My intention for today is, instead of just showing you my portfolio, to talk about the correlation and scale of attention and productivity on a scale from 0-100. I will use instagram as a metaphor for the thoughts that came up whilst thinking about productivity, and, at the same time, as a platform to showcase my work during this lecture.
As all of you dont really know me yet, I would like to schedule some time for a Q&A, a discourse, or even a discussion after my introduction.
Exactly one year ago, I temporarily disabled my instagram account.
When I removed the Instagram app from my phone,
I wasn’t breaking up with it,
I just wanted a little space.
I consciously did not announce my digital fasting on the platform itself, because i did not want to make a „thing“ out of it.
Now I kind of am, as I will focus on thoughts that came up during making the active decision to withdraw myself from something that was a routine (even though I hope not too important) aspect of my daily life.
I want to use instagram as a metaphor, or allegory for looking into how we can distribute our attention, and how we could, or should see it as a limited resource, that we can consciously decide where to apply more or less of it.
I thought deleting my most time-consuming (that is: mindless) app from my phone might help me to be more productive.
The last two year, as I graduated in May 2019, being productive was one of the things that were quite important for me.
Not strongly webbed into the net of university,
as before, and navigating the precarious phase that is „post-graduation“ I felt like i finally need to get my work routine figured out, to squeeze the optimum out of any given day, but also not overworking myself, having a private life, balancing it all.
Very shortly after graduating I started working as an academic assistent at Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe. Kind of overly tired–after starting this job one week after my graduation– I tried and tested every „productivity“ hack there is, from the pomodoro technique, to 6 hours work days (which I thought would give me the much needed focus push, often times needed to be artificially constructed whilst being a freelance graphic designer, especially when there are no pressing deadline in the next couple of weeks. (This situation has shifted quite a bit, now that I am working full time with my Studio partner mathias, and we recently also took in an intern, the deadline pressure came by automatically)
The questions I asked myself were and still are:
How much time off do you need?
How much time to do you actually need to put in to be productive?
How can I measure my levels of productivity at all? Hours?
Number of projects I put out in a year?
Gained followers on Instagram?
How many talks I am giving?
Why would I want to measure my productivity at all?
Does everything I do during a work day, need to be immediately and obviously productive?
I tend to spread myself out quit thinly, until I don’t have as much energy for each project as I would like to have.
Some days after deleting instagram,
the algorithm started sending me emails to let me know that I was missing out.
This person follows you,
this account posted a story!
Someone commented on your post!
Who knew Instagram was so clingy?
It sounded to me like:
‘Please come back!’ or ‘Tell us what we did wrong!’
It’s similar language that we would use during a conversation about human relationships.
It’s easy to think of technology as an unhealthy relationship—and laugh at how clingy and “personal” marketing language has become. When brands try to inspire loyalty– which means consistent use of an application–this way, especially with young audiences they’re asking consumers to not just purchase a thing, but subscribe to it—and not just as a product or service, but as a lifestyle, too. My inbox and my notifications are flooded with requests for my money, my attention, my empathy, and care.
The french philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote in his essay ‚Negotiations‘:
…we’re riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images.
Stupidity is never blind or mute. So it’s not a problem of getting people to express themselves but of providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves; what a relief to have nothing to say,
the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and ever rarer, thing that might be worth saying.
He wrote that in 1985, but the sentiment is something I think we can all identify with right now, almost to a degree that’s painful. There is this constant stream of digital output that is being produced daily, and we kind of shovel our way through it, on the hunt for something interesting.
The function of Nothing, of saying nothing, is that it’s a mandatory stage before doing something, to have something to say. “Nothing” is not a luxury or a waste of time, but rather a necessary part of meaningful thought and (graphic design) practice.
I have this weird co-dependency to instagram. outside of the „graphic design bubble“, if I am asked for my instagram, the first thing I usually say is:
„Yes, but only for work / self promotional purposes.“
I have yet to upload an image of myself without any shame or sense of blatant superficiality involved, on a Plattform, where more than every other accounts consists of almost only images of the user him/herself. What am I embarrassed about?
This dependency only got stronger over the last two years, as I am pretty certain, that one job let to the next, mostly by being vocal and visible about it on the network. As Shortnotice is still in its infancy, I don’t believe it would make sense to define our practise just yet, as it is something that’s ever evolving and growing with our practice itself. There isn't a manifesto or well defined approach that can be applied onto our projects. Not saying that that’s something designers shouldn’t do, it just didn't make any sense to us at this stage. Our starting point is openness towards the collaborators and project opportunities that come our way.
