Read on for an essay about my thoughts on design and why I decided to leave my daily job as a psychologist and primary teacher for a business that makes me get up at 6.00 am with a smile.
A press image taken from my first furniture project called iDesk
I wanted to take the time to write this essay for everyone who might be in a similar situation at some point and for those who are interested in hearing more about my philosophy.
A while ago I visited the wonderful village where my family and I used to live. 24 years ago we had our daily lives with no electricity, warm water or heating. It was a beautiful old farmers house with pear and apple trees and an ever flowering garden. Except for this new kitchen we got with it´s brand new radio and that green dial pad telephone. No internet connection or TV. I remember being outside all day, watching my grandparents work on their farmers land and the smell of fresh, warm milk.
I had wonderful days in my childhood. Still there were many things I struggled with. I got my first E grade in second grade in one of my lesser loved subjects, arts. My teacher always said my drawings were terrible, they had nothing to do with the given topic. I was no genius in any other subject either and far from being good at sports or handcraft. And so I resigned to the fact that I would never study or be able to pay for a flight on an airplane and see the world from above like the birds that I always admired.
One of my illustrative works for Quicksilver inspired by my favorite animals
Time passed by and I made my way through school, did some summer jobs here and there and moved to a new city almost every year as my parents lived in different places. After twelfth grade, school was over. I was seventeen and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be or what I was good at. I knew I had this love for making themes for my favorite mp3 software called WinAmp and designing wallpapers. I shared those on some online communities and quite a few people liked to use them.
It was a different reality though. There was no money to earn or any perspective to get a job for anything like it in town. For the time being, I started in my mother´s discipline, teaching. I went to the academy of social science for three years and worked as a primary teacher. It was a great time, seeing the passion for music grow in the eyes of kids, supporting them and helping them improve their skills with new media, experimenting with audio and video.
Everyone except me knew it though, this was not the right place for me. Almost every day before and after work at school and an institute I used to work at, I did websites and logos for smaller companies or friends’ businesses. I won several fashion design contests at Threadless, LaFraise or DesignByHumans. And there was it, one of those magical moments, when I received this first package from the US with a shirt that had my print on it. It was awesome to see all that passion that I put into the illustration on my digital screen come to life on this t-shirt. All shirts were sold out within weeks and my wallpapers, icons and themes got more and more great feedback.
The Design printed for DesignByHumans
Two jumping feet
At the same time I finished with an A grade diploma from the academy with the best grades and education so far. I was not sure what to do. Should I take the risk and expand my growing digital design side job or study psychology, backed up by the academy’s recommendation?
At that time I loved to go for longer runs around the old house. Of course the house had changed, it got torn down and was rebuilt as an apartment house. Still the beautiful nature around it was there and I was passionate about extending my physical endurance. It was so inspiring to see training can lead to something bigger. After every run, even if I was exhausted, I jumped into the lake and took on another challenge.
The original Design for “Drink the sun”
Of course this had to be possible in my not so successful search for a career as well! I decided to take the jump and do both, become a psychologist and work as a freelance designer. I was so happy that I found a solution! Everything seemed to work out well for a year, but I got exhausted and ended up having a serious spine injury after a long mountain bike trip and overlong work days. While I was in hospital and at home for five months I made the decision to take the risk and jump into freelance design as a full time job.
Technology as a tool
With my beloved shirts and first projects for Mercedes, Pepsi and other companies I created my online portfolio under the label Sublevel.us. Utilizing this platform I had the great chance to do more and more projects. It seemed so easy and I was so, so happy that it all worked out.
All the tools I used, like my MacBook Pro, the all new Wacom tablet I bought and a huge screen made me way more productive. I constantly improved my skills by working with other creatives, learning to accept critique and feedback. I started meeting other designers and had my work exhibited in galleries in Berlin and Vancouver. I could never stop smiling during those meetings and events. I talked to online contacts face to face, made great friends and learned that the digital world was actually not a separated virtual reality.
A hero image for FLUD, a News Reader for mobile devices I initiated with Bobby Goshal and Barton Smith
Everything I called virtual or digital was actually a result of utilizing those technical tools. Those tools opened up amazing possibilities. New concepts of working together, being able to support someones potential and skills or save resources. If you ever play computer games, you might find yourself in a similar position. You use the game´s mechanics to improve the skills of your avatar. You find the strengths and weaknesses of your avatar. There is a great discussion about games or the digital world in general. Some emphasize the risks and how we loose so many talented people to the digital world.
