Labor of Love

Last quarter I took a visual communication class. Chad was a fantastic teacher, and the class was a good primer of graphic design, covering all the basic grounds like typography, layout, color, and a little bit of branding. In fact, it was almost too basic for me.

I started teaching myself design since 2017 and despite the spotty journey, I did pick up most of these knowledge here and there along the way. I was not complaining, though—it was totally expected that the class was basic, as it was meant to be. However, what was not expected was that through revisiting the “boring fundamentals”, I found my passion for visual design reaffirmed.

Affirmed, not because I was struck by the romantic first encounter and learned something entirely new, but precisely through this—the lackluster “even though”, that I was affirmed. Even though I’ve studied type anatomy times and times again, even though I’ve known those type crime jokes too well to manage a smile, even though I’ve read most assigned readings—even those for fun, I was still totally fascinated by them, thoroughly enjoying every minute of the class.

As I grow older I become very skeptical about what I dub the “passion narrative”, the discourse of industrial capitalism that makes it seem like the only logical conclusion of “following your passion” is to turn it into a day job. Ultimately, understanding what you are passionate about and making a living out of it are two distinctive things. I learn it the hard way by realizing working as a designer sometimes entails very little designing. But in this class, I was reminded that I do love design. I was reminded of the power of passion.

During the class, I constantly found myself doing something “extra”, something that’s not easily justifiable by the return-on-investment. Either it’s spending time besting not just the design but also the presentation of it, or fiddling with the most minute details no one will ever notice, it’s clear that I was not satisfied with only meeting the class requirement. Neither had I in mind an intention to exceed it, but instead it’s an aspiration to do what I thought was truly great work. Rest beneath was a vehement drive that economical rationales like “work-life balance” or “sustainability” could not rein.

The power of passion is embodied in such a labor of love. It is a persistent pursuit for quality leaving no details unattended. It is holding yourself to the highest standards and never settling at “good enough” even when nobody’s watching. It is a curiosity that never wanes, an impulse to seize every chance to practice and play. It is also a dissolved sense of self in flow, an intractable part of your body that is so enthralled by the work at hand that even if your mind commands a stop, it still wouldn’t move. You are seized by it.

The labor of love is always manifested in doing something unnecessary, something that doesn’t hold up to be measured by its instrumental value, something useless. It is in such an intrinsically motivated devotion to inessential actions without any external rewards, that passion reveals itself most vividly. After all, love commits only to one’s heart and answers to nothing but the calling.

I’m glad that I’ve come a full circle to affirm my love for visual design. I shall end with a powerful quote by Saul Bass that encapsulates this primitive yet lasting urge of mine:

“I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life.

I want to make beautiful things,

even if nobody cares.”