is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
This afternoon I was chatting with a friend of mine about a graphic designer that we both know, and, maybe feeling a bit petty, we were remarking on how monumentally arrogant is this person. It got me thinking about how amazing it is to me when I encounter this kind of person — rude, disdainful and superior designers who can’t afford common courtesies to those below them in professional or social stature. When confronted with this type, what I invariably think in my head is, “Why are you so high on yourself? You’re just a designer.”
In no way am I trying to discount the social or material consequence of our profession; I’m as big a proponent of design’s singular, critical role in the world as anyone. At the same time, I try to remember that nothing that we do as designers is so important that it excuses us from being nice.
Aside from a very select few among us, we all earn our salaries in a service profession, after all. Which is to say that our job is to provide our labor — our design expertise — in service to others. By its very nature, that sort of arrangement demands a certain humbleness. With apologies to Yogi Berra: design is ninety percent talent and hard work; the other half is people skills.
And speaking of those select few: I’ve met a handful of the cream of the crop, those who practice design in a manner that might be described as ‘with impunity.’ To be sure, arrogance is well represented among them, but there are some stellar folks who happen to be extremely approachable, friendly and level-headed — and some of these folks happen at the very top of the industry. If these designers can bother to maintain humility even at those great heights, some of these lesser gods among us surely can too. I look up to the ones that can. Fuck the others.+