What if they just found a tool to ease their need to express talents and potential? What if those games and social networks are tools to discover new ways of businesses, social life and everything else.
A promotional image for the Ouidoo Gaian, a device developed for China Mobile, designed by me and Barton Smith
Not a minute of regret
My parents did not really understand what I was doing while being in Shanghai or San Francisco, creating ‘something that goes onto the iPhone’. I did something nobody did in our family before. I was the first to get the chance to academic education and I exchanged it for an what seemed to be a very insecure and hobby-like job.
A detail shot of the User Interface Design I did at China Mobile for the Ouidoo Mobile
Though for me it took away the worry and need to work eight hours a day in a ‘real’ job and not having the time to experiment more with my tools. The worry was gone, I made the decision and decided to have my real personality in the digital space. I released my design work on the domain MariusBauer.com, constantly adding background information about the process to each project. Now, working as a full time designer, I have the energy, passion and motivation to work on challenging projects while having fun.
Sounds like someone found his destiny and a happy end? With the experience I gathered over the past five years I definitely work in the right discipline, yes. Not in the discipline of making things prettier but also achieve their full potential.
This month I had a workshop with a client in London and we talked about my background and motivation for being a designer. The CEO of the company told me about her work experience and talked about her, what sounded to me like, very impressive career as a lawyer for well known companies. Now, having her own company, she said: “I feel like it all makes sense now, my passion and work happen at the same time.” I asked her about the work she did in the past as I thought about my own biography. And she answered: “No, it was no wasted time. Every day I learned something, even if it was just how to send out thousands of letters, that makes so much sense for me as a CEO now. I don´t regret a minute of it.”
A future post-gamification
My Interaction Design work for Gaian.me - A community to celebrate the beauty of nature
Here I am today and the answer to the primary question is still the same. I am a designer and I love my job. I love to create visually appealing furniture, apparel, software and hardware. But what thrives a great idea or product? The desire to be bought? It´s use as an inspirational tool? Why do something if it is not worth doing it?
Technology as a tool empowers us to create whole new experiences of fun and awe. We are passionate about building the perfect town in Cityville, collecting huge amounts of coupons for something or bashing huge groups of aliens to save the world on our gaming consoles. We have fun, we feel the flow of being in the game and actually enjoy the challenge of doing work to reach big goals.
Those things make so much sense that more and more applications of them are seen in the ‘real’ world. Better known as the age of gamification, the use of game play thinking and mechanics to solve problems and encourage audiences. Those mechanics have been applied to shopping processes, company structures and even school classes. Technology plays the major role in this movement, it enables us to create amazing things. Things which unfortunately often end up being a thing on a digital screen.
They are missing the touch of your hands, the smell of real materials, the challenge of being actually solved. It is an amazing thing on the screen but feels like it´s not ‘there’. Relationships, money, projects, they often appear in connection with the adjective virtual or digital. Most of all the main character. It is always your personality. You might improve your digital avatar’s financial skills in CityVille or the power of your shotgun, at the end of the day your gaming machine is shut down and it is you who used a tool to express or discover something.
Let´s have a look at my latest project with RIM, the social connect feature you can use through your phone’s camera.
You are in a new city, you want to explore it, talk to new friends you reached with the use of digital networks. You can see who is in the city, send them a BBM message instantly and meet to discover this new place with fun and in a way you could have never done by yourself.
I felt the need to write this essay because of the discoveries I made recently. While working with my great clients, meeting brilliant and inspiring personalities and finally experiencing the world from a bird’s perspective. Those discoveries inspire me to create useful tools everyday.
Taken at the West Berlin Gallery for the BloodSweatVector Exhibition
You might ask yourself, why did I read this whole article? Everything you just said is so obvious! I know my strengths and weaknesses, I know what I am capable of and how to realize my future visions. Very true, we live in amazing times and there is good design made by great people. There is gamification done the right way. We are connected as never before and we all want to do great things, want to be encouraged by others.
If you think like that, you got my idea, probably love your job and wake up inspired with a smile.