the people on track (the pack) as they're using their bodies to push, hit and block her. Each time the point scorer (jammer) laps members of the opposing team they score a point. This is done in 2 minute segments known as jams until an hour has flown by. Easy...right? You can learn more here. It starts to make sense after a while, I promise.

Over the last 21 months I've watched members of my team go through bones breaking, ligaments snapping, muscles tearing and all other manner of injuries that may have never been quite diagnosed, yet stopped my teammates, my friends, skating - sometimes for long periods. 

But we play derby and we know all of this, yet we still step on track two, three, four times a week and we plough on. The best we can do is train hard and cross our fingers that we're going to walk out of that hall in the same state we entered, without obsessing over the idea that we may not. And we do, more than 99% of the time (bruises not included). We can be safe, but almost always injury is unpredictable.

I'm not injured though, not right now, but in a number of days I can fearfully count on one hand, I'm going to be having an operation (then another) on a derby player's most useful appendages - my feet, something that I've been desperately avoiding for two years.

It's a corrective surgery for what has affectionately come to be known as 'Shit Feet' - the tendons in my feet have given up on being tendons, meaning my walk more closely resembles penguin than human at the moment and my toes are clawed into ungodly shapes, rendering buying shoes near impossible.

Knowing that the surgery will mean hanging up my skates for over a year and most likely never skating with my current team again is truly heartbreaking and with each passing day I swear I can sense the acrid stench of the hospital getting stronger all around me.

Though, let's look at the situation optimistically, more realistically. I'm only going to be out of my skates for around a year (oh..), 12 months (crap), 365 days (fuckfuckfuck). I've already gone 3 days this week without skating and I'm only getting a *little* itchy, I just have to repeat that 121 times and I'm done!

Is it getting hot in here?

The closer the operation gets, the more things I become fearful of and the closer I get to convincing myself that walking without pain is really a luxury I don't really need. So what's so scary?

It's hard to explain how deeply that this sport has engrained itself into my life, how it's not just a game and these aren't just people that I know. It's a major part of who I am now.

When you skate and play with your teammates you see them more than almost anyone you don't actually live with. I'm not one for overly lovey-dovey-namby-pamby-teamie-lovely-coochie-woochy…stuff but you do form a bond and a connection that I've never had anywhere outside of roller derby and stepping outside of that circle will be tough. Of course I will still be involved, I will help the team grow, help the new skaters get better and join the hobbling masses of derby injuries past, but I won't be THERE, on track, in the thick of it. I won't walk away with bruises every week (affectionately deemed 'derby kisses' by the sport).

The time spent away from skating, watching your team play is heartbreaking and frustrating, sometimes bringing a strange feeling of guilt, not just for not being there for your team, but for feeling jealous of those who can still skate. Who wants to become the person that's jealous of other people's happiness? Nobody likes that guy.

In a city where I never intended to live, but found so much to love - roller derby has brought me a sense of belonging and peace that only a family can, and it feels like it's about to be taken from me.

At least there will be morphine. 

God bless painkillers.