Thursday, December 6, 2007

The 4x6" square world...

I primarily have friends who’ve are in the medical fields as physicians, scientists, programmers or engineers. I worked for 8 years at a genomics company and started in the labs. A little over half way through my employment there I’d reached a pretty clear ceiling and also really felt that additional promotions/growth in my position (my final lab position was running a data analysis group and assisting launching others across the company to monitor each areas’ throughput). So I eventually was dealing more with the VPs and dept heads – promotions were only aiming in the corporate politics direction – which is not me. So I moved into marketing. Because I obviously prefer my artistic side to being a corporate groupie. :)

I took a lot of flack for going into that position. The gal who worked in it before me was just plain flaky. Nice, but it was not considered a brainy job given her precedent. Still, my brain was starting to hurt from the lack of common sense in the sciences which should’ve been clear and straightforward, iow; despite the data in the lab politics and personalities played a big role. So rather than continually fight the strange politics that shouldn’t have even been present in genetic data production, I just walked away in the only way I could and keep my only bone (stock options) and made a massive lateral career shift.

I was also being talked about behind my back mind you. People assumed you can only rise up in the levels if you’re sleeping with someone. Take my word for it; I wasn’t. Still, it got REALLY old to hear these rumors and get the cold shoulders for no apparent reason.

My favorite was also when people assumed I was rich when our stocks peaked. Sadly, I didn’t get a lot of options as I wasn’t there quite that early in the start-up, I had an ok #, but when I started I was at entry-level employee and they didn’t give them stocks. The people who thought I had at least a million (some scientists and higher degree folks there from the get go did get a million or two from the stock peak -> it wasn’t an insane assumption), anyhow, those people were really fun to be around.. if you can imagine. Meow! Morgen the rich ho. That’s how they saw me. You can imagine how I finally just said “to hell with this” and made a drastic lateral move to maintaining the web site and advertising.

I have a secret (well the man who hired me to the dept knows this but few others). I only took 2 classes in college that were remotely related to this new career -> electives in web page design and graphic layout. I was hired on the basis that I would “grow into it” and I faced a pretty steep learning curve to jump right into producing all the corporate materials.

When I got the position I got a hold of a 700 pg HTML book to refresh my memory (hell, to learn half the stuff). I also got a copy of the web site and sat down and studied every tag on the site. It took a few weeks for me to “get” how the site worked because I was a) so damn rusty (it had been a few years I believe), and b) the site was designed by that flaky girl (copied from another company I later found out) and had multi-tiered subset framing.. believe me, I can’t even think of an example of this bad design because it’s just not done, it was ridiculous and a great lesson in figuring out how something extremely backwards works via desconstruction. Anyhow, I also bought some other webmaster books and a ton of CGI/Perl books and really gave myself an education. The hardest part in the end turned out to be learning the language of the other side: the preparing printed media side of the job (prepress graphics).

To that end, I owe a lot of thanks to the printing companies we worked with who gave me plenty of tips and tricks and just overall talked me through layout specs. We also got to tour a goodly # of woo-ing company’s facilities.. This gave me a greater understanding of things like why color separation happens and what those interesting boxes to the side of uncut printed materials are there for.

The hardest part was that there were definite red-herrings in the way. For far too long I struggled to understand why my color chart reference guide had only 4-5digit #s and the publishing companies guides had the typical pantone guides the rest of the world uses had 6 (see to understand what these are. You’ve probably seen these somewhere. Anyhow, I would ask for “real” guides but was always given the “they cost too much” crap. I did a layout of a really neat newsletter issue that was supposed to be in light spring tones & dark blue. When the proof came over it was all blue – we thought this was what’s called a “blue line”. No. That’s the freaking color the stupid CHART I had was… and what we told the printer to print it in. The newsletter of course looked ridiculous. And I was still in my probationary period and sweating it out badly. After a few very painful first months like this I found out this mysterious color chart was actually a bar-code label color chart from a scientific company.. it had nothing whatsoever to do with the printing business. I just happened to see it in one of the dept head’s offices and asked what it was. I was sooooo supremely miffed at this moronic misleading by these marketing and advertising specialists. There were lots of little incidents like this. It’s a great illustration though of how the transition went. Basically I was sort of treated with extreme condescension: “you aren’t experienced in this field so we’ll humor you”. The tone sometimes was unbelievable.

Marketing departments really ARE like the Dilbert cartoons portray. Sincerely and for true. Many aren’t I’m sure, but I have to say that often they seem to have a serious lack of substance behind the image.

