Jetsetter vs typesetter

Exciting news: you've just scored your first job from an agency overseas - how positively cosmopolitan! The internet really has shrunk the world, and now it's entirely possible that someone in Birmingham, Alabama has seen your online portfolio, even though it was produced and uploaded in Birmingham, West Midlands.

We're living in the future, where national borders are no longer an obstacle in design. Your range of possible clients has risen from just over 100,000 in Sutton Coldfield to 6.7 billion global customers and counting. If you ever see Sir Tim Berners-Lee in a restaurant, you should interrupt his main course of steak tartare to pump his hand vigorously and thank him for inventing the worldwide web. Maybe pose for a photo or two to show the folks (don't forget to do rabbit ears behind Sir Tim's head. He loves that).

But while you're punching the air and high-fiving the cat because you're now an international businessperson, let me share a couple of cautionary words that demonstrate that it's not all mashed potatoes and gravy.

English is generally considered to be the primary lingua franca. It's the official language of airline pilots, sailors, the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee. It's taught as a foreign language to almost 90 per cent of European schoolchildren and is a favoured second language in many other parts of the world. According to The China Teaching Web, "... learning English in China is no longer just important. It is the bare minimum for any serious student. Not learning English here would be tantamount to not studying math or science."

But all of this doesn't mean your client on the other end of the phone will have the same grasp of English as you. English is a slippery beast, full of ambiguity, grammatical exceptions and reverse meanings. You only have to visit to see how the English language has become the world's punching bag, with shop signs gushing, "Our mission is to make our customer happy with our food and say 'what a so tasty!!' Our pursuing tastiness will never stop."

Think that's funny? At least they're trying; how well do you speak Chinese? And what do you do if the client decides not to pay? Are you going to jump on an aeroplane and travel halfway around the world to personally confront the client when that reckless action might cost more than the job is worth? Even when there are no issues as extreme as that, you have to take into consideration what currency they will pay you in, local taxation requirements and fluctuating exchange rates which may, over the course of a long job, take your once fairly profitable project and beat it to death with the wrong end of a claw hammer.

Wyld Stallyons recently completed a job for a transatlantic client and, thanks to the wonder of differing timezones, they couldn't quite grasp that a late afternoon conference call for them was actually approaching midnight for us. Gone home? What do you mean gone home? I began to feel like I was sloping off in the middle of the afternoon by leaving the office at 10pm. Perhaps we should have insisted on conference calls at 10am our time and forced them all to get up at the ungodly hour of 5am. Oh well, maybe next time.

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