Help Me Help You Help Me Help You

There may be two sides,
but it’s all one coin!

This is not a Seth Godin-inspired rant demanding innovation-or-death. (I’m actually growing skeptical of The Cult Of Innovation these days.) Instead, I’m writing from the perspective that its important for those of that have been around the block to help beginners 1) know what they’re getting into, so that 2) they maybe don’t have to make the same stupid mistakes we did.

Partly, I write this because I legitimately care about graphic design. I’ve invested almost two decades into this relationship and I’m admittedly protective of everything the design life-path/career/obsession has become to me. One of the more ridiculous but closest-to-truth metaphors I can (or hopefully will) make is that Design Is Family. We love our families, even though sometimes family does some really stupid shit from time to time, and in return, family lets us slide or calls us out (as appropriate) when we contribute our own strokes of anti-genius.

One way families help each other is simply sharing the truth: the good and the bad, in an honest and open way. Design, unfortunately, has been so under attack over the past 10-plus years that many of its “elders” instead maintain the veneer of “success” with no mention of the many, many… many failures that go along with it. The design blogosphere has evolved into a ritualized circle jerk of ‘faking it to make it’ that, at best, has kept the biggest brands keeping the biggest studios afloat another day. At worst, the distorted reality these — unmediated — stories present are irrelevant, mythical, even toxic, examples of a careerpath, possibility and potential that doesn’t actually exist. As the sheer size and weight of the design laborforce grows, this distorted perception serves to continually bend the limits of real design practice.

In this environment, many young designers are conviced they will be the next Jessica Hische. That their current job doing email newsletters for a real estate brokerage is not real design. Older designers wonder when they can take their septannual year-off like Sagmeister. We choose these exceptions as our norms. Calling attention to this makes you a spiteful cycnic. In reality we just really need both sides to chime in: Mike Monteiro is just as needed as Debbie Millman. Freelancers listing themselves as CEOs need to mingle with Chief Cook-and-Bottlewashers.

I had a brief Twitter dialogue with Chuck Anderson recently. It was encouraging that he was speaking about this very topic: the value of sharing failures. I don’t know Chuck, and rarely put my opinion out on socal media, so I was pleased that he, as a prominent design star, agreed with my 140-characterized version of the above.

Maybe we’re seeing a shift towards reality. Maybe ‘authenticty’ is becoming more than a buzzword or ammunition in our collective content strategies. Could it be possible that for clients to begin taking designers seriously as Creative Business Partners (rather than Guardians Of The Photoshop Button) we just need to start being, I don’t know, more human?

I’ll begin publishing some of my more colossal failures here on this blog. My goal is to make it more an exercise in personal responsibility than another tired “Clients From Hell” knock-off. Design is a collaborative relationship, so there can’t possibly be a situation in which one party is entirely to blame. If anything, they should make for an entertianing read (if you’re into torture porn), but, I can hope, they may just be some of the most instructional design tutorials you read in 2014.47 min