We designers like to go against the grain. We’re not like the others and definitely not like Bob from Accounting.
We spend a lot of time at work, where we continuously learn about new facts and opinions. It’s impossible to fact-check all of it and form your own views on little one of them.
And when you surround yourself with people who behave a certain way every day, it’s impossible to not pick some things up. It may not even be consciously and it can be in any area. It can be an attitude towards politics, about being friendly at all times or about the type of joke you make when somebody makes a mistake. It’s only a matter of time before you’re making a decision, Bob from Accounting will be one of the voices inside your head offering opinions.
Now I never had a coworker called Bob, but:
- I never wanted to see myself as a consultant, but when people put me into that category, I tried to meet at least some of their expectations.
- I worked at companies that had very high quality standards and you bet I made sure to work meticulously and take pride in things like parametric design systems that should avoid any error.
- I always considered writing slides a waste of time. Then I worked at an organization where that was considered important. I gently rebelled against that, which was easy, because all other designers did so too (always gently). But now I’ve left consultancy, I’m quite proud of knowing how to make a corporation-friendly deck that gets a message across.
Our work defines our view on our profession and ourselves. So I bet that if you work in advertising, you’ll be around people convinced of the existence and importance of libertarian free will. And that you’ll pick up some of the attitude that goes with that. If you do projects for a hamburger chain, at some point you’ll probably have to stop caring for the suffering of certain animal species. If you work in aviation, at some point you may start to argue that flying is actually good for the environment.
I love it when people say they want to change an industry from the inside by applying for a job there. But with Ghost World, Daniel Clowes made me cautious of that approach. I mean look at this guy John:
Because I was about the characters’ age when I first read Ghost World, I didn’t really know why it wouldn’t work, except that John looked silly, with his suit and tie. His problem isn’t so much that as an entry-level worker, one’s impact on ‘things’ is small. It’s that an industry becomes dirty despite the people working there wanting things to be better. And that by the time you’re a ‘big-ass corporate fuck’, you’re just like the others.
Because design is about innovation and improvement, it may appear that our purpose in a company is separate from the business school people’s. Aren’t we innovating and improving the world with our designs?
The reality is that most of our employers’ bigger goal with our designs isn’t to make the world better. It’s to grow their business. And when we help them to do that long enough, it becomes hard to remember that it isn’t necessarily our goal.
This was just one the reasons for why your choice of employer is so important. Read The most important question in design for more.