In conversation the other day with one of the CDs who work for me, we concluded that designers fall into one of two camps:
On the left side of the spectrum, a designer might be quite talented, smart, know their trade up one side and down another, but still they lack confidence in themselves and the things they do.
On the opposite side are those who walk around like their you-know-what doesn’t stink, pontificate, berate, humiliate and go to great lengths to tell you how wonderful it is being God’s gift to humankind.
Why such a dichotomy?
For those on the left-hand side, I think some of it is personality. So many designers are quiet and introverted by nature.
Also, many designers are at their core frustrated artists, who did not feel that they could survive in the world solely by making their art, so they chose the more commercial and stable path in order be creative while sustaining themselves. While there’s nothing wrong with having chosen that route, in doing so you’ve already compromised yourself by admitting that you are not good enough.
Having a client – or some other authority/benefactor to answer to – can be damaging to the spirit as well. Unfortunately, there are a lot of really rotten people out there who will do and say things just to tear others down. Being an artist at heart, designers put a lot of themselves into their work, so when criticism comes their way it’s hard to not take it personally. You have to have a thick skin, or in other words, confidence.
Software has made producing the work much easier. Design is no longer as arcane as it used to be, where designers created magic on drawing boards with an X-acto, a Rapid-i-ograph and other obscure tools of the trade. When I first started out in the business, newsletters were still bread-and-butter for many design firms. But with the desktop publishing revolution in the late 80s and early 90s, that work dried up as it was brought in-house for an admin to handle rather than pay for a professional designer. Not that you’re exactly sad to see that kind of work go, but it certainly knocks you down a notch knowing you’re lumped in wth the secretary pool.
You have probably noticed we’re in the middle of another such revolution with designing digital properties.
There’s a lot to dive in here, but let’s wrap up this portion with one additional thought: When it comes to creative work, everyone thinks they have good taste and an good eye. Everyone has an opinion. If the boss’ eye isn’t that good and they happen to have no taste, this can make a designer’s life miserable. Working hard doing bad work is definitely a burden on the spirit. Unfortunately, at one time or another, just about every designer works for/with a very toxic person.
Now. let’s look at the other end of the spectrum.
In my experience, there are very, very, very few individuals I have worked with who had a huge attitude yet still produced great work. People who are mostly attitude are trying to make up for inadequacies in other areas, be they in the heads or in their pants.
I’ve always had a simple rule when it comes to handling these people: You are welcome to have a big attitude, but you’d better have the game to back it up. If the work is anything less than exception … well, we will have words.
My advice to the right side of the chart: If you are going to be a god, be a benevolent one. Use your mighty powers for good. Don’t show off, instead share your knowledge. Rather than being bossy, choose to a leader. If you cannot help yourself and still want to be an asshole, do something to create a positive impact on the world.
We need all types of designers. Strive to find balance between the wallflowers and the gods.