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Jul 08

Passion Begets Focus


In: Strategy Insights

I am sitting inside the small computer lab of my design school. On the table beside me lay several introductory pages of HTML lessons that I've printed from an instructional site randomly found through AltaVista; pages which I have since excessively highlighted and penciled handwritten notes across. On the monitor before me, Internet Explorer is displaying the code-editing window of my free Angelfire web page, which I have probably edited and refreshed thirty-some times already this session. It is 1997, and I am fascinated by Web design. I will graduate before my print-centric art school will offer Web design classes. I had a passion; this was how I survived it.

Having been a professional graphic designer for thirteen years now, my career is, in meme-vernacular, about as old as the Internet. I was formally trained in print design while earning that college degree, yet here I am today, a digital designer in an interactive agency. So why am I, a designer instructed in the long-established world of print, now working in the digital medium?


I'll flashback even further now, with less nostalgic name-dropping.

Although my eventual college education would be strictly in print, I spent my childhood with digital interaction and motion marketing all around me. I would draw pictures on the family computer with the aid of a user interface. I played video games in the close company of buttons, menus, and digital navigation of all kinds. I watched my Saturday morning cartoons between the appeals of hyperkinetic commercials. These casual observations of other creative modalities beyond my boyhood skills were everywhere, and they became seeds which germinated inside me for years.

In my high school years, I reserved free time after school for designing, coding, and building simple games and experiences on my home computer (I will always love you, Hypercard). I was simply having fun exploring what interested me; courting that which I was passionate about. I would sit in school, quietly solving my UX design problems in my head while feigning interest in my teachers' lectures, looking forward to later applying my solutions that evening at home. I was smitten with the idea of building interactive environments for others to manipulate and navigate. I loved the idea of creating an experience that paralleled the kinetic media I had been absorbing since childhood.

It shouldn't really surprise us that the origin of the word “passion” comes from the Latin word pati, meaning “suffer.” Indeed, we suffer our passions, don't we? We carve out these deep hollows within us, while simultaneously aching to fill them with our obsessions. We are never satisfied, for every arcane layer of our fixation only opens to reveal another, then another, then another, Matryoshka-style. That's the wonderful thing about this particular madness: passion begets focus. If we love something, we tend to revolve around it, like the planets orbiting the sun. We survive our passions by encountering them, again and again; each tryst briefly replenishing our bottomless hollows.

Although the majority of my career projects have been print and brand design, I've always kept my ear to the rails of this area of knowledge. I originally intended to write about how I had “evolved” from a print designer to a digital designer, but the more I tried to find a glaring line between these two hemispheres of my career, the more I realized there wasn't one. I've always had a passion for communicating through dynamic means, and my work here at Union (formerly Studiobanks) allows me the opportunity to focus on exactly that. I never had to make a dramatic leap to interactive design, as I have always surrounded myself with it. My passion ignited a desire to educate myself and experiment in the subject.

So, I'm not here to discuss 300dpi versus 72dpi, CMYK versus RGB, or how to add the perfect CSS drop shadow to a glossy, rounded-corner button. That's the easy stuff. What I am here to say is this: Follow your passions. Follow your focus. Make the opportunity to explore them and study them. The only things keeping you from molding your passion into your forte is time, knowledge, practice, and, arguably, a pinch of natural talent.

What skill are you aching to build upon? What field of study is your passion? What subject beckons to you all hours of the day and night? Whatever they are, I encourage you to seek them. Track them down. Don't wait until you "find the time" to pursue them, for you must make your time. Spend your lunch breaks alone in your proverbial computer lab if you must. It is 2011, and you are fascinated by something which your current circumstances do not provide you adequate access to. You have a passion; how will you survive it?


UNION is a full-service digital agency. We create experiences that help brands thrive. We believe to be relevant in today’s marketplace, brands must lead with a digital-first philosophy. We craft engaging digital experiences and integrated campaigns that are built on strategy and driven by data. At the heart of what we do is help brands create meaningful and enduring relationships with highly connected consumers.

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