One of the things I’ve come to love most about the design community is this infectious sense of camaraderie that seeps into almost every crevice of the culture. It’s the sharing of ideas over various chat clients, critiques offered in the safety of friendships, and the opportunities to meet face-to-face over the intimacy of a shared drink or amidst the hustle and bustle of a conference. Those moments where we’re able to be more than a faceless part of a larger whole.
And while it’s not always sunshine and rainbows in Design-ville, these are opportunities that aren’t widespread across all of working culture. They’re practices that are easily taken for granted.
For some reason, (probably for the sheer potency and social traction of said commentary) it’s become increasingly popular to bemoan the design culture as a whole: To find the more troubling tendencies and exploit them as a preachy tell-all that journalistically exposes the seedy, self-aggrandizing nature of the community itself. As if, by airing this dirty laundry, we’re effectively inspiring a change at the heart of those doing the most damage by the utter brilliance of our personal convictions.
But most of these pieces do little more than raise a clenched fist in condescension—turning aimed sights on a particular group of people that, clearly, doesn’t include ourselves. We patronize an entire community on the assumption that they’re too dense, too divisive, and too self-involved to fully grapple with the depths of their own depravity.
None of this is to say that these concerns and complaints aren’t valid or warranted, but in place of an actual discussion on the subject, we trade discourse for assault; instead of opening a conversation, we declare war on an entire community.
We, in effect, take a concern that can be incredibly powerful through the right lens, and lose those who need to hear it most—not because what we have to say isn’t important—but because the way we’ve said it is immediately rejected upon reaching its final destination. No, the argument isn’t invalidated, but it may have been substantially neutered in its potency by the chosen style of delivery.
Generalizations are easy, but they’re also dangerous. They trade accuracy for cheap efficiency.
Your commentary and critique on culture is likely a needed voice, but you’re potentially losing those most needing to listen by launching into a full scale rant that outright attacks a people group.
Maybe what you're saying is exactly what we all need to hear, but how you're saying it is causing complete deflection on any possible introspection.
It’s only made worse by the fact that once these articles do make their way to digital publication, there’s a resounding “amen” across the design landscape that’s anything but self-reflective. As if everyone is above the noise and the interference. As if we’re all somehow beyond the darker parts of our own consciousness. You’d think that with so many nods of agreement, “hoorah”s and “hooray”s, there’d be no one left in the actual culture to be the intended targets of these pointed poachings.
As if we’re casting down judgement from our own lofty tower to the feeble miscreants below.
The truth is, we can all do the right things for the wrong reasons and even the wrong things for the wrong reasons. There are parts of my own self that are just as self-important, insecure, and petulant. I’m a constant work in progress that’s hurtling towards my own potential while hitting plenty of rocks along the way. I’m only just beginning to offload some of the baggage I’ve collected along the way, but I’ve got further still to go—with no end in sight. And it’s been those moments of grace that have affected more change in me than the whole of damnation combined.
Insult is great for shock-jockeying, less so for making a dent on the cultural conversation.
Of course, that’s not to say there’s not room for growth within the walls of the Design culture. We’ve got a whole host of issues that need to be fixed—and fixed now. Gender equality in tech is worth more than a thousand conversations on whether or not people should be doing unsolicited redesigns.
If you’ve got some energy to invest, considering putting it into places that could really use your voice to affect real, substantive change.
Changing an entire culture can’t be done alone and sweeping the more troublesome parts of our community under the rug isn’t going to inspire any actual revolutions. But in order to make a real impact, we’ve got to be willing to occasionally put down the torches and pitchforks and opt for an actual discussion.
After all, maybe design culture isn’t a frozen shithole any more than the rest of this world is.