The Twelve Labors of Hercules

Design is Not a Service

Learn from Hercules — The Horses Sh*t Too Quickly

I was thinking of design…
And the twelve labors of Hercules.

How as designers we sometimes wait for an assignment to perform epic feats, but waiting for an assignment is a trap. It means you are always subservient, never in charge.

Don’t do the assignment: instead solve the problem. Like when Herc was assigned the task to shovel all the manure out of the stables, and he realized it was an unending task. The longer he shoveled, the more time the horses had to drop more manure. The longer he worked, the deeper the crap. There was no way to shovel fast enough. So he went upstream and re-routed the river to wash everything clean. As designers — let’s move upstream. Let’s make our own assignments.

Let’s stop being a service — even while we work in service to our calling. Let’s move the river. Let’s flush the stables at scale. Let’s solve problems that matter. Let’s help each other get better.

Also hidden in the story is this bit about how he had to go steal the apples from the secret garden of Hesperides, but to do that he had to first figure out where the garden was located. To gain this piece of secret truth, he had to wrestle Nereus — The Old Man of the Sea — who was a shapeshifter. Most people were terrified when Nereus started shifting shapes, but Herc held fast, knowing it was just the same spirit in different forms. Eventually the shapeshifter relented, admitting defeat. As a reward for Herc’s courage, Nereus offered Herc a piece of truth (in this case, the location of the garden) — but for us — we seek a different truth.

Content (what an unholy word), art and design are but different faces of that same polymorphic spirit. As we wrestle our own shapeshifter, holding fast no matter what form it takes, the truth we seek is more than a click-through — that is a race we will never win — the horses shit too quickly.

The truth we seek is more fundamental. We seek the human condition. And if we ever succeed, that will be an epic feat.

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