I’ve been asking myself Where do we go from here? since March 2020, when I, like most of the world, moved indoors full time. A year later, thanks to social distancing and vaccines, there’s talk about “getting back to normal” or finding “post-pandemic normalcy.” But what the fuck is normal anymore? It might depend on where you are in the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — and where sweatpants fit into the equation.
Normal might mean getting out of the sweatpants, leaving your home, and heading back to the office or classroom, to congregate, design, work, learn in the company of others. But others may have discovered that an isolated live-at-home situation — that allows you to yell into a pillow three times a day instead of coffee breaks or watercooler talk — is what you’ve been craving all of your life, you just never knew it until summer 2020 when you wondered, Is it too warm outdoors for sweatpants? Answer: Who gives a shit, because if you’re indoors with air conditioning, sweatpants are the proper choice. On a personal note, I embraced casual wear years ago, but what works for me may not work for you. (That pillow thing? Works too, so does cursing out loud.)
Questions about what works and what’s best have always been top of mind for designers. Does this font work, which grid functions, what about color, which design is better, which design is best? Seeing, learning, making, presenting, and discussing those things can happen anywhere thanks to technology, and we all had to make it work 100% online beginning spring 2020. As a university professor, I’ve had design students attend my online classes from the Carolinas or as far away as Ukraine. I invited guest designers who beamed in from California, Georgia, and the United Kingdom, among other places. Stuck in our own pandemic bubble looking at shoulders and heads in a video conferencing grid, we communicated with people from many miles away thanks to technology.
If/when we get back to the “old normal” and accept the Monday–Friday office routines, Casual Fridays won’t feel as special since it’s been Casual Forever since spring 2020. At the very least, returning to the “old normal” will bring us together again with a newfound appreciation for each other. And yet, tomorrow’s designers may not want a 100% “in the office” experience, preferring some office days, some remote, or a completely online job that lets you work from anywhere. Why not? If it means hanging out in comfy sweatpants 24/7 while getting your design groove on, you do you. Where do we go from here? Nah. More like, Where do you go from here?
Originally published in Print July 2021, “What is the New Normal? 27 Artist, Designers, and Creatives Weigh In” with stories & opinions from Kelli Anderson, Moses Harris, and Debbie Millman, as well as Neville Brody (who like me, uses the f-word with reckless abandon, or the utmost seriousness, or both).