Behind the headphones

Behind every silent, iPod-using designer there's a sociable, creative mind desperate to break out, says Jason Arber. But when they emerge from the office at the end of the day, how do they bridge the gap between work and pleasure?

What kind of a designer are you? I'm not talking about what you design - websites, company reports, advent calendars I'm talking about your design personality.

We all have one, divorced it would seem from our real personality. Take, for example, my temporary residence as art director of a medium-sized agency in London, where a group of perfectly sociable folk sit in rows, headphones pumping out a barely audible hiss that seems to say, "I'll talk to you only when absolutely necessary."

However, at the end of the day they all emerge blinking into the light, and they're different people once again, happily traipsing to the nearest watering hole for a swift lager top before heading back home.

This completely unscientific analysis of a small sample group proves my hypothesis that designers are actually rather convivial people and, in the right circumstances, can be openly friendly and talkative. The next day, of course, they return to work and become zombie designers again, but for a while you glimpsed a spark of humanity.

This dichotomy between work and pleasure would appear to indicate a generalised Jekyll and Hyde personality schism that afflicts the industry. The enforced silence is perhaps cultural or self-inflicted, and I know from experience that it's certainly not universal - I once worked in an agency that was loud, brash and boisterous during work hours. Underneath there is a desperate yearning to be gregarious that can't help but bubble to the surface.

I think this phenomenon partly explains the runaway success of events such as OFFF and BD4D. The work on display is fantastic, but these events are also an excuse to meet people over a yard of ale at the bar and talk about who's hot and who's not.

In short, designers and creative folk, for all their foibles and idiosyncrasies - such as the urge to sculpt their hair into strange shapes and take a fake interest in skateboarding and sneakers - are actually quite normal.

The social club
The London Design Festival, which dedicates the last two weeks in September to celebrating the capital's creativity, reminded me of this. Amid the events dedicated to the "Drama of Dress", "Unfolding Japan" and stories inspired by London Underground's Circle Line was the real narrative: a perfectly good excuse to leave the headphones in the office and have a chat with other people who've done the same.

The London Design Festival is broad in its scope, so it offers plenty of opportunities to shoot the breeze with furniture designers, architects, branding specialists, fashionistas, creative writers, film and set designers, as well as those concerned with the graphic arts. There probably isn't enough inter-discipline dialogue between different strands of creativity, so events such as the London Design Festival provide a perfect opportunity to really talk to some different people.

And should you falter and suddenly have the urge to listen to some bleepy, lo-fi sonic experimentation that you don't quite understand but the band has a cool name, then that's what your iPod is for. On the journey home, slip back into those white headphones and relax into a comforting, catatonic stupor...

Jason Arber is a designer and co-founder of www.pixelsurgeon.com. He can be emailed at jason@pixelsurgeon.com.