It can be earned, spent, given, stolen, wasted, saved or lost. It can be used to build cities or fund wars. Conventional wisdom holds that it can't buy happiness, and rumor has it that it may be the root of all that is evil. One thing for certain is that money, in all its facets, continues to be the predominant medium of exchange—the most accepted way to trade one thing for another.
From the use of cowrie shells thousands of years ago to the latest currency redesign in Sweden (home to the world's oldest central bank), the evolution of money's design is a fascinating one. Even so, I felt a more appropriate angle for this foreword might be less about the object and more about the psychology, which can be as unique to each of us as our own fingerprints. As you'll see in the following pages, how we perceive money and what we do with it is a deeply personal thing that can affect our choices, our opportunities and our careers.
I am the oldest child of two, born to a loving and hard-working, middle-class family. I spent my early childhood on a 24-acre farm in rural North Dakota, where we grew no crops and owned no livestock (technically not a farm, I suppose). My dad bought the place mainly for his love of open spaces, but also because he got one hell of deal.
From a very early age, he and my mother instilled in me the value of a dollar. One of my first lessons in applied economics came in the form of a then healthy allowance of $2 a week. It was offered in return for keeping my room tidy(ish) and helping out with a few other chores around the house. Even though I always had good intentions of saving the cold hard cash I was making, it would inevitably have a way of burning a hole in my pocket, spent on the trivial things only a 10-year old boy can appreciate.
Over time, I've found flame-retardant pockets, nurtured a strong work ethic and maintained a fairly healthy view of money. I respect it, but I don't worship it. Its hold on me is slight. For me, it has always been merely a means rather than a motivation, and I would bet it's that way for most creatives.
Yes, money is important, as we all need to eat and pay rent, but stockpiling cash doesn't seem nearly as worthwhile or fulfilling as pursuing the art and craft of creation. Isn't that the real reason we get out of bed in the morning, or work until well past midnight without noticing the time? It's the reward of creating something that opens someone's eyes a little wider, makes them pause and hopefully causes the alpha patterns in their brain to oscillate at a slightly higher frequency. That's everything for me. Unlike money, the thought of being a slave to ideas doesn't bother me at all.
Don't mistake my dreamy idealism as naivety or indifference. For good or bad, money does make the world go 'round, and provides more than just room and board. At a minimum, it allows us to invest in ourselves. Internet service and a computer loaded with graphics software are as much a part of the modern designer's toolbox as a collection of design books and a set of technical pens was for the designer of decades past. I remember scraping together everything I had to purchase my first Mac. The cost of that expensive little box was quickly offset by the opportunities and exponential growth it provided in return.
On a higher level, money provides the freedom of choice—and the luxury to say no. For a studio flush with cash, being able to be choosy and focus on projects through the filter of passion rather than necessity typically offers a very different experience; one that can offer a more rewarding journey for both studio and client.
Working as a creative for nearly 15 years now, I've been through booms and busts, at times earning next to nothing. But through it all, one thing continues to guide me. Simply put, I love what I do. We should count ourselves lucky to be practicing at a time that places such high value on creative and offers a good living to anyone with enough talent and gumption. For those about to enter this field, I offer the advice my father gave to me: do what you love, do it with all your heart and soul, and the money will follow.
Designer / Writer