The Demise of Self(ish)-Promotion

I used to think that doing good work would be enough. I used to think that if I continued to put everything into my designs, that would mean something. I used to think that design was about… well, design.

I was wrong. I like how Kari Patila said it (in a discussion that sparked this post):

“To address the prime problem in a broader sense, isn’t it true that in this supposed community everyone is equal only if you don’t measure it? Most of the good work goes unnoticed because the people working on it aren’t important enough. If the community only pays attention to a select group of people the advances in the industry become the unwanted burden of the few.”

There have been a few good discussions about the world’s best designers being unknown. I agree that there are a ton of unknown designers doing fantastic work out there somewhere just focusing on what they do best. Good for them. I wish I could just do that, but it’s not enough for me. It’s not enough because I want designers to be appreciated for their craft again. I’m certain that many, not all, of the well known people in the web industry didn’t look for this level of notoriety. They did it for the craft and to make the changes they felt were necessary to create a better web. It was bound to happen to people like Jeffrey Zeldman, because he helped shape this industry.

“Being a famous designer is like being a famous dentist.” Noreen Morioka

What I feel is creating a failure in our industry (especially for the newer generation) is the notion that fame equals success. Creating a strong personal brand and self-promotion is important to an extent. It can’t be the ultimate carrot at the end of the stick. Currently there seems to be more respect for being known, for being known. The work, not so important. The issue I have with such a focus on self-promotion is if everyone is talking about themselves, then it’s not a real conversation. The result is the state of design today and how we focus on the end products and ignore the ideas that got them there. We celebrate those who are on the must follow on Twitter lists, because they have a lot of followers and so they must know what they are talking about. We gush over the latest trends splattered across the blogosphere and learn those, not the thinking behind them.

We need more people like Andy Rutledge. Andy discusses things that matter because I think he simply loves design and wants to share that. The design knowledge he fills one article with is more than what is available in the archives of most mainstream design blogs. Maybe I am exaggerating just a bit to make a point. The quality of his style of articles though, really does go a long way. The content that Andy writes is the content designers need to be reading (and writing). Sure those other blogs serve up a lot of content, but it’s made to be consumed quickly and drive traffic. I’d much rather read one great article every week instead of the 50 that land in my feed daily.

In reality what we seem to find mostly is self-promotion via design entertainment. Entertainment is only in the moment. When we look back in a few years, the list of “50 Designers to Follow” will be long gone. People like Zeldman or Andy will still be here, pushing the community to the next level. Being involved in a design community like Dribbble has opened my eyes to many talented people in the industry that are not known, but should be.

I hope that someday we’ll care more about the craft again, and recognize the work of the unknowns.