Written on Thursday,
December 16th, 2010
(A Response to an article published in AIGA on December 15th, 2010)
Once about a decade ago I belonged to what I thought was a necessary, helpful, prestigious organization of profession designers from https://huemor.rocks/. I thought the group would be a support to the cause, purpose, standards and community of graphic design (and designers); the AIGA. What I found was quite different.
When I was in 7th grade my family moved from a country town on the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware to Overland Park, Kansas. I had never lived anywhere else, and now was hundreds of miles from familiarity. Though I’m not sure why, my parents decided to send us to public school — not a big deal to most anyone, except that up to that point I had been going to a Christian school. Say what you will, but it was all I knew. The small classes, the small building, the dress code. Being thrown into a school 15x the size, with a class as big as my previous school; you could say I was intimated.
The worst part of my day was lunch. Walking into that massive cafeteria. The new guy. Junior high. I knew no one. So I sat alone at a table on the outer edges. I didn’t fit in, and many of the kids let me know. I wasn’t a part of their elite. Eventually I transferred to back to a school more familiar (after night after night of crying and pleading with my parents). So what does this have to do with the AIGA? Well, it’s a large, intimating crowd of elites. Having attended several meetings, classes, etc in the mid-90s I learned quickly if you didn’t work for someone or with someone, you were no one. You didn’t matter. As times have changed, the profession evolved (giving power to individuals to achieve great things without the need for a large agency) has steadfastly remained stoic and unchanged (not unlike the traditional publishing companies who now are floundering to figure out why they’ve failed to succeed in this digital age).
The AIGA isn’t to blame, we are. Designers. See, most of us designers are a strange group. Often we were the creative, awkward kids who doodled and drew and never quite fit in. We grew up to want to be artists, but either realized we didn’t have that certain insanity, or didn’t want to be desolate and poor (which is ironic, because that’s typically how you start off as a designer, except you get a “paycheck” from a “company”). And some of us were self-learners, monkeying around with code and learning how design as we go. Either way, we’re not the usual class of person (which isn’t a bad thing at all). We don’t mingle. We don’t socialize; not outside our comfort of friends and other creatives (for the most part). We’re’re not always great at community.
Dribbble came along about a year ago (for me anyway) as a fun project for Dan Cederholm, which turned into a quickly growing community of designers merely wanting to connect and share. That’s it. Share their work. Share their ideas. Maybe get feedback and learn. I’ve found it to be that on many levels. I’ve also found it to be a the perfect blend of social media community growth and micro-learning.
So how does the AIGA get Dribbble so wrong? Let’s start with their primary assumption as to the goal and means of design:
“… dig a little deeper and it isn’t too difficult to come up with a lengthy list of how this kind of sharing harms the design profession and paints us as hypocrites. Graphic design is a strategic exercise in problem solving targeted at a specific set of people. … Every new client means discussions about building trust, the value of appropriate feedback, understanding of project goals and our individual and shared responsibilities.”
The assumption that design isn’t for sharing with other designers is myopic at best. If anyone has ever worked in a studio with other designers, you’ll know that your design will be critiqued and viewed by others (not necessarily directly involved in the project/client). The fact that field has morphed from loft space studio agencies where “drive-by” critiques were common, to a virtual community doesn’t change that practice. That’s what made working for agency so great — the feedback and community that fostered learning and challenged perspectives.
The greatest fault of any designer is to discount feedback merely because the person providing feedback doesn’t know the intricacies of the project goals, objectives and limitations. But YOU DO. It’s your responsibility as a designer to filter feedback. Just because someone isn’t privy to your information doesn’t mean the feedback can’t be valuable. Any designer worth their salt understands the aesthetic feedback versus strategic communication goals that inform those decisions. Just because someone suggests something doesn’t mean you have to do it. On the flip side, if you’re an isolated designer (like me) or a young, learning designer that feedback can educate and inform your design decisions and expand your palette of tricks, ultimately helping your client with a more unique and targeted design solution.
As designers we should be embracing any community that seeks to edify, educate and engage all it’s members, not merely the chosen elite who can afford $300 a year to listen to “superstars” tell stories about things 80% of us will never come close to accomplishing.