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design notes

A digital design workaholic

Hello. My name is Brett Collins and I am a design workaholic.

You may read that statement and think to yourself “Yes, so what? So am I.” What I mean when I say “I am a workaholic” is that I am all consumed by my profession of design. My thoughts about my work run 24 hours a day through my head. I even dream solutions to work problems while I sleep. It is hard to separate myself from my work. It oozes from my thoughts all the time.
I do not wear workaholic as a badge of honor, nor do I proudly display or discuss it. I have assumed for most of my life that everyone performed their jobs in the same way that I did. It wasn’t until recently that I became aware of that my workaholism is a problem.

I excelled at school, but I loved art above all other subjects. I enjoyed drawing, and I thought I had talent. One day, Mr. Nolan, the head of art, casually informed me while browsing my portfolio that I wasn’t talented. “You work hard Mr. Collins. I would take ten students like you, my boy, over all of the talented students in the school.” he said. I was stunned, shocked and hurt. I believe I squeaked out a “thank you, sir” and I went back about my day.

There are a number of distinct memories that I carry with me from my childhood, and that one in particular remains with me, always in the forefront of my mind. I’m not certain whether Mr. Nolan’s casual comment spurred me to enter a career of art, but I do know that it certainly added fuel to my fire.

My first job in the field of design was very exciting. It was in the early 90’s and the company I joined was operating out of a townhouse in rural Ohio. Soon the office would move to a newly rennovated paint factory. The industry was multimedia design and our first clients included Time Warner Electronic Publishing (TWEP), the Smithsonian, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Most people do not remember the early wild west days of the world of multimedia. 640×480 screen resolution, CD-ROM alphas, and 216 color palette restrictions. I grew up in that town. Multi-million dollar websites, learning on the fly and developing new ways to work faster and better on the edge of emerging media.

My philosophy of discovering who the audience was and why the project should exist was built in those days. 16-18 hours a day. 7 days a week. Creating, iterating and developing new ways to envision products and brands. I worked my ass off. I can tell you that in that first year I put in at least two years of time on the job. I wasn’t asked to–it was my own drive pushing me to do more. Learn more. Be more.

I remember leaving the office at 2:00am and being back at my desk at 8:00am for months on end. We were that busy. Our work was exceptional, our pitches were flawless and our end products were nationally award winning.

I am fortunate in my career to be able to work with amazing brands that most designers would give anything for the opportunity to experience. For me though, it is never about the size of the company or the brand. It was always about solving the clients problem. How to achieve more clicks, build out a database or engage their audience better. In short, how to better tell their story. I work as hard for a one man shop as I do for Dell, Paramount or Pepsi.

After 22 years of workaholism, I am embarking upon a new approach to my career.

It’s the same job, digital design, but I am trying to learn how not to be a workaholic. Work smarter and enjoy this life with the people I love the most. Teach, educate and experience the things that make me happy.

And you know what? Design still makes me happy.

Now it’s only 12 hours a day.