Arrogance Among Us

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.

  1. I think arrogance is much more widespread than designer world. People are arrogant because that’s their personality–they inherit from the way they were raised and/or treated. There are arrogant designers, developers, police men, firemen, plumbers, construction workers. Arrogant people exist everywhere in every industry.

    Although, I find it funny that when designers start seeing traffic on their blog, write a book, speaking at every design related conference known to man, that they think they are hot shit. Maybe in the designer world which makes up .05% of the world’s population, but to everyone else you are just a designer – somebody who “makes things look pretty.”

  2. Even as a designer I don’t mix much in design circles. Relating to other people, whether it be in a social or professional capacity, is no excuse for attitude, rudeness or elitism. It’s silly schoolyard stuff.

  3. I know this all too well. I spend a good chunk of my time working in comics, and I’ve never encountered anything so ridiculously frustrating as the arrogant comics creator.

    For the most part, I’ve noticed that the truly arrogant, in comics and elsewhere, reside at what I’d call level 1A. They’re close to elite, but not quite there. Better than “us” and not quite “them”. And, man, they hold onto it.

  4. Khoi: Is this because I called you the master of the 50 column grid on stage? While it sounded like arrogant, anti-griddite hate speech, I really meant it. You are the master. I would like to commission you to line up my desktop icons actually. Giddyup?

  5. If there is anything I learned during my years at the fine arts college I majored from, is that successful creative types and a big, obonoxius, holier-than-thou ego, more often than not, seem to go hand in hand.

    Of course, designers are far from having the monopoly of arrogance: Most every profession that I can think of has its fair share of elitist assholes to boot, and a court of unconditional, rabid fans who keep them in a collective pedestal even if it is a fact that the emperor really has no clothes. I’ve known one too many “blogstar” cases who have fallen prey of this behavior, and considering the level of exposure you get from the design-centric blogosphere, it is a sign of relief to see you sticking your feet to the ground. Which certainly deserves my utmost respect.

  6. Success can unfortunately breed arrogance, and that applies to any given profession.

    I’ve seen it in designers, managers, footballers and just about anyone who gets any aspect of success. However I also see it in those who are not so much a success and in both cases it boils down to insecurity. On one hand you may have a designer on top of their game, getting tons of traffic on their site, being asked to talk at conferences* and there may be a simple fear that this could all fall down around them at any given moment.

    It’s not uncommon either to find young up and coming designers giving off some arrogance as they feel they may be found out to be not as “cool” as others may think they are.

    It’s just each to their own. I don’t find it very appealing and nor would I want to be seen that way regardless of what status I have socially or professionally.

    *I must say however that of all the guys that I have admired who have spoken at these conferences all of them bar none have been top guys and really down to earth.

  7. I know the type, and tend to steer clear for fear of issuing a well justified snide comment (at the least).

    Like some others have mentioned above, they tend to be apparent in all industries, but are quite prevalent in the creative fields.

    At the end of the day, ignoring them is the best you can do, and let them sit alone in their ivory tower/cubicle until they realise that they are also mortal and their farts do smell.

  8. I work in education, and if you replace ‘designer’ with ‘educator’ and ‘design’ with ‘learning’, you have captured the situation very well.

    What a universal rant!

  9. It’s true in sports too. In my experience, the truly good are friendly, normal people. The people who aren’t as good as they’d like to be, but just a bit better than all the us plebs, are arrogant. As Neal Shaffer said earlier really.

  10. A while ago I read an article or blog post about this very thing — or rather, how advertising aimed at the graphic design community is all about ego. Typical Adobe/Quark/etc. ads play up this idea of the designer as some superhuman being of unbelievable skill fighting an uphill battle against the forces of mediocrity and deadlines. No wonder some designers are assholes.

