Friday, 8 June 2012

The Periodic Table

Yesterday I met my old designer friend for a catch up. I hadn't seen her for over 2 years although we have kept in touch. She and I had suffered similar fates during the early recession days, and had been able to compare notes, her chirpy, quirky, wry humour acting as an antidote to any sense of disappointment when the cupboard was bare, and she has just ended a maternity cover gig at a major publishing house, which I was able to pass on to her because of school. Very satisfying, because she has passed work to me on many occasions.

We met at the Royal Institution in the middle of town. I hadn't been there before, and was surprised at the quiet ambiance. Imagine the Science Museum, or the V&A, sans visitors. The enormous marble entrance hall was empty, except for me, and the receptionist seemed surprised to have any visitors at all. We ate in the quiet, comfortable cafe, well-attended to by the waitress and the maitre de, who restrained themselves from over-enthusiasm remarkably well. The food was lovely. Above us the rain splashed onto the glass ceiling, and we caught up on news.

My friend offered the Chief Executive of another major publishing house her business card at a party, but he declined, explaining aloofly that he doesn't get involved in that sort of thing. He was commenting on the computer skills in India, which have become so fine they match those of designers in UK or USA. Consequently, there has been little work for us to do. She told him that his decision to outsource to Asia had spelt the death of many small businesses here. The Chief Executive made some glib comment about it and she got quite cross with him, she said. At the end of the evening, though, he asked her for her card after all.

After lunch my friend took me downstairs where an enormous electronic wall was laid out with the periodic table. To a recording  of Gilbert and Sullivans' 'Major General' song the object is to touch the element as it is named. Impossible unless you are an octopus. I'd like to see someone who knows the song well have a go.

My friend was right, and brave to argue so energetically with someone who might (or might not) influence future offers of work. But as technology advances and the accompanying skill sets across the ever-shrinking globe compete, some people will benefit and others lose out. UK typesetters were thrown to the wolves with the adoption of computer technology as a layout tool, and printers had to adapt very quickly or go under. Asians have long been exploited as cheap labour. At least it will be cleaner and more comfortable in a design house than it would be in more traditional sweat-shop type labour. That is how business works.

And I ended up with a job I genuinely love. I still flex my design muscles in all sorts of unexpected ways which I would never have investigated had my design work not become so scarce. I'm currently thinking of enamel-work. I'd like to try that somehow, without having to out-lay huge amounts of non-existent capitol. Any ideas, anyone?

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