“I’m never going to explain that. When you do an artistic flourish like that, to describe it, to explain it, would just… invalidate the whole stroke in the first place.”Quentin Tarantino on the spelling of Inglourious Basterds
According to self-created lore, I chose my degree1 so I’d always be a hit at cocktail parties. And if we’re at a party, I’ll talk to you about about anything. Sex, religion, politics? What could go wrong? Want to get deep on thanotology? I’m game. You’re really into dioramas made of rice paper? Now I am too.
But there is one topic that makes me floopy. An ever-looming question, especially around the yuppie crowd, that drains me like a machete to the bottom of a young coconut.
“So what do you do for a living?”
Here are the ways I choose answer this question, arranged in ascending order of Truth.
This is technically a lie. But it used to be true, which is how I learned that this sentence is as strong a conversation ender as setting yourself on fire. No one has any follow up questions about your marketing job. If they do, get the hell outta there.
A deliberate vagary coupled with a bemused stare that suggests, “It is what it is.” But it depends where you’re standing. To say this in San Francisco, California, is like saying “I have job. Job with computer.” To say it in Portland, Oregon, is like saying “Kick me right in the teeth.” You might as well ask if the person’s daughter is for sale.
This is how folks answered back when there were 50 companies total and one of them was the largest employer in your town. “I work for Cargill,” made the point. “So does my husband, Ned,” they’d say back. You’d nod knowingly in the house you bought for $18,000.
Today there are 37 million companies with stupid inscrutable names:
Which is to say: answering this way is risky. If the person doesn’t recognize the name of your employer, you’re a few seconds away from uttering your company’s marketing value propositions out loud, in public.
I’d rather set myself on fire.
This is technically the truth. I work on a design team, I report up to a head of design, my day-to-day involves design thinking, and I work on designs all the ding-dong day.
But Design means different things to different people. There is graphic design, package design, industrial design, instructional design, interior design, brand and logo design. And unlike marketing, saying “I am a designer” prompts follow up questions I don’t feel like answering.
So while this answer is true, I rarely answer this way.
After years of being an editor, a copywriter, and a marketing content strategist, I found my calling as a user experience writer.
People get it! Everyone knows what a writer is. You might have to explain that “UX” stands for user experience, but once you explain that, everything clicks into place. “Oh, you’re the one who writes ‘OK’ and ‘cancel.’”
I know, I know, this is the elegant, “correct” name for our precious discipline, but I’m honestly not going to introduce myself this way unless I’m slinging a lanyard at Lead With Tempo.
But around My People? Of course I’m introducing myself this way. This five-syllable shibboleth says, “I ain’t no UX writer. I’m a man of taste and distinction. My copy lives in a Figma file thank you very much. No, we don’t have the budget for a CMS either.”
There are lies, technical truths, and the Truth. This is the answer of my soul, the unutterable third jellicle name of a cat, the distillate of my being and my doing.
I am a writer designer.
Not writer hyphen designer. Curse that worthless piece of wire. A hyphen risks the assertion that writer modifies designer, which is false. It also leads to that ungainly creation, the hyphenate. Like a lariat binding two unwilling tweens in a three-legged race, the hyphenate robs its constituents of dignity and strength.
Not writer slash designer. Slash suggests that I am sometimes one and sometimes the other, like some frenetic act-three Mrs. Doubtfire. This is dead wrong. I am both at once. Cosubstantiations of writer and designer in a single human form.
Not writer cum designer. This is close, but it’s too messed up to say to someone I just met at a party.2
I am a writer designer.
First, writer, a man of words. A person reaching into the pacing madness of human thought to snatch out fistfuls of language, throw them onto the table with abandon, and then arrange them, with tweezers, into precise arrangements of prose.
Then, designer, a man of principles. Design is applied cognitive psychology mixed with vehement opinion. It’s lab coats and turtlenecks. It’s critical and superfluous. Once, humans cracked open grubs with our fingers for a precious scrape of the protein within. Later, someone designed a fork. Design is the relentless pursuit of better.
I am a writer designer.
Poet laureate. Cowboy lover. Philosopher economist. Executive miscreant. Immortal beloved. The only thing dividing my two
halves wholes is the barest of space.
That is what I do for a living.
Now tell me about those dioramas.