At least I wasn’t finding myself on the receiving end of snide looks for being assumed to be sleeping with anyone anymore… lol! Now I was just a company misfit all around. ;) Fine by me really. I still hung with the engineers and talked with the programmers all day on the phone (there wasn’t too much thinking to the bulk of the work so talking/music/anything was a must). But I wasn’t privy to the daily grind gossip anymore as much, except when it needed to come up in internal moving and shaking (I at least was an “in” for the lab people to get changes made to improve life around the place now that I occasionally had the exec ears to bring things up to).

Anyhow, the 4x6” square. This will truly illustrate the scenario of what life was like for me struggling to not screw up the ads I made (thus saving thousands in having to hire outside ad firms to design each). The simplest part of ad design is the shape specifications. You have the full size, (the size to which all color goes to with some extra mm for “bleed” where the page is cropped). You then have the magazine’s “trim” size to which there are no guarantees things won’t be cropped off at (so don’t go too close to that either or it’ll be at page’s edge). Then the space within… and in this company the CEO was always trying to fill it with the most amount of text possible. Insane stuff. Ads for a PhD head needed to include a preference for those who had hobbies along the lines of “philately” (the study of stamps – I believe that one made it to print). Really inane micromanagement to this stuff. I was once given the wrong specs and wound up with an ad that was far smaller than the page – it resulted in an award for it’s notability… because it stood out… because it looked idiotic… Thus I was pretty sensitive about double checking specs after that when they were handed to me (I’m sure you can imagine).

So one day as I’m dreading how I’ll have to fit a 500word essay into a ¼ page ad, I call the manager who handed me the post-it with the “specs” and ask,

Me: this 4x6 ad – is it horizontal or vertical?

Answer: “It’s square”…

Me: “No, 4x6 is a rectangle; did we buy space that is horizontal or vertically placed on the page, this magazine has both types of 4x6 ads”.

Answer again, “It’s square. LOOK! If you don’t know how to do your job I can’t help you!”.

Anyone read Abbott's Flatland? Try living it... lol!

It was a lot like that every day. I was surrounded by people I could not relate to on any level. And you wonder now why I find this current impoverished life to be so utopic? (I’m sure readers here don’t really). ;) They thought my horse-obsession & my mare was rather plebeian. I frankly thought they were a bunch of dolts in nice clothes with overinflated egos and income.

Harsh? No seriously; here’s another quick anecdote. We had a trade show booth to design. I made a quickie mock up in photoshop and printed it out on a sheet of paper and cut it up to make a little scale model of the booth. We then had a meeting with the director. Have you ever seen Spinal Tap? How about Zoolander? Well the director took one look at it and said “No, it needs to be MUCH MUCH bigger than this”. I kid you not. We were nearly in tears trying to explain “scale model” concept to him for 10minutes (complete with me drawing some little people to stand next to it. I believe he made at least 6 figures. It’s dumbfounding to see this stuff daily. The humor of it eventually escapes you as it numbs your mind.

I don’t have a total contempt for corporate types. I know there are LOTS of places that aren’t straight out of a comedy sketch. Probably the majority (I hope). I wish I was of the mind to remember code well enough to program entirely – that at least tends to be in basic languages that don’t change nearly so much. In the course of my career in that venue I spent the majority of my spare time learning every program I could and a keeping up with developments. When I started there (in the lab) we were working in Unix codes and when I left there the internet and programming was spitting out new languages & code types every few months. Eventually it became clear that only the quickest minds were competitive in the web development market – php & cold fusion for example was still newish & was showing up on most job skill requirements (I’d just gotten a chance to dabble in them but wouldn’t have called myself proficient). Now I believe (4 years later) those are rather standard expectation or even obsolete. It really is a dog-eat-dog field. I so very much hope I don’t need to go back to it. The continuous “improvement” aspect becomes a tad annoying as most of the new/latest/greatest tools are really plain old redundant. I’m also not much of a technophile. I don’t like to constantly toss “obsolete” when it works just fine thank you!

So today I was reminded of that life when I saw a 7’ x 7’ rectangular sketch my [engineer – told you I liked their common sense!] boyfriend had quickly drawn out. I glanced at it and teased him about it. He totally got the joke without missing a beat.

Ahhhhhhh how I love common sense and the life I live today! :D After my "Black Hole" post and as a general thank you to the awesome people who wrote me fun things, I just had to say that and reflect on how ridiculous my former life used to be. ;-)

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