Work hard and be nice to people. Anthony Burrill, Graphic Designer and Print Maker

Ive always liked to question the ‘norms’ in life, why we accept them as the norm and if they are really true.

As our human experience is uniquely individual, created from our own personal beliefs, habits and concepts of reality, it’s always interesting to wonder how we get to a ‘cultural’ norm.

One cultural norm that is inherent in most people’s mind, is that to succeed at almost anything in life you have to work hard.

Working hard is the accepted mantra from the classroom to the boardroom and everywhere in between. It’s prescribed as the tried and tested way to achieve.

In 2004, Graphic Designer and Print Maker Anthony Burrill created a now iconic poster printed with letterpress blocks, which simply says:


It’s a poster and a message that has become a maxim within the creative industry.

A few weeks ago I saw Burrill speak about his work and how this phrase came about. It’s a phrase that took him from leaving his graphic design work for advertising agencies, to launching his own letterpress prints, now exhibited in places such as the V&A, Barbican and Design Museum in London and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

Burrill explains how it came about.

It was inspired by a conversation I’d overheard in a local supermarket. An old lady was sharing the secret of a happy life to the checkout girl. The simple bit of wisdom struck a chord with me and I thought it would make a memorable poster.

‘Work hard and be nice to people’ caught Burrill’s attention and the rest is graphic design history.

I love Burrill’s work and I own one of his prints, however I don’t promote working hard. I promote working well.

Work well and be kind to people would be the poster on my wall.

The change from ‘nice’ to ‘kind’ is a personal one. I see that you can be nice to someone’s face and then criticise them behind their back, in other words you can fake niceness. However, you can’t fake kindness, that comes from the heart and is considerate of other people’s feelings.

The change from ‘hard’ to ‘well’ is a cultural one. Working well is infinitely better than working hard it’s just we’ve all been led to believe that hard is the way.

It’s a belief that you may not have questioned until now and when you look at it, does it really make sense?

Why work in a way that is difficult to understand, do, experience, or deal with as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary?

Working well is actually something you’re looking to achieve even if you’ve not consciously realised it. It’s also something the world of work is encouraging you to do.

You only have to search on Amazon to see the thousands of ‘how to’ books showing you ways of working smarter, with better processes, systems and methods.

I’ve not yet found a bestseller on Amazon titled ‘Work Hard’.

As ‘working well’ is a phrase you don’t tend to use in business, there’s an opportunity to create a definition that is individual and meaningful to you.

It might involve methods to help you work more efficiently and effectively, however what’s essential to working well is what’s going on inside of you.

Working well starts from within.

It starts with an inner state of clarity which allows you to work at your optimum best, without strain, without stress, without blocks. This inner state affects everything you’re doing in the outer world and fuels your perseverance, passion and resilience.

Working well is FLOW and it feels EASY not hard.

Here are a few statements from creatives I’ve asked:
“Describe what it feels like to be in flow.”



Effortless, exciting, fun, stimulating.

Everything just works and “gels”. Ideas come strong & quick. I feel a rush of “good vibes” & I’m energised.

Mind feels light and inspired. Happy and full of energy.

Confidence and pleasure in just doing, almost as though it’s not you actually making conscious choices.

Energised, excited, like nothing can stop me.

Like you’re the master of all things creative and you’re unstoppable!

These creatives know what it feels like to work well, and so do you. Isn’t it a better alternative to working hard?

Don’t work hard. Work well.

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