TLDR: Should you work for free? No, unless it is for your Mom.
TLDR: Should you work for free? No, unless it is for your Mom.
You’ve probably heard some variation of the story before (erroneously attributed to Ozzy Osbourne in Wayne’s World 2):
…Van Halen’s standard concert contract called for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms backstage, but with provision that all the brown candies must be removed. The presence of even a single brown M&M in that bowl, rumor had it, was sufficient legal cause for Van Halen to peremptorily cancel a scheduled appearance without advance notice (and usually an excuse for them to go on a destructive rampage as well).
According to Snopes this is true, but not for why you might expect.
Quoting David Lee Roth:
Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.
The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . .” This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”
So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.
The lesson: read your contracts. And don't underestimate Van Halen.
One for the Less is Better file, Bobulate asks us to consider the effect of pauses within design:
Walter Benjamin reminds us “architecture is experienced habitually in the state of distraction.” So when a structure that’s always been present on your daily walk suddenly becomes an empty lot, your definition of space and flow changes — there is a pause. And the surrounding environment takes a new form.
Revisiting an old story, Slashdot has a few links that suggest 3D television might have adverse affects on people, particularly children.
Sega uncovered serious health risks involved with children consuming 3D and quickly buried the reports, and the project. Unfortunately, the same dangers exist in today's 3D, and the electronics, movie, and gaming industries seem to be ignoring the issue.
There’s an easy test for evaluating design professionalism. The quality of your client experiences is directly proportional to the quality of your professionalism. If you have “stupid clients” it’s because you’re behaving stupidly to begin with, for we attract what we project. If you’ll stop being stupid, your clients’ IQs will increase dramatically.
Some bad ethics-related press for Dell. It seems they tried to cover up a hardware problem with some shady behavior and got written up in the NYT:
Documents recently unsealed in a three-year-old lawsuit against Dell show that the company’s employees were actually aware that the computers were likely to break. Still, the employees tried to play down the problem to customers and allowed customers to rely on trouble-prone machines, putting their businesses at risk. Even the firm defending Dell in the lawsuit was affected when Dell balked at fixing 1,000 suspect computers, according to e-mail messages revealed in the dispute.
The broken components had an estimated 97% failure rate, and they're not even going to fix their own lawyers computers? I'll say this: they stayed committed to their own story. To fix the computers would be to admit there was something wrong with them.
In one of the best articles I read this week, Steve Friedl shares his experience as a technology consultant. But I think there is much to learn here for anyone who runs a very small business dealing directly with clients (i.e. freelance designers like ourselves).
I'll share one maxim of Friedl's -- of the ethical variety, in keeping with our theme:
Never, ever lie or fudge on an invoice
If you are ever caught — or even suspected — of funny business on the financial front, you will not be trusted anywhere else. It is impossible to give a customer The Warm Fuzzy Feeling™ if they are wondering about the legitimacy of your invoices, and this is fatal to a customer relationship and to ever getting a good reference.
This is not to say that mistakes on an invoice won't happen, but how you deal with them will tell a customer a lot about how you do business. Your goal should be to overwhelm them with integrity.
We've been thinking recently about our business practices here at Design Less Better, so this recent speech by John Thackara really hit home for me.
It meanders a bit, but excluding the environmental stuff early on, I can appreciate at least three points he made about the business of being a thinker:
This is not at all the point of Thackara's speech, but it's something I appreciate nonetheless as an insight into the process of how such a person works and an indicator of how important passion is in being successful at it.
Love this wonderful German (yet English-speaking?) ad. Clever!
Essentially, it boils down to design less better.
Rather than follow the mantra of "release early, release often", the Dropbox team focused on a set of limited, but useful features that worked beautifully out of the gate. This high level of polish for a free product helped retain and gratify users who then went on to market the software to their friends.
Speaking as a user, that's exactly what happened to me. Dropbox is limited compared to the many other file-sharing sites out there, but this also makes it simple to use. And Dropbox does it so well that I can't help but recommend it.
A recent post from 37 signals had this nugget, which is not an original observation, but bears repeating nonetheless:
[People don't want "content"] What people want is opinions, analysis, techniques, experiences, and insights. The best of all these come as a by-product from actually doing stuff.
One might rephrase this as: make things, not content.
Time to follow that advice...
Careless designers all too readily sacrifice truth for the sake of aesthetics.
Smashing Magazine calls out designers' statistical illiteracy with a Showcase Of Bad Infographics.
This article from Social Media Examiner describes 7 psychological principles that can help your content get people's attention.
Last, this Fast Company article has a number of interesting perspectives on the postmodern practice of branding.
Next to the economics of peer-to-peer recommendation, the old paid-media model looks like a scam. You have to ask yourself how an industry employing so many creative thinkers at such high salaries has, on the whole, gotten away with so much crap for so long. Imagine if all that creative problem-solving power was re-channeled?
FatWallet ran a story last week about some "creative" photography resorts use in their advertising. Hotel review site Oyster.com, which encourages users to send their own photos of hotels, has a gallery full of examples.
Of course, it's the photographer's job to make things look as good as possible, but it's a slippery slope.
MIT newspaper, The Tech, ran an interesting opinion piece this month about a student's ethical dilemma in Dubai. But it's probably not what you think.
The story is not about Dubai or the culture there, but rather the troubling practices of a consulting company the author worked for after leaving MIT:
...[C]lients usually didn’t know why they had hired us. They sent us vague requests for proposal, we returned vague case proposals, and by the time we were hired, no one was the wiser as to why exactly we were there. I got the feeling that our clients were simply trying to mimic successful businesses, and that as consultants, our earnings came from having the luck of being included in an elaborate cargo-cult ritual.
Ars Technica asks: Is it ethical for journalists to accept an free trip to Hawaii, in order to view presentations from a game company?
I would add: what about the CO2 from all those trips? Hawaii is a long ways from just about anywhere.
Okay, so this one is not related to design or business ethics, but as a story about ethical complexities, it made me stop and think. Apparently, oysters are okay for vegans to eat.
I thought vegans didn't eat any animals or animal products. It seems I didn't understand vegans or oysters.