By now I’m sure most of you have seen Phil’s recent Saturday post in which he invited readers to help create a baseball uni design for a Tennessee high school. What you probably haven’t seen, however, is a comment that reader Scott Misner posted very late that night (I didn’t see it myself until Monday). It goes like this:
Hey, just want to throw out a notion here about these design-a-uni contests. It’s all fun and games to pull this kind of thing together. But people get paid thousands of dollars to do logo design and/or uniform design.
Okay, so those designers at Nike, Reebok, and the NBA often show their limited skill sets. But doing spec contest work for “goodies” devalues the design profession.
Sure, a bunch [of readers] are going to submit their designs — caring less [about] whether they get any real return value. That’s cool. Your choice. But realize it devalues the profession. And the next time a business “doesn’t get it” when you work to articulate the value of graphic design, realize you perpetuated that lack of appreciation for an art form.
Lastly, I hope you allocate that same amount of resources to your local Boys & Girls Club, YWCA, or other nonprofit programs with this type of need.
I assume Scott is a professional designer, although I don’t know that for sure (he didn’t write back when I e-mailed him to ask for some background context). In any case, his comment raises some very interesting questions. What does “devaluing” mean, especially in the age of Wal-Mart and the internet? If something can be easily devalued, does that mean it was overvalued? Is there anything wrong with doing creative work on spec? What is a fair price for design (or for any skilled work)?
I confess that I approach these questions with a certain bias, which I’ll explain like so: From 1987-1993, I edited graphic design books, and I often had to read design magazines as part of my job. Desktop publishing software was just coming into vogue at the time, and the design mags were full of articles that basically said, “These laypeople, they have no idea how typefaces work!” and “We can’t let just anyone design a pamphlet — they don’t know what they’re doing!”
Of course, many people using early desktop publishing programs didn’t know what they were doing. But it was pretty obvious that the people writing those design articles 20 years ago weren’t concerned about preserving the state of typography, or whatever — they were concerned about laypeople (that’s really the term they used) suddenly having access to the tools of the design trade. Their exclusive club was about to get a lot less exclusive. Aside from the economic implications of this, many designers at the time were clearly offended by the prospect of the rabble being able to choose their own fonts.
Over the subsequent years, I’ve noticed that designers frequently fall back on this sense of self-importance. (As an example, check out this book review I wrote in 2002.) And while I could be wrong, I sense a similar whiff of elitism coming from Scott’s post. He’s basically saying, “Don’t try this at home — leave it to the professionals.” That’s a good argument when you’re referring to, say, medicine or law. But there are good reasons not to let laypeople practice those professions — that’s why you need a license to engage in them. Maybe Scott thinks designers should have to be licensed too.
Personally, though, I disagree. I think good things often happen when beginners and enthusiastic amateurs mess around with the ideas in their heads — that’s how we got zines, punk rock, outsider art, etc. And if they choose to give those ideas away at below market rate, it doesn’t mean they’re not “get[ting] any real return value” from their work — sometimes value comes from a sense of fun, satisfaction, and accomplishment, and that’s every bit as valid as the value in a $3,000 fee.
Fact is, computers and the internet have changed the rules for creative professionals. Blogs let anyone be a published writer, YouTube lets anyone be a filmmaker, and, yes, design software lets anyone be a designer. But if someone starts a blog about uni design, does that “devalue” my work? Personally, I just see it as competition, which is something no professional should resent or be afraid of — it’s part of the creative environment. Now, granted, my work is available for free, so there’s no way for a blogger to undercut me in terms of price (at least not until I put this site behind a pay wall, which is something I hope I never have to do). But I’d like to think that my work is good enough to hold its own in the marketplace. And if it’s not, well, tough shit on me. My career isn’t an entitlement, and neither is any designer’s.
Scott’s most intriguing point comes toward the end: “[T]he next time a business ‘doesn’t get it’ when you work to articulate the value of graphic design, realize you perpetuated that lack of appreciation for an art form.” Again, this sounds fairly elitist (and note how he’s now elevated design from “profession” to “art form”), but Scott’s implicit point — i.e., giving away the store for free ultimately contributes to design illiteracy — rings true. It’s similar to my obsession with the apostrophe catastrophe, a punctuation problem rooted in “laypeople’s” use of word-processing software. In short: If you don’t have professional gatekeepers upholding some level of standards, those standards will go down the crapper.
I could go on, but I’ve rambled enough here. What do you think about these issue? Discuss. And Scott, if you’re reading this, thanks for raising these issues — excellent food for thought.
November Raffle: A guy named Jeremy Yingling recently started a design operation called Infojocks, which comes up with interesting graphic approaches to sports statistics. He’s recently begun selling three new posters, and I have one of each to raffle off. First-place winner will get his or her choice from the three poster designs; second person gets choice of the remaining two; third person gets the third poster.
To enter, send a blank e-mail with your name in the subject line to the NEW raffle address (note that this isn’t the old raffle address or the regular Uni Watch e-mail address) by 10pm next Monday, November 9th. One entry per person, but anyone enrolled in the Uni Watch membership program at the time of the drawing can send four entries. I’ll announce the winners next Tuesday.
iPod? What’s an iPod?: I’ve put one last batch of vintage indie singles up on eBay. Coming soon: a few select LPs. Stay tuned.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Mark Messier wore an Edmonton Oil Kings jacket to the World Series. Plus he appears to have become a conehead (with thanks to Chris Gundry). … I think we’ve seen some of these before, but check out these great ski jumps erected in stadiums (with thanks to Ben Traxel). … Interesting logo query from Susan Freeman, who writes: “A recent issue of SI had a photo of Jonathan Toews that showed him sitting at his locker. The Blackhawks lockers have a black-and-white rendition of Tommy Hawk, and the B&W logo really makes the facial features stand out, to a point where the war paint looks like letters. Is this a hidden signature from when the logo was redesigned in 1964? Or does it somehow say Tommy Hawk?” I’d never heard this interpretation before. Anyone..? … Yesterday I linked to this varsity jacket operation. Now the man who told me about that company, Steven Tatar, has provided a bunch of photos of the factory itself — great stuff. … Lots of great old Idaho/BSU rivalry photos in this slideshow (with thanks to Chris Salove). … When the System of Dress was introduced a few years back, remember how the Nike models were shown wearing striped and patterned undersleeves? Ohio State’s David Lighty appeared to be wearing one of those undershirts at a recent practice (good spot by Nick Houser). … Chad Cate notes that Marshall has a running back named Darius Marshall, which creates an unusual SNOB situation. … What’s that tat? Look! Lots of additional pics here. … Seattle forward Nate Jaqua had to wear a plain blood jersey after being kicked in the head and subsequently bleeding on his jersey a few nights ago (with thanks to Matt Beaudin). … Next time anyone says I complain too much about corporate sponsorships, I’m just gonna point them here (with thanks to Brinke Guthrie, who no doubt will miss Texas Stadium — that’s him in November of 1971, shortly after the place opened). … Georgia Tech usually wears white at home — but maybe not this Saturday. … Dozens of great 1940s Washington Huskies photos here (big thanks to Phil Amaya). … Here’s the Babe in a different kind of uniform (great find by Alyssa Miller).