We decided to take gravity and severeness out of ‘grand’ decisions like our studio name, and sat down together last year and came up with our our name, identity and website within one day. Again, not to claim that design has to be done quickly, but simply because we were so motivated to turn the ideas that came up into practise immediately, and through that – trust the process.
This also removes the possibility to take ourselves all too seriously and also allow us to make changes as quickly as we made the design at the first place. We enjoy the organic messiness of it all, and feel like the more forcefully you try to hold onto certain ideas and ways of doing things, the harder they become to grasp. We aren't naively blind to the competition and to the work that is being done right now or in the past, but just try not to compare ourselves too much to others. Somehow this has become our way of dealing with jobs as well.
We try to keep the projects’ design processes as short and intense as possible. For example we try to finish one project after the other and give it all our attention rather than spreading it over a year and do multiple projects at the same time for a long time.
We also know, that this is not possible for every project, but having the possibility to really focus on one thing at a time seems like a intrusive approach counteracting our very scattered minds. As we aren't in the same space, and not even timezone, consciously making effort to work on something, and then also staying focused on it, feels just right.
Seeing each thing we do as a fragment that's worth collecting, as we aren’t pre-destined to a certain aesthetic, or way of working, or forced to sticking to a certain medium we allow ourselves to relish in a very certain uncertainty and enjoy the openness of it all.
Finding out what we want to talk about, who we want to speak to, and how we should say it along to process of preparing this talk. That is why we decided, to collaboratively work on this script, simultaneously, or whenever our timeframe allowed us to do so.
Do we need to sacrifice all of our time and resources to run our studio ?
Does this end-stage capitalist approach of “giving it all, no matter the cost” still make sense? Did it ever make sense? Or can we finally find ways to establish an alternative to these toxic neoliberal concepts?
The number of emails I have gotten through my website
ranks to a total of 5.
The question: „Why would you even need a website at all?“ is one I heard a lot from younger student especially. It seems very promising to have the instant gratification of knowing how many people have viewed, liked, and saved the post, but people tend to underestimate that the content is mostly being delivered to other graphic designers, and you have to decide for yourself what’s more (or less) important to you.
„Yes, but only for work / self promotional purposes.“
Is painfully true in the sense, that (and I am dead serious about it) at least 50% of job I have gotten over the past 3 years, and that included acquaintances as well) I got over Instagram DMs.
Direct messages kind of feel like a text message because they are instant—because the assumption is that you’re on Instagram to socialize, not network—or maybe you’re doing both. Lately it seems the quality of conversation being conducted within Instagram’s inbox is changing. Mostly in that it is being used, effectively, as an inbox. Of email. But as it acts more like text, it demands a sense of immediacy.
It happened multiple times, when I got a request to do a job, that when the first conversations about a project where done, only then, the conversation continued via Email, so the way of communication went from „chatty“ to „professional“ not vice versa.
If I continue to let myself spiral and apply this idea of valuing speed over quality to other areas of my life, I can assume that this way of using Instagram—the sort of communication the app is supposed to support (recreational social connection) versus what it does support (spur-of-the-moment conversation across a broader spectrum of professional and hobbyistic interests)—could get me in trouble. That is, continue to place value on the easier thing (in this case, speed), and neglect the more valuable thing (quality).
Franco Berardis description of labour in his book After the Future, will sound very familiar to anyone concerned with their personal brand or way of working:
In the global digital network, labor is transformed into small parcels of nervous energy picked up by the recombining machine. …
The workers are deprived of every individual consistency. Strictly speaking, the workers no longer exist. Their time exists, their time is there, permanently available to connect, to produce in exchange for a temporary salary.
Berardi also makes a helpful distinction between connectivity and sensitivity. Connectivity is the rapid circulation of information among compatible units —
an example for that getting a lot of shares very quickly and unthinkingly by likeminded people on Facebook or Twitter. With connectivity, you either are or are not compatible. Red or blue; check the box. In this transmission of information, the units don’t change, nor does the information.
Sensitivity, in contrast, involves a difficult, awkward, ambiguous encounter between two differently shaped bodies that are themselves different from another — and this meeting, this sensing, requires and takes place in time. Not only that, due to the effort of sensing, the two entities might come away from the encounter a bit differently than they went in.
