Conversations Worth Having

A couple of projects crossed my desk recently that have made me stop to think.

The first was a website for Islamophobic group. The first result of a web search told me the organization was an identified hate group in multiple countries, and barred from entering Britain. I didn’t think twice about writing back to the potential client and explain that I wouldn’t quote on the project because I found it offensive. It bothered me that a fairly successful studio based here in Toronto would take on work like that. The studio’s response was that this was the last political website they’re doing.

The second website bothered me slightly at first, but not really. It wasn’t blatantly offensive, but was negative in tone and focused on a foreign political candidate I know nothing about. It wasn’t until after I finished the site that I really thought about it and realized that it wasn’t something I’d be willing to put in my portfolio. While site didn’t really bother me, I couldn’t get over the fact that it wasn’t adding anything positive to the world. It was simply negative, with no substance beyond that.

I brought this up in an email with a good friend of mine, and indicated that I might turn down political projects going forward. It was easier, I said, to simply turn down all political work than it was to try to explain why I would or wouldn’t take a given project.

But in writing that email, I basically talked myself into doing the opposite.

The work we do represents us. By refusing to address politics and other controversial subjects in our work, all we’re really doing is admitting we’re not strong enough to stand up for the things we believe in. That lack of conviction speaks just as loudly, if not louder, than any political statement we could ever make. These tough conversations may be the only conversations worth having.

I’m fairly new to freelancing, and my client base isn’t established yet, so turning down work can still be a tough mental hurdle, but I’m realizing if you wait until you’ve made it to establish your principles, they’re not really principles, they’re conveniences of success.

— I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Mike Monteiro. Though it had escaped my mind when all of this was happening, everything in this post he’s been saying for years, much more intelligently, and was included in his book Design is a Job. His book was one of reasons I felt confident enough to walk away from a steady job with a safe paycheque and start my own gig, even with a mortgage and kids. Apparently I might need to read it again.

Posted September 6, 2013 at 2:02AM