Dear readers: The incomparable Seth Godin has been Before & After’s friend and foil for maybe 20 years now. He has pushed us to keep our art unique, graciously lent his praise to our book covers, and even written a short series of editorials for us, which, like design, are as pertinent today as they were when they were new. I reprint one for you here.
When the tail wags the dog
By Seth Godin
Actually, it doesn’t matter one bit to me whether you’re any good at design.
If you’re reading this magazine, the odds are you are. You’re probably very good. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is whether you can sell design to your clients. What matters is that you’re able to implement the great ideas, instead of settling for the mediocre stuff that clients insist upon.
Have you ever seen an incompetent extension cord? An incorrectly mixed jar of mouthwash? An inferior gallon of gas?
Just about everyone thinks that we need to focus on the stuff we make. Just about everyone is wrong. The stuff we make is fine. We have everything we need, and everything is good enough.
On the other hand, have you ever been in a building where the architect did a bad job? Have you ever decided not to enter a restaurant because the lighting and look didn’t feel fun? Have you ever bypassed a magazine because it looked boring?
It turns out that design has too long been a poor stepsister. Design — (graphic design, product design, space design, interface design) the freelance work that you can get without a degree, that doesn’t pay enough, that has not nearly enough status — is no longer just a nice plus. Design is all we’ve got!
If you want someone to switch from a product they like, the only choice is to make a product they love — and that’s the work of the designer. Designers make things that create emotion. Designers create boxes and ads and brochures and buildings and steering wheels that we love.
So why do designers go last? Why aren’t you invited to chime in before the dies are cast (literally) and the budgets are set? Why doesn’t the board send the CEO to a design seminar at Parsons so she can understand how to make things people will love?
For too long, people who are passionate about design (that would be you, Before & After reader) have accepted their lot. They’ve assumed that they should shave their hours, discount their fees, do their work as journeymen and then move on.
It’s completely acceptable for designers to grumble about lousy clients. We apologize for our work, saying, “Well, it’s the best the client would let me do.” You should be ashamed to say stuff like this. Great design is not a luxury, and a compliant (even enthusiastic) client should not be a rarity.
We now have an obligation to sell our very best work.
No excuses. Go do it.
(Those of you with the Before & After Master Collection have all of Seth’s editorials. This one appears in issue 37, page 7.)