Confessions from a Designer: Living through a Pandemic

Inkjet technology opens the doors to new materials. Today designers can use almost any material to print on, even spaghetti.

Author: Amanda Altman, A3 Design

I was recently asked, “what’s it like being a small design studio in the wake of the COVID-19?”

It’s a bit of a loaded question. I thought about an article I read on a “Working Mom” blog. The author kept track of how many times she got interrupted in one day. In a matter of ten minutes, the author had tracked 27 interruptions. I can relate. Between homeschooling, distant learning, managing your entire family at home, and maintaining a business – it’s a lot. And it can seem overwhelming at times. Keeping up your productivity can be a challenge. This is what my experience has been.

Multitasking Takes on New Meaning 

For the past four months, my entire family of five has been all under one roof. Each one carrying out a very different schedule alongside the other (quite literally). Three of the five people require the support of one other person – me.

This creates a space where there are no barriers. We have only two chairs for three work stations. This means the youngest is often on my lap. (My daughter is convinced that if she sees me, she has to be touching me). Phone calls are taken while multitasking a math lesson, fixing Legos and coloring jungle animals. Conference calls are muted for discipline and sales meetings are taken while assembling snacks.

To add to the stress and chaos, I now keep zoom schedules and lesson plans for three children as well as help my clients navigate a new business landscape with new rules. All our schedules have shifted. My family is going to bed later and waking up later. My late nights catching up on work has turned into early mornings catching up on work activities.

Grocery shopping has become a new form of hoarding but it barely gets us through a couple of weeks. All three meals and eight billion snacks are made at home from our kitchen by me! And as Murphy’s Law would have it, our refrigerator crapped out after only 3-years. So, there’s that.

Thankful for Clients

From a business perspective, I am thankful that we have clients. We are very lucky as we know other design firms or consultants that have not been so fortunate. For us, our largest clients are experiencing some incredible sales growth within their industries. We are helping them navigate new challenges within branding and marketing. Expos and trade shows have all been canceled or moved to a virtual platform. Onsite training sessions are now webinars or training videos. A company’s online presence has never been more important.

We have clients that are using this time to learn more about their audience or increase their brand awareness. We also have clients that are using the time to solve problems they never had the time to tackle before. And other companies that are helping people prepare for when the economy is ready to fully reopen.

We also have clients that have been hit hard by the pandemic. These clients have worked hard to ensure their company pays invoices before they are furloughed or laid off. Some of our client contacts aren’t sure they will have a job to return to and if their company can survive financial devastation that the pandemic has left in its wake.

Taking a Stand

During the pandemic, we see images of our country burning down around us and people taking to the streets in mostly peaceful protests. Many brands are choosing to take a stand and make a statement. They see the incredible value that transparency and authenticity have for the survival of their brand. That this is not only a prime opportunity to align themselves with a like-minded tribe but an opportunity to become part of something bigger. You’ve seen it done by NASCAR and Ben and Jerry’s. These types of statements are being made all over the world by brands large and small.

As designers, it is our responsibility to help brands communicate their messages with empathy clarity, strength, and compassion. Yes, these statements can create polarized conversations. But I believe that authentic and great design can create meaningful conversations.

One Day At A Time

Through it all, my husband and I are running our own business. Now that we don’t have to commute, drive the kids to school, daycare, after school activities, meetings, doctor appointments, lunches, and volunteer commitments, we have an extra four hours in our day. Yes, we have gained four hours. When we are not refereeing a three-way battle while making priceless memories, we now have an opportunity (and time) to increase our sales traffic using the very marketing strategies we implement for our clients. We also cleaned up our contact lists and finally got our 2019 books on order.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the impact on our mental health and how that has affected our working environment. I am a high anxiety empath. These past few months have been a roller coaster of emotions. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve had days where the doom overshadowing our lives has been crippling. With all that we are juggling, we are now fighting depression, fear, anxiety, and a complete lack of ambition. Procrastination is rampant and positivity is hard to come by. The political atmosphere and social unrest combined with the very real risk of catching a pandemic virus is a lot to process.

With every waking and sleeping second attached to another human being, have any of us (parents) really been given the space to process anything? I typically have an audience while I’m using the bathroom, so no, not even that is a private minute. My moments to grieve come in the form of tearing up at an AT&T commercial or breaking down while texting with my child’s teacher. Providing strength and normalcy for our children is so important that there is pressure to not crack in front of them. To delicately explain the crazy things that are going on so that they understand. To do this and not project my anxiety into their sweet impressionable personalities is tough.

It’s not all dark, though. Some wonderful and precious things have occurred during all this. Having the kids home has been fun. We have played new games, watched family movies together, and spend quiet moments together. Eliminating the sprint of our daily lives and takeout meals is a welcome break. Our house has been de-cluttered and reorganized more than once. Our kids are learning domestic responsibilities and helping the family run better together.

We’ve gotten this far with far more good days than bad. We try to take it one day at a time. Our business is still healthy as is our family. I think it’s because we’ve been flexible and working together as a family and with our clients to make it work.

I don’t know what our industry looks like in the future. I do think that there are going to be some very different challenges for us moving forward. The way businesses network and how business is done will be impacted by these events indefinitely. The design studios and agencies that can adapt and serve will thrive. (Unless there are zombies. I’m not sure we can handle zombies too)

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