On designer humility

The latest much ado about nothing on the Internet: Blogger Joshua Blankenship has written a pot-calling-the-kettle-black diatribe against Dustin Curtis's apparent lack of humility in criticizing American Airlines. He seems to think that Dustin should be a little more humble in his criticisms of such a large, immovable corporation whose complexity seemingly exceeds that of a very good designer.

I call bullshit.

A humble designer is one who affects no change indeed. Designers should be less humble. When engineers or business guys or management or *anyone* makes a product lousier, they should get up and shout, and raise hell. Designers should NOT 'know their place.' Because if the powers that be keep their power, then we will continue to live in a barely working cesspool of compromises and bad experiences.

Apple wins because the guy who cares the most about user experience happens to run the show. And last I checked, humble wasn’t really a word you could use to describe him.



16 responses
Apple wins because the guy who cares the most about user experience happens to run the show....love this line and it goes for all the giants out there great thoughts...
It depends on who you're working with. I doubt most corporations could survive an IDEO debrief let alone handle a brash designer who knows their stuff. Why do you think Steve Jobs spun off his own company? Probably because he couldn't stand the fact that he'd have other people telling him what to do. Similarly, I think that's why freelancing is such a huge field. Those people don't want their designs to be dictated. So they have the freedom to walk away from a contract if the client sucks.

But definitely, if you're a good designer, take criticism and use your judgment. You should ultimately have the final say on the project if it's going to turn out well. Normal business people have no sense for design or usability, and probably have conflicting interests if anything ("hey, make that sign up button HUGE, it should flash, pop, and make sounds").

I don't see how "humble" automatically equals "affects no change" or "does not speak up in the face of fail." Having humility doesn't mean you're a pushover; it means you don't think you're better than everyone around you or in your field.

Yes, designers should speak up. And yes, they should be more humble when they do it. These things are not mutually exclusive.

(Also, hello. I quite like Posterous.)

Joshua -- I think its mostly about being uncompromising. I have seen compromise inside large organizations, and it is not pretty. It smothers great products and great ideas.

And as much as I hate to say it, most organizations don't listen unless you really a) put your foot down and b) are kind of an asshole about it.

actually it's humorous to read when people say that Steve Jobs is not humble. You're obviously one who's never worked with or for the guy and never seen that side of him.

But for those of us that have and have seen him grow over the years, he shows that side more than you think and it's something that helps Apple move forward and not be stuck as it was when Spindler & Sculley.

The thing about Steve is he looks at things from angles you'll never see. He's not the designer but he does have a knack for putting himself into that space of "how would this work best or feel best for me if I were to use it". So many people in business fail to do this simple exercise and then wonder why their company fails, or their website fails. And when he does this exercise it's not from a place of cockiness or arrogance, but rather one of being humble and seeing things from all sides.

Then the fun begins when he challenges you to step into your excellence and make things happen, make changes, improve things and strive for perfection without expecting a pat on the back. That's the part that people find difficult. Steve knows you can do what he asks, he only wants you to realize it and achieve it, without needing that back pat. And when you do get one from him, it's an amazing feeling.

But for those that never experience all that I just described, well...sorry you were not around the man. He's a pretty great guy no matter what's written about him.



There are several profiles of Steve Jobs, particularly by Leander Kahney. These tend to cast Jobs in a light of being harsh and anything but humble. Whether or not he actually is may be a different story, but for people who read about him, that's the impression they receive, and people close to him (such as Woz) have confirmed that the portrayals from movies like Pirates of Silicon Valley were very accurate. A direct quote from Woz himself:

"The personalities and incidents are accurate in the sense that they all occurred but they are often with the wrong parties (Bill Fernandez, Apple employee #4, was with me and the computer that burned up in 1970) and at the wrong dates (when John Sculley joined, he had to redirect attention from the Apple III, not the Mac, to the Apple II) and places (Homebrew Computer Club was at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) ... the personalities were very accurately portrayed."

Perhaps Jobs has changed since then.

I 100% agree with blankenship's sentiment (as articulated as a comment to this post)

Designers should speak up. I am constantly amazed and impressed by quality designers' work. I'm not an aspiring designer, but I guess it's a hobby or interest of mine. As I've come to the attention of more designers, a significant amount of designers come off as arrogant pushovers. I get you know your craft and are impressively good at it, but acting like your solution is the be all end all is off putting to me.

It's not hard to sound like this, and when you constantly do it, people will undoubtedly think you are like that in whatever you do, thus becoming a "hostile" individual. I don't think that Dustin Curtis or a lot of these designers lack humility, but because they can come off so abrasive, people believe they aren't - and conclude they aren't PERSONALLY humble, or humble as a person.

Humility with respect to not speaking up should not be encouraged in any field (you should know when to be, however).

Personal humility is extremely important. There are way to speak up without coming off as having a cocky s.o.b., and it just reuquires a bit of a "human" touch.

When that doesn't work? THEN you can speak up as loudly as you want.

(I really hope this made sense)

To me, The Steve's demeanor is not at all about arrogance, it's about intolerance for people's desire to press the easy button. Steve's function is to slap all hands that reach for it until a masterpiece like iMac is born.
Okay, I read Blankenship on Dustin Curtis and his lack of research and lack of humility. All Curtis did was act like a friend telling a friend; "Hey Liz, you have some lipstick on your teeth."
Yes, pot called kettle black.
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