On behalf of the graphic design industry, I apologize.
Dennis Michael

Don’t apologize on my behalf

This is a response to a recent post by Dennis Michael. Dennis is a friend and absolutely entitled to his own opinion, but I had a reaction reading his post that was strong enough to spur me to respond.

… I was thinking a lot about the industry. I began playing back memories I had; conversations with designers, the websites that designers set up to complain about clients, blog posts, etc. Everything I read was always finger pointing back to you — the client.

Dennis associates his personal experiences as an epidemic of the industry. I can’t fault him entirely for this as I’ve been guilty of using personal experience to make broad conclusions as well. I think it is a little presumptuous, however, to make such an offensive conclusion. I believe the vast majority of designers value and respect their clients, myself included.

Then it came to me. The nightmare experiences you received from a graphic designer is not your fault. Being ripped off by a designer is not your fault. The price you paid for crappy results is not your fault. How the designer treated you, was not your fault. I know right? Sounds like Captain Obvious!

That does sound obvious! I don’t think anyone will disagree that getting ripped off, whether it’s by a designer, or someone else is ever the victim’s fault.

We are to blame.

Whoa, okay hold up. Frankly, condemning an entire industry for a few bad apples is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing as a community. After all, does a good dentists condemn all other dentists if a particularly bad one pulls the wrong tooth out of a patient? No! The bad dentist might be called out as a bad dentist, but the good dentist would not declare the entire dental industry to be full of wrong tooth pullers.

This industry has been playing the victim for quite sometime. We feel like we have to undercut one another to make a buck. We are more worried about making a profit than delivering a superior result. We are constantly pouting about clients not valuing our services. We whine about being mistreated and bullied by our clients. We are more concerned about personal accolades than creating success for you. We complain about not being paid for what we are worth. We are more worried about protecting ourselves than protecting you. We constantly give the stink eye to spec sites and design contests. It’s quite pathetic really.

There are a lot of arrows being shot here, but I won’t address them directly. Instead I’ll argue that designers have not been playing victim or pouting, they’ve been doing work. I think the evidence is all around us. I’ve personally noticed a lot more attention being paid to design online and off. I’ve noticed communities emerge where design assets are shared and given away for free for the betterment of the visual world around us. Software and hardware are increasingly beautiful as more attention is paid to design. I suppose you could be pessimistic and say everything is shit, but I think designers are kind of rocking it right now.

The $5 logo designs, the $20 brochure services, the contests, the branding projects for peanuts was all created by us — the graphic design industry. The overpriced services with mediocre results. The billable hours. The extra fees. The personal awards. The cocky attitudes and wannabe rockstar mentality. The defiance to understand you and your company’s problems. Our defensive attitudes… it’s all on us.

Logo factories and cheap design services are symptoms of a problem. I don’t claim to know the cause, but I do think the proliferation of graphic software, and easy access to platforms on the web has made it incredibly easy for people to pretend to be designers and sell the results for cheap. It’s irresponsible to blame the design industry. We didn’t create cheap design. After all, it goes against everything designers stand for: That good design is valuable.

We let this all happen because we have no idea what our purpose is. Instead of truly understanding what it means to be a graphic designer and the important role we play in your company, we have decided to worry about our own well being instead of yours. The energy wasted on complaining and whining should have been spent on educating you to make a better buying decision. We opened our doors to snakes. They took advantage of the situation and we did nothing to stop them. We should have stood united instead of living divided.

Any designer who knows their worth knows what their purpose is. It’s not to educate clients. It’s actually to demonstrate a competency in being able to communicate messages, themes, moods, ideas, concepts, etc. that the clients can’t or don’t know how to communicate themselves.

I am really sorry that the graphic design community is divided and cut throat. I am sorry that we are doing such a terrible job at educating you on our industry and how-to hire our services. I am really sorry that we are blaming you for our problems when we should be looking at ourselves. I am really sorry that we do not stand together as group, share ideas and innovation to take our industry to new heights. I am sorry for the $5 services trying to pose as superior products. I am also very sorry for all the crappy experiences, wasted time and lost money you endured.

I’m not sorry because there is nothing to be sorry for. I’m not sorry if clients chose to use cheaper alternatives. Budgets exist for a reason and if I don’t fit in theirs, then it just wasn’t meant to be. No hard feelings. I am not going to apologize for my quote, nor am I going to blame clients who would rather spend a little less. That’s not my call. I’m also not sorry for not being part of some collective or “group” meant to elevate the design industry because I frankly don’t think clients care. I’m also not sorry if a client had a bad experience with another designer. Bad business relationships happen. If it happens, learn from it, but make no mistake, it didn’t happen because graphic designers were out to get you.

My industry will not collectively apologize for all our wrongdoings right away. It will take time. There will be many who will resist. Many who will scoff and look at people like myself as delusional. You will hear them argue in defense. Probably throw me under the bus or try to discredit what I am saying or worse yet, make it personal.

This seems like an attempt at martyrdom. Look, the graphic design industry is not perfect. Like many other industries, there are weaknesses and room for improvement, but as a whole, I think we’re doing a good work. We didn’t commit some genocide. We didn’t extort anyone. We, as an industry and as a community have nothing to apologize for. To insinuate that we do is to paint with a very broad stroke.

I vow to remain positive and open. I vow to never be one of these fear based individuals. I vow to continue to educate you and my colleagues. I vow to share my knowledge with my colleagues. I vow to create and seek out like minded designers to create a new community that exemplifies what graphic design truly is — visual problem solving that inspires and creates success for you, the client. I vow to do a better job for you.

Dennis vows to remain positive, never be fear based, and to be selfless despite writing a post that is negative, fear mongering, and self-serving. He vows to seek out communities that exemplify what graphic design stands for, despite spending paragraphs throwing them under the bus. I don’t believe this was Dennis’ intention. I do believe he had good intentions. But good intentions do not excuse irresponsible words.

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