I tested a method to counteract the speed and to see if people would be more interested in sensitivity, or connectivity during a recent „instagram residency“ at COPIER COLLER CLUB. Instead of focusing on curating the perfectly shiny representation of me, being an „interesting online persona“ I decided to reduce the documentation of my books publications to only clean scans (which is in itself of course a stylistic choice, no escape from that anywhere) and focus on the captions instead.
Which where unusually long, and unusually detailed.
I often refrain totally from captions on my personal account, as I find them more often than not either „kitsch“ „Klischee“ or „just a description of what you can already see“.
I made my choice to focus on the captions apparent, by saying it exactly how I meant it on the account.
To check if anyone would actually read them, or if information was indeed valued on this account, I randomly included other staged, publication documentation photos, that where much more visually appealing (and also „did well, likewise“ on my own account). It proved to be just as I thought it would, those of course got the most likes, most saves. And also most views (how that actually works, I have no idea).
I can only assume it is natural for graphic design instagram users so have a specific approach of using the app, as their job is to deal with content in a certain way anyway.
In the time I am writing this script for my lecture, not one notification has distracted me so far. (I know that there is this function on a phone, where you can actually mute it, who would’ve known?) It is mute, but as I know, I am not expecting any notifications, I also don’t feel the urge to check my phone as frequently as I used to.
The average (American) smartphone user checks their phone every 12 minutes, which results in around 80 checks a day.
The pressing issue for me is here, that smartphones have replaced so many functional items in our daily life, that it is really hard to deconstruct actual „usefulness“ to „uselessness“. They are storing our contacts, calendars, photos, emails, maps and so on and so forth ( I don’t need to tell you how many functions a smartphone has of course.)
The addictive tendencies of instagram, as the pull
down thumb swipe very obviously reminds to the movement of a slot machine, you’ll never know what happens after the next refresh, long after your interest and focus have been vanished, somehow keeps you hooked.
Sometimes so much, that you have to find and apply a strategy to make the access to that App a little harder:
Screenvideo Insta App placement einfügen
The random rewards of likes, comments, shares, and posts reinforce desirable behavior with the same method used by dog trainers: give a treat regularly, but not every time.
Funnily enough, I am super picky with which posts actually gets a „like“ as if it would be some limited resource, that I should better hand out with great care instead of abundance. This abundance strangely enough does not apply to my time and more importantly attention that is being spend on the very app, with a constant flux of graphic design i consume, resulting in a very visual memory apparatus, that could identify pretty easily in what time period of the last 6-7 years or so (ever since I started watching design trends, …) when a poster/publication/typeface has been made. Thats not a skill I would bet on, or I am proud of in any way, its just a result of consuming 1000s, probably 10,000s of images of graphic design work, almost like I would have consumed a machine learning data-set.
Many of of the assumptions about human life made by machine learning systems and the algorithms resulting from them are narrow, normative and laden with error. Yet they are inscribing and building those assumptions into a new world, and will increasingly play a role in how opportunities, wealth, and knowledge are distributed.
But as my mind does not work like an algorithm / AI, only a friction of the content I consumed actually stays in my brain. Often times, after a good 20-30 minutes
(I set my activity reminder on Instagram to alert me after 30 minutes of daily consumption, after which
I have never, i dont think even once, stopped.
I can barely remember more than 5 things I saw whilst scrolling.
Let’s assume, the median scroll speed is at least 1 image per 6 seconds, the amount of images i would have consumed after 30 minutes rounds up to 300, and that’s assuming I generously spend 6 whole seconds on each post (which is a number i highly doubt). To actively remember 5 from those 300 images, seems like a definite proof of the depth of attention, that I can actually apply to the app. It’s barely surface level.
The tendency to compare your lowest lows (eating Serrano ham straight out of the package in bed) to someones carefully curated highs (winning some prestigious art award, getting the job they always wanted, moving to another city, launching the next merch that sells out in the matter of hours) is so stupid, that I wonder how on earth I could to that with some decency left within me. Knowing all so well that instagram is staged to the limits.
There is this one post, that made me delete my account, (which I did not intend to quit completely, as for me its not all or nothing, I just want to be able to consume more mindfully, and with more intention, instead of justing using it as a tool to mindlessly pass some spare time.)
It was a ‚classic‘ instagram photo, a standard Parisian set-up: Coffee, Croissant, a chic handbags, plus a book, that was supposed to look like its being read, but the girl held it upside down on the photo.
I did scroll through all the comments, no one seemed to have noticed. The book reduced to a mere accessory for intellect.
