Ink stains, papercuts: why it’s good to occasionally get away from the computer

Designers are often shackled to their Macs, but it pays to ditch the screentime and go and grab a stubby pencil

CLUNK. Sorry, just trying to find a file. CLUNK. Really, don’t mind me, I’m opening Photoshop. CLUNK. Seriously, pretend I’m not here, I just have to wait for the font menu to appear. Wait. Beachball … any second now … beachball … ignore the steam, that’s perfectly normal … beachball ….

Oh deary me. My older-than-I-care-to-admit Mac is starting to show its age, and the grinding and straining is getting to be a tad irksome. I’m actually impressed that it’s lasted this long without bursting into flames or being picked up by the British Museum. But alas the time to upgrade has finally come. I’m sorry old buddy old pal, we must part ways.

It probably doesn’t help that the hardware is rammed to the rafters with decrepit software. I’m not usually one to blame my tools (THIS IS A LIE), but these are getting blunt and rusty and aren’t up to the job any more. I’ve stubbornly resisted upgrading Creative Suite for quite some time now, but it’s reached a point where I’m a little too far behind. When clients send me new file formats that I simply can’t open because of their newfangledness – “Sorry, still not working. Any chance you can you send it over as a daguerreotype?” – I have to accept that perhaps my software is getting in the way of my work.

So here we are. Upgrade time. I’m hoping this won’t sting too much. With Adobe going all subscribey with Creative Cloud (cue frothy-mouthed ranting and raving from pretty much everyone) and leasing looking like the sensible way to go for hardware, I should be able to spread the expense out a little bit. I’m sure it’ll be horrific in the long run, but economic foresight never helped anyone, now did it? I’ll take blissful ignorance, thank you very much. Now where do I sign?

But first I have to decide precisely what it is I’m replacing the old clunker with. Of course, my guts tell me that I need more of the same: the biggest display possible, as much as my desk can handle. But – to steal wholesale from Nick Hornby for a moment – I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains. The traditional desky-keyboardy-mousey approach, as lovely as it looks when you get it out of the box, is rather at odds with my new approach to work.

Basically, I’m trying to spend less time stuck indoors staring into the aluminium-framed abyss. I want to use my Mac as a tool for the final execution of an idea, not the exploration. As someone who came into the industry after the X-Actos and Cow Gum had already been tidied away to the big studio stockroom in the sky, it’s important to keep reminding myself that design is at its best when it’s a physical act, more than a mere click-and-drag. As Paul Rand told his students: “It is important to use your hands, this is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator.”

So I’ve been spending more time drawing and sketching and doodling (trust me, there are subtle but significant differences), and rediscovering life away from the cursor. More photography, less Photoshop – that sort of thing. I’m covered in inky stains and papercuts and a look of shame brought on by catching sight of my own moronic and writing, but creating without a screen has been eye-opening and revitalising. I’m one frantic creative episode away from being that guy with a stubby pencil permanently tucked behind his ear.

I’m tempted to unshackle myself from the desk completely. I need to go outside and play! With the aid of my trusty iPad, I can take all my emails and writing and admin wherever I go! I can take pictures of everything and lay on the grass and and frolic with the squirrels and the sparrows! Ah. This is only a theoretical plan and yet already I’ve become distracted by the majesty of nature. Typical. Bound to happen.

Perhaps I won’t ditch the desk just yet – the reality of it is that no matter how much fun I have getting there, eventually that final execution needs execution-ing. And for that, nothing beats a big, glowing, retina-singeing computer. But at the first sign of my brain going CLUNK, it’s time to turn it off and doodle some doodles. Go outdoors. Play.

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. See danielgray.com and @gray

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