The art of conversation

Working alone has plenty of advantages, but talking to kitchen appliances doesn’t usually help with inspiration

I’ve got the place to myself. Firstborn and wifey have gone out to take the credit card for walkies, leaving the flat seeming too big and too quiet. Filling the air with Underworld doesn’t help – it’s just me and the work now. I have nowhere to hide, nobody to use as a distraction-scapegoat, no conversations to strike up.

No conversations? Who am I kidding? As much as I came to resent open-plan officery in my old in-house job (the gossiping, the politics, the horrifying, loud eating), I’m not a complete loner. My noggin still needs some kind of social outlet, someone to bounce ideas off. A lack of actual human beings isn’t going to get in the way of that! Oh my no.

Always the first port of call for a chit-chat is sat on the end of my desk: my beloved Eames House Bird. This seemingly innocuous ornament, a slash of black curves, is a great listener. But only for so long. You see, he was designed with only two opinions in his lacquered little head: total agreement with every insight, idea or witticism that falls from my mouth; or contempt. Judging, pitiful, utter contempt. Every insecurity, every lingering doubt, every stupid creative decision is right there, reflected in his beady little eyes. He’s a lacquered avian fiend and he’s not helping. Cock.

Fine. Maybe I’ll reach out to mankind after all. To the social networks! Back in the day (you know, the day), there was just MySpace, the perfect place for people to discuss how best to change the wallpaper on MySpace. Now, there’s loads, and I’m soon reminded that not a single one of them is useful for getting work done.
Hop onto Twitter and get sucked into a debate about whether or not designers should learn how to code; stroll onto Path and chat about how brilliant babies are (the latest thinking: very); step cautiously onto Facebook and try to not get too worked up by all the “LIKE IF YOU HATE RAPE” posts flung at my wall. Creative networks like Behance and Fiftytwo are good for checking out other people’s work, but not so good for conversation. There are definite benefits to networking online, but more often than not, networking becomes distraction. And that’s when House Bird starts glaring again.

So maybe a wander about the flat will help? Momentarily stepping away from the creativity-nullifying Creative Suite blank page of doom is always a good idea. I’ll have a wander with my notebook or iPad. I’ll sketch. I’ll pour forth ideas and concepts and pure design and … and I’m talking to the toaster. Again. At least House Bird had eyes. Now I’m just hobnobbing with any old inanimate object that comes into my field of vision – including that packet of Hobnobs. I’m uselessly bouncing ideas back and forth like Steve McQueen in solitary.

This behaviour (don’t analyse it, for crying out loud, don’t analyse it) leads to more misdirected design-energy: food cupboards are raided for colour inspiration; pictures on walls are straightened and restraightened; and all the bits and pieces on the kitchen table get arranged into nice potential grid patterns (this entertains and frightens the wife in equal measures: “You’re one mashed potato away from Devil’s Tower”).

Suddenly it occurs to me: I’ve got a Skype call scheduled with a prospective client! Sorry kitchen, old friend, all of this will have to wait for another day – I’ve got human contact to make! First though, a few checks. Am I wearing trousers? Is my hair doing that thing that it does? Can I remember how Skype works?

So I sit there, waiting. House Bird staring at me, assuring me that I’m going to open with something inadvertently massively racist. And I’m waiting. And waiting. And the call doesn’t come, put off until tomorrow. I’ve been forsaken by my salvation from this home aloneliness, and there’s only one person left to talk to now. The last resort: myself.

Time passes, design happens and correct Star Wars running order is debated (FYI: IV, V, II, III, VI). Before I know it, firstborn and wifey are home. They get big I-miss-you hugs. And kisses. And detailed instructions of how the kitchen table must always be arranged, just like that. House Bird says so. NEVER LEAVE ME AGAIN.

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. He maintains a blog at his website, danielgray.com and also tweets regularly at @gray.

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