But is displaying graphic design for the mere sake of design really that different? „Designing for instagram only“ is not that rare, and with mockup tools the render virtually indistinguishable Books you don’t even need to produce a physical project anymore, sometimes even only a cover is enough to convince the user that a new publication launched. Designing for design within the design bubble.
Having your „work routine“ figured out, is something I can get deeply jealous of. I am constantly torn between:
just set a time to show up at your desk, do a 30 to 60 minute lunch break, and continue for as many hours as you set yourself up. After, leave your workplace, eat, sleep and repeat.
On the other hand, I am admiring the ever changing fluxus of the romanticized work flow of a „true“ artist, long nights, lazy mornings, working „whenever you feel like it“
Because of the notion that „real creativity can’t be forced or pressured, its not possible to be creative on demand at any given moment“ That is somehow only partially true, as I have yet to have a „spark of genius“ randomly throughout the day, whilst doing dishes or folding laundry.
During those times of „low effort, low input“ I often find myself frustrated with the easiness, the „no intellectual stimulus factor“ of the task, and find myself with little to no patience left whatsoever. At least some music, or a podcast is therefore running, or some trash video blurring in the background. That this over-stimulating at any given moment leaves very little mind space for forming complex thoughts, or simply progressing work or emotional-related issues, I tend to ignore quite well.
The biggest shift has been in how I value my own attention: Just as one can experience decision fatigue by simply picking out an outfit for the day, or hit empathy exhaustion by working in the service or care industry, I was spending my attention stores on ads and notifications before I even approached the work I’d intended to get done for the day.
If I choose to spend an uninterrupted hour with a friend or a book (and actually keep my phone out of my hands the whole time), how much would Instagram have spent to buy that hour from me? And if it’s worth so much to them, then isn’t it time I treated my own attention with the same respect?
But here I come back to Deleuze’s “right to do nothing,” and although we can definitely say that this right is variously accessible or even inaccessible for some, I believe that it is indeed a right. For example, the push for an 8-hour workday in 1886 called for “8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours of what we will.” I’m struck by the quality of things that associated with the category “What we Will”: rest, thought, reading, yoga, playing darts and eating flip in a mediocre bar a.
As a freelancer, often time the economic security of people working „regular jobs“ is removed
— 8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what we will — dissolves boundaries so that we are left with 24 potentially monetizable hours that are sometimes not even restricted to our time zones or our sleep cycles. Time becomes an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on “nothing.” It provides no return on investment; it is simply too expensive.
It created a situation where every waking moment has become perishable to make a living, to learn a new skill, to improve yourself. And we submit even our leisure for numerical evaluation via likes on Instagram (or some other platform) Facebook, constantly checking on its performance like one checks a stock, monitoring the ongoing development of our personal brand: And be sure, I am not deadly serious about that, but we all can agree, in case you are an active user of instagram, that each one of us has put at least some sort of value on the digital feedback ones output gets, or thought of how to properly represent their own design practice into this 2-dimensional, short attention span platform.
Without getting too political, I’d also argue that doing nothing or resisting doing something at all times is inherently anti-capitalist in nature, in that (particularly unbounded) capitalism asks us to always be doing something productive and devalues time and activities that don’t produce this narrow type of value. I’d say this is part of why many of us feel so burned out and constantly overworked yet like we aren’t doing enough
Social media platforms are “free” for us because we kind of are the product. Or rather, our attention is. And when we give it to these apps, the content we consume can make us feel like we’re the ones getting the value, but the real value is our attention. And it’s being sold to the brands whose ads are on our feeds.
Once I came to grips with this, I wondered:
What would it mean to be economical with my attention—to budget it like I budget money?
The first step would be to acknowledge that attention is a resource that I own entirely, but have a limited daily amount of. Next, I’d make a conscious decision about how to spend it. If I were saving money for going to Tuscany next summer, for example, I would set some goals and look for ways to save some money. Creating a savings account for attention might function the same way. We’d have to ask ourselves what we’re saving for: Nurturing a relationship? Learning a new skill? Finishing a passion project?
There is such a craving for quick fixes in general, self-help books, things you will download.
I’m more interested in a much more general shift in how I (or we) even conceive of what is worth spending time on.
What even is time “spent” in the pursuit of developing a passion, in the context of curiosity? Of learning, of exploring? What I suggest is something that feels much more radical: don’t let the decisions what is time valuable spend be made for you.
You should have a thing that tugs at your heart and takes up your time for no other reason than being „your thing“