When I was younger, I strongly believed in the ethos of compassion and help. As I’ve aged, this has worn away. Often, I now find myself muttering, “damned idiots, dammit, damn, damn.” It’s not particularly eloquent, but it’s my best. As an example, I am completely supportive of design for good, and positive social change. Design is a sharp tool and should be used to make a better world. I do not, however, believe design for commerce is bad and should be hidden away in shame. Too often, we can fall into the trap of only taking on events that promote design for good. But the subtext here is that the work for commerce is less relevant. This only communicates the idea that we are less worthy if we are not designing websites for recycled DIY bamboo huts. Nothing is less true.
As I’ve said, before, we have the chance to make life better for others with every project (assuming you are not designing neo-Nazi newsletters). If I do a job well, the client does better. The employees keep their jobs. They put braces on their kids’ teeth. The orthodontist can send his kids to college. This is no less positive than promoting social causes.
Saul Bass was a designer who understood the balance of design for good, commerce, and cultural change. When I am feeling especially cranky, I am reminded of Saul’s generous nature. On our first day in the studio back in 1994, the first phone call was from Saul. “Congratulations,” he said, and, “What can I do for you two?” He didn’t need to do this. But this encouragement gave us the confidence to plow through the most difficult times. If Saul Bass considered us worthy of a phone call, we couldn’t be that bad. Now, I try to do the same. I do this not because I feel honor-bound or think it will absolve me of previous crimes. That small act made a huge impact on Noreen and myself. So rather than worrying about designing only for Greenpeace, we try to help in smaller day-to-day ways.