I know I don’t talk about my design work very often (ask my family; I think it drives them nuts that I don’t like to talk about the projects I’m working on). I often reference that I’m “busy with deadlines” or “I’m slammed with work”, but have never specifically talked about any of the client projects that keep me busy. The truth is, my freelance work takes up so much of my day – sometimes 15 hours a day if I’m double or triple booked on projects – that it’s the last thing I want to write or talk about, especially if it’s stressful, and often times it is. I’ve managed to keep it fairly separate from my personal life and I guess I decided long ago that I didn’t want my job to be the one thing that defines me. Being that design, however, really is how I spend most of my waking time, I wanted to introduce a new website that we launched recently for one of my oldest clients, Cabengo. In it’s 4th iteration, the site documents 11 years worth of our work.
I met my friend and colleague, Hillary a few months after I graduated from grad school in 2000. I had spent the summer working for another start up venture (what is it with me and all these start ups?), but I was also interviewing at big interactive advertising agencies, not as a designer interestingly enough, but for information architect positions. I sometimes think about the path my career would have taken, had I accepted any of those jobs. Maybe I would have worked up to a Creative Director position at one of the big agencies like so many of my friends and peers, but I guess even back then the lure of climbing some corporate ladder for a big job title was never that attractive to me. Instead, I decided to join up with Hillary when she started Cabengo.
Back then it was just the 3 of us in the office, a shared space that we rented from an architecture firm, with designy Herman Miller office furniture. It was the first office job that I had in 3 years and the last office job that I would hold to date (this is the place where my coffee addiction began, ironically enough. I could probably count on one hand the number of cups of coffee that I had the entire time I lived in the caffeine capital of the US, the Pacific Northwest, but it took a regular office job to get me addicted to the stuff). Even though the company was new, Hillary had a few high profile jobs lined up from her museum contacts from being an artist in a prior life. As it turns out, joining a small boutique startup would prove to be a good decision because the tech bubble would soon burst and so many of my friends lost their jobs the next year; I was able to employ many of them during a big, year long project that we had done for an early client.
After two and a half years, Hillary and I decided that it would be best if we move into a freelance relationship. We gave up the fancy office and started working from home. She had just given birth to her first child and I was sort of thinking about having babies too. It was during this time when I lost a steady paycheck and my health insurance, that I decided, well…why not? I might not have had any financial security, but I had the time and flexibility to start a family. This is when my freelance career started. I never looked back.
I think in a time when job longevity is not as common as in generations past and most people expect you to bop around from job to job every couple of years or so, long-time collaborations are maybe harder to find. But just as I keep saying about so many things in my life lately, “Has it really been 11 years?” (maybe that is just what old people say), sometimes I do marvel that we’ve been able to work together for so many years on so many projects. I’ve juggled many other clients and projects alongside my work with Cabengo during my 9 year freelance career, but none that have endured this long. During those years we’ve had 4 babies between us, first-time home purchases, marriages, illnesses and 40th birthday celebrations. We also share what might perhaps be the most unique bond of all – we were both stranded together during a business trip in Venezuela trying to get back home during 9/11 .
I think many of you can agree that it’s not the job that makes a job enjoyable; it’s who you work with. When you find a colleague that you mesh with so well, where you share similar aesthetic sensibilities and you can finish each other’s sentences, or sometimes not even need to say anything at all, it is a rare find and one worth holding onto.