Job‘s Worth

Job‘s Worth

With increasing numbers of graduates and a limited number of opportunities, Gem Barton’s book Don’t Get a Job…Make a Job offers a radical new way of approaching your creative career. Here she explains how her own experience shaped the book, which was an instant hit and continues to inform and inspire.


First things first – the days of trading in your degree certificate for a nice safe job offer are gone, and who knows if they will ever return? It is simply not enough to graduate anymore; the world demands more from you – you are the future, you are the next generation of entrepreneurs, design-thinkers, hyper-specialists, and cultural agitators. You have a role, you have a responsibility. It is no longer just about the world of the design … it is about the design of your world!

You will be aware that the prospect of “finding work” is tough. You have heard nothing but horror stories since the economic downturn began in 2008, yet you still chose a design degree, you are still chasing that dream. Why? Because secretly, deep down, you know that the future will be led by free-thinking, forward-looking, rule-bending, problem-solving, question-asking social-radicals, that’s why! Think about the biggest problems we face today: poverty, dwindling energy resources, and war—it is design, not money, that has the potential to solve these problems.

As a former student of architecture in the UK, now with almost a decade of experience in teaching different design courses around the country, I have a unique insight into the world of both design practice and education. Having entered the architecture profession, after graduating in 2006, I myself followed the “traditional” DEGREE>CV>FOLIO>INTERVIEW>JOB route, securing a job in a medium-size practice. Less than 18 months later, and just three months before my final accreditation exams, I received my first redundancy letter. As a relatively new graduate, I was a victim of the last-one-in, first-one-out trap. Like many of the case studies featured in the book, I knew that tough decisions had to be made; I saw this negative as an opportunity to “irritate the oyster”, to make my own way and find—no, create—the perfect job for me. This took years and generated many tears along the way. I experienced a crisis of confidence brought about by the fear of the unknown, so I stuck to what I knew, I rinsed my (then-small) network of contacts and quite simply persevered. I took jobs I despised, doing work I did not enjoy in order to make ends meet, and I dedicated all my free time to making work, meeting new people, and developing my personal brand.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, famously said, “Your personal brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”. I tried my hand at everything I could and then curated my working life based on my experiences. Today I spread my time between teaching, writing, designing, building, show-making, and living. This recipe for working will not suit everyone, nor will it appear in the index of a careers manual, but for many like me, being in control of their destiny, being flexible, with the ability to spread risk, respond quickly, and do something different every day is of the utmost importance.

I had goals, one of which was to write a book, to help others through some of the tough times I had experienced, and to reassure all those who don’t fit the little job-shaped boxes that it is all going to be OK. In fact it’s going to be great. Boxes are for the ordinary, and who wants to be ordinary? The sooner I learned that not wanting the same things as everyone else made me unique, the sooner I realized I could become anything I wanted, even an author. What at one time I had perceived as my weakness ultimately became my best strength.

In researching the content and case studies for the book I scoured the globe for individuals taking their lives into their own hands. I have conducted interviews as well as quizzing academics and leading industry professionals. I have rinsed my (now considerably larger) network of contacts and drained every single favour.

Don’t Get a Job … Make a Job tells the stories of the new-generation trailblazers within our changing world; we explore their strategies, get introduced to their working methods, and hear exactly how and why they chose to make their own way. You can hear the stories behind the inception of designers and founders from all around the world, including behind-the-scenes looks at Something & Son, The Draftery, The Glue Society, Vin & Omi, Le Creative Sweatshop, and Stereotank. You will also hear from those who have been there, done that, and donated the T-shirt, relating first-hand experiences and offering expert advice – read on to get this exclusive guidance from Jimenez Lai, Studio Weave, Jason Bruges, and others.

The book is NOT a how-to guide. You are advised against simply copying ideas from the bright sparks featured here. The book has been written with the intention of educating and inspiring you, to open your eyes to the myriad opportunities available. If there is only one piece of information you take away from reading this book, let it be this: if you cannot find an opportunity that you like/want, then you owe it to yourself to make your own!


Find out more about Gem Barton here.

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