Design View | Articles and opinion on design professionalism, technique and culture by Andy Rutledge

Values vs. Compromise

August 7, 2011

It’s probably difficult to find legitimate reason to be at once honored and repulsed by one thing, but I often experience this oddly-mixed emotion. It is not a good thing.

It happens about once a month: I get an email or phone call invitation to chuck the business I’m building and come to work for someone else. Sometimes the invitation comes from someone at an established company and sometimes a startup in the early phase of development.

In either case, as I mentioned, it’s exciting and affirming to get such a nice invitation out of the blue. Certainly more so, given the less-than-robust job market we’ve had for the past couple of years. Affirmations aside, it’s horrifying that someone would be so thoughtless or so ruthless—Machiavellian even—to believe that an employment invitation from a well-known industry figure or a company with a top-shelf brand would be enough to get a business owner to shirk all responsibility and turn his back on his own business and employees.

All other factors aside (and there are others), I could never in a million years stoop to working for someone who has such low regard for personal responsibility and commitment. Equally repulsive is the idea that someone would seek to employ someone who would make such an irresponsible, callous choice. Apparently, honor, responsibility, and integrity are traits neither possessed nor sought after by some folks and certain sorts of companies. When you think about it, you’ll probably throw up a little in your mouth. At least I hope you would.

Nextgigitis

Back in the early and mid 2000s I began to take issue with the shabby state of design industry business. Few designers and developers I knew or read about seemed concerned with building something solid and honorable or making any sort of commitment. They all seemed more concerned with chasing down every new opportunity they thought could increase their income. Likewise (and perhaps as causality) I observed that agencies and studios were more concerned with burning through staff than in seeking the best and working to build something consequential by keeping them. The result was an industry that was all very transient and noncommittal; though “exciting” was the term used by many involved.

It was an exciting time and the result was, of course, a culture of irresponsibility and distraction. Trust and commitment, it seemed to me, were seldom if ever assumed by any involved and I very clearly remember most of my peers making regular reference to and musing about what their next gig was going to be and what it would do for them. From many reports and my observations, their next gig usually meant that they’d spend another 3 to 9 months finding dissatisfaction and dreaming about their next gig. Congratulations.

Unjustified

The result of this flighty and hedonistic behavior by both employers and designers helped to forge the largely-unprofessional state of affairs we have today in the design industry. It also exacerbated the contemptible idea among designers and future and current employers that personal responsibility can be ignored when pursuing what we want…so long as it results in our getting what we want. This is in part what necessitated that I publish my treatise. “The end justifies the means” is an unhealthy and immoral standard for any endeavor. But when used to tempt or lead others into personal corruption it becomes particularly vile.

When and if someone tries to lead you away from responsibility you must immediately recognize it for what it is: corruption. Expediency is not something toward which to aspire or with which to find accord. Avoid it in favor of what your values make clear is right. But be careful of how you characterize your values: If you are true, it’s a lie unless you are ever true. If you are responsible, it’s a lie unless you are ever responsible. If you have integrity, it’s a lie unless you avoid compromise and corruption at every step. If you offer value, it’s a lie unless your character describes you as entirely reliable.

Your personal integrity matters. It matters almost more than anything else in the world, for if you lose yourself you’ve lost your ability to bring value to your relationships and work. Never let someone lead you away from your integrity; not for money, not for experience, not for affirmation. If your integrity has a price, you never had it to begin with.

So to those who would want me to throw in with you and think it a minor inconvenience that I own a business and employ a few people: you’re wrong and you’re contemptible. Please direct your Machiavellian idiocy elsewhere. Or better yet, reflect on your life and work to acquire some respect for integrity.

Stop working so dilligently to bring corruption into your enterprise. Seek the values you wish to acquire, not simply the names or skills your desire. Skills can be taught, but values were acquired long before a person was employable. If you want to build something worthwhile, it must be built upon integrity. If you seek to build something by sidestepping integrity, ask yourself: just what is it you're building?

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