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3/18/2010

What is your profession

This morning I had to fill out a form, asking the simple question 'Beruf Vater?' ('Father's profession?'). 7 centimeters of space were provided for the answer. It's the hardest question anyone can ask me: I find it a harder than 'what's the meaning of life?' I apologize for not being able to answer with just one word.  I will need about 600.

I studied product design for public space, and am therefore officially qualified as a designer for public space. Because I studied design in an art school, I can formally call myself an artist as well.

I have always written and published about design and therefore often call myself a journalist. But to be precise, most of my journalism is oral: it comes in the context of moderating or interviewing on stage. That would make me a moderator. But then again, Moderator is not a real profession: it's impossible to be a full-time moderator. You qualify for public speaker because of things you do when you are not doing that.


In the past I was dean of an architecture school, although I never studied architecture. So then as a profession I was the head of a school. Officially it was called an educational manager. I taught architecture students even when I was studying design. So that must make me an architecture teacher, right? I was also an intern at two architect firms, and I interviewed a lot of architects and moderated many debates on architecture.

I founded an office that worked in the fields of art, design and architecture. Because our work was shown in an architecture institute at an early stage, we were most often called 'architects,' although we never drew a house or building. In fact my companion was a city planner and most of our work was city planning. I have often been called a cityplanner or a citydesigner by others. I taught city planners and urban planners and interviewed a lot of them. But that doesn't make me a city planner.

At the start of my career I made maps to project my own vision of cities. I was called a cartographer, mapper and map-designer. I felt like a cartographer for a while, but normally this is only a profession for those who have actually studied cartography. You could argue, however, that in the end it is still visual representation and thereby a form of graphic design. Of course I was often called a graphic designer. Some even said our office was a graphic design studio.

But where my companion did most of the city planning, I was more involved in the art world. Art in public space, to be precise. I never made any autonomous artworks, but I was very often called an artist. I never called myself an artist, and it might be the only profession I never wanted to be.

In my time at the design institute Premsela I was a manager, or a program manager. On my business card it said we were 'domain holders,' whatever that may be. The things I did in the daytime were often in the exact same field as my work in my designer and journalist days. When I later founded a design platform we called ourselves quarter-makers, a term used in the army to describe those who go into the field first to organize the earliest necessities. Instead of this term, we could also call ourselves initiators.

Recently I started getting more involved in innovation and Web 2.0. As if it were my fate, this led to another professional description. This week I was introduced as a Web 2.0-specialist. I couldn't repress a smile, when somebody else said so, knowing this might be the 20th profession on my 'list.'

In recent times it has become much more normal to have more than one profession. In Twitter biographies people often call themselves: serial entrepreneur, designer, social media expert and DJ. Or writer, moderator, designer and initiator. That might be why I feel so at home in this domain. All the bold words in this text have once been used -and written- as descriptions of what I am. I have learned to live with them, although I honestly would prefer one word that says it all.