And I was doing so well.
I started 2013 with a big list of probably realistic, probably achievable resolutions. You know the sort of thing: get some sleep; adhere to a sensible and consistent Photoshop layer-naming protocol; be a graphic designer without losing my soul.
Eleven months in, I was proud of my resolve. Yes, I've actually slept this year (I think it happened in May). No, I don't have to stare at files any more, trying to figure out what "Layer 31 FINAL copy COPY delete this one copy DRAFT” means. And my soul, though a little scuffed and stained, is still mine.
One month to go and I'd successfully held onto the full set. But no, along comes Christmas and out the window goes resolution #9. It seemed like a fairly simple one too, chucked onto the list at the last minute: *Stop getting angry about adverts.* There was to be no ranting at the wife, no ranting at twitter, no ranting at the television screen.
It was difficult (I'm a third-generation television-ranter, so it's in my blood), but my willpower was strong. I kept my mouth shut during those toothpaste adverts where the dentists are shot at ridiculous angles to somehow make them seem more authentic. I silently endured Paul Whitehouse’s many false noses and accents. My lips were sealed while the man on the television made a tenuous connection between putting a bit of jalapeño in a sandwich and a film about starving children killing each other for sport.
#9 was nearly ticked off for the year. And then one night …
"IF YOU WAKE THE BEAR, HE MIGHT DIE. HE’S HIBERNATING FOR A GOOD REASON, BRIGHT EYES. LEAVE HIM BE. BLOODY HELL.”
Damn. I was so close to getting a new year resolution high score.
So that was it, the beast was awoken and it was open season on the increasingly smug and insistent barrage of festive adverts. I should've seen it coming. One of the reasons for resolution #9 being put in place was the fact I’d spent far too much of last Christmas grumbling about the offensively expensive heartstring-tugging snowman. The big Waitrose advert that advertised the fact that Waitrose weren't doing a big advert (eh?) didn't exactly help matters.
The Queen’s speech had nothing on my *Does John Lewis Even Understand How Money Works?* tirade.
I don't work in advertising, I never have. This is merely self-righteous nit-picking from the outer limits of my profession. I could, I *should*, be channeling my ire at the real injustices of the world, not overpaid snowmen. These things aren't important, I know this. It's just that there's something about the great Christmas machine that unleashes within me a stampede of pet peeves.
Adverts are just the tip of the iceberg. With my work put to rest for a couple of weeks (aka the silence of the invoices), I'm filled with pent-up design energy that gets channeled as frustration at all the tinselled bluster and commercial mechanics of the season. Everywhere I look, I see things that need nudging and realigning to a state of good taste.
So I try to fix things. But it's a stubborn holiday, one that doesn't want to be fixed. I offer to make more aesthetically-pleasing Christmas cards for my family ("stop it, you've made them look … tidy"). I try my very hardest to apply griddy order to the conical nightmare of the tree, but I just end up getting scratched and impaled on bauble hooks. If anything, it ends up looking worse. And a bit left-aligned.
I like clean and minimal. Christmas doesn't do clean and minimal. It's messy and garish, all decoration and foil. Christmas is maximal.
Perhaps that's good for me though. I’ll just let the yuletide happen, let go of design pedantry, let it all wash over me. This is an opportunity to turn off, a holiday from aesthetic perfectionism. I will enjoy whatever frolicking woodland creatures the TV has to throw at me. I will embrace the mantra "More is MORE" and feast upon the cultural and visual noise as I tuck into mince pies and Port and make a highlighted mess of the Radio Times.
My brain will feel sick and bloated come January, but perhaps that just means I can detox and shake off some of my other bad design habits in the process. Make room to learn something new. The first step: write a big list of probably realistic, probably achievable resolutions.
Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Creative Review.