Design Not Known

Let me cut to the chase. There’s a growing trend among graphic designers to create a name for themselves among their peers. And it’s not healthy.

Usually it starts off with good intentions. Some designer at company x or freelancing y begins reading design blogs. Then they get the idea that they could do the same. They stretch their wings out a bit and start their own blog. People start reading it. Traffic to the site rises. They promote their work. It’s good. They get featured some place big like name-your-favorite-design-blog.com. A bunch of people start coming to their site and leaving nice comments. After a year or two of this, the designer comes up with something that gets their foot into the door of design stardom. Might be a Web 2.0 application or a really helpful tool or the-next-big-thing insight. They’re invited to speak at SXSW-NXPDQZ conferences. They appear in HOW. They write the book everyone wants to buy. Shoot, maybe their “style” actually starts a design trend. How wonderful.

I know I’m over exaggerating a bit here, but the spirit underneath it all is to exalt the self…your self. How do I know? I’ve been tempted to travel this road too. You won’t find it slapping you in the face like the story above, but you will see “Your Way” road signs in more subtle ways. Take the term “personal branding”. Personal branding involves discovering our selves, our passions, our goals, our capabilities, our mission, our focus, our target, our customers, etc. We set it to paper. We try to live by it. Personal branding can manifest itself in branding statements for yourself that look an awful lot like the mission and vision statements of old. Personal branding comes to life in carefully sculpted clients, work, websites, articles that bolster and enhance one’s personal brand. There’s just one problem with all of this: us.

You see personal branding and all the other forms of exaltation you find in designdom today are centered around self. How does MY site look? Here is MY playlist? MY blog’s now in 9Rules. So-and-so even bigger named designer reads MY blog. MY work was just featured on umpty-ump. And the list goes on. I should know. I’ve fallen into most all of these myself.

Design is all about others, not us. Design is a servant, not the star. Design is outward focused, not inward. So, to all those designers who no one knows or will ever know; who are slogging it out in the trenches day in and day out serving others without a note of “look at what I’ve done” fanfare being played: I salute you. Keep going. Resist the urge to jump onto the “try to get myself noticed” wagon and keep serving others.

6 Responses to “Design Not Known”

  1. Frank McClung

    Adrian, I agree with you for the most part. I sometimes overstate my case to make a point. Blogs are not evil. Helk, what’s BLANK anyway?

    I do wonder about being known for talking rather than doing the work. Does Milton Glaser have a blog? No. Stefan Sagmeister? No. I almost find that the better and more well known a designer’s actual work is, the less they need a blog. Thus I might concluded that design blogs have the primary focus of self promotion.

    Interestingly, I’ve found that all my efforts at self promotion have failed miserably. I think your work and the testimony of your clients are enough to generate business.

  2. mearso

    Interesting post. I think the issue you’ve raised is one of status. Alain de Botton’s book Status Anxiety, nicely demonstrates that status is something that we all crave to greater or lesser degrees.

    It goes to the centre of who we are and what we do. I guess it can be reassuring if status is confered upon you by those you admire, but you then have to work to maintain that status.

  3. Frank McClung

    Nada. Of course, B L A N K’s intent is to be a community blog that explore’s the heart and soul of design (vs a personal blog site). And 98% of those who read B L A N K are designers. So, I wouldn’t expect anything to come from it. This may sound very odd (it does to me at least), but the Lord seems to send be business out of nowhere at just the right time with just the right client.

  4. Adrian

    There are definitely some downsides to blogging, but I don’t think self promotion is one of them. Designers making a name for themselves among their peers isn’t anything new, and I don’t think it is inherently unhealthy.

    “Design is all about others, not us.”
    Agreed, but you are never going to design anything if you don’t make a good effort to promote yourself.

    It is easy to let the popularity of a blog go to your head, though. It is also weird to be known for talking about design instead of the actual design work you do. Overall, though, I think blogging does more good than bad for designers and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking advantage of the powerful tool of blogs.

  5. Adrian

    “I sometimes overstate my case to make a point.”

    I thought I was the only one who does that! Hey, have you found that your blog generates business for you? I have only gotten nibbles out of my blogging. Nothing big.

  6. katharhino

    I’ve only worked as an in-house designer (for non-design related companies) so far. Therefore I can’t really speak from experience. But I’m wondering if some of this isn’t born of fear. Design is a difficult field to be really successful in. People we work with often don’t understand what makes good design. And it’s even scarier for freelancers (I think, looking on from the outside). I mean, just the prospect of making a living freelancing is very risky. It’s not a sure thing, like, say accounting. (Accountants may be just as subject to pride, but they don’t tend to have trendy accounting websites to discuss accounting theory–not that I’ve noticed.)

    So besides just human sinfulness and pride, I wonder if we’re not scared that no one will ever notice us, or that we won’t get enough work, or that we won’t be able to support ourselves and our families.

    I love blogging as a community connection. But I’ve also noticed that the design community can be trendy and sometimes exalts things that don’t make sense to the average person.

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