  11. I always think it’s funny when people get the Dwight Schrude-titus, meaning when they are given the slitest bit of authority they take it WAY out of control. I’ve worked with a few people like that. They get a small promotion and they start thinking they are the CEO…

  12. It just doesn’t make any sense for designers to be arrogant. You’re only as good to most people as the last project you did, and there is always someone better and worse than you. Hopefully people don’t confuse “authority” for arrogance though. There are some people who have storied careers who are entitled to spout off on design a little bit more than others might be.
    I hope the arrogant designer isn’t at the New York Times though. Some of the best — and nicest — graphic artists are there. I all but worship Matt Ericson and Archie Tse. I hope this other designer doesn’t give the Times a bad rep.

  13. Perhaps some of these people (and I’ve also met my fair share) subscribe to the French/Fusion Restaurant mentality:

    “If I treat you like shit and give you the appearance that you don’t deserve what I have to offer, you’ll come crawling to me on hands and knees.”

    There are a lot of potential clients in the business that eat that kind of thing up. It’s a terrible thing sometimes but hey, target audiences are target audiences.

    Of course, when it comes to arrogance to peers (particularly peers who are “proven”), well…that’s just being an asshole 🙂

  14. I’m no hot-shot designer, but I think designers start off catering to the whims and fancies of their clients. (your favourite colour is blue? OK, we can do that) They then discover that if you exhibit some authority on the subject, clients are easier to manipulate. (blue isn’t in vogue right now, green is).

    Many designers, as well as metro-men wannabes, etch out a living by making design as esoteric as possible. You keep at this long enough, arrogance is merely an extension of what you do everyday.

  15. Just wanted to add that there’s a difference between ego and arrogance. Truly talented people are often pretty aware of their comparative superiority to their peers, inflating their ego and their self-confidence. This kind of ego can easily be channeled into helping, uplifting, and encouraging their peers — without such an ego, many talented people are too humble to even feel like they deserve to be listened to, or that they are qualified to set an example for others.

    Self-confidence becomes arrogance only when this awareness manifests as rude or insulting behavior towards one’s peers (or, of course, when the self-awareness exceeds the actual talent).

    In short, humility and politeness are good things, but self-respect and confidence are important, too.

  16. I think people have nothing to excuse

    if they work hard, have talents and it serves them well , then they can be arrogant, piss you off, mock you into oblivion and I don’t care.

    do your job man, no excuses.

    well, I think some people have right to be arrogant. they don’t care about your feelings. they are not nice and cuddly. but are they good ? is their work good ? are they talented ?

    if yes, I can live with them trashing me with disdain when I will use their work.

  17. While I agree with your remarks. I think sometimes people are misunderstood as being arrogant when they are merely excited and eager.

    However, I am sure you have not confronted or told this person they way you feel, instead you have taken the time to talk about him or her with others – not allowing them a slate to learn on, rather be ridiculed by their co-workers.

    I believe, if this individual is burdensome enough that it forces you to write a blog post, maybe try talking to them and hear their side of the story?

  18. I think you are all forgetting that designers have to put up with all kinds of crap from people all day long who think they are designers too. The subjectivity of the issue makes it pretty prone to irritation, and just because someone is your boss doesn’t mean they are right when it comes to design.

    I don’t tell people who work for me that their stuff is crap (even though if I tried doing the same thing it would come out 10x worse), and then say that they should be humble. The irony is rich.

  19. Well said nate!

    What you have said certainly rings true with my experience as a designer.

    Designers have to fight hard to convince clients of designs which are by nature subject to opinion!

    It is often the case that investors, techies and other non-designers simply cannot appreciate the true value of good design as its effect on the overall success of a site is difficult to measure.

    Design is not like a science where you are dealing with absolutes and positive right and wrong solutions to a problem and such is the difficulty of being as designer.

  20. Designers are a dime a dozen and very few of them actually warrant being arrogant pricks. Even fewer are truly visionary. After all, most are just pixel pushers or glorified desktop publishers, very rarely creating anything new or substantially useful to society.

  21. Looks like you have lifted the lid on a subject that truly strikes a chord with people. They have all come out now!

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