As a developer, I know that awful feeling where you show a client/customer/constituent your work, and they ask you to make tweaks that they consider “easy changes” which for you are “complete architectural redesigns.” A large driver of this is the fact is that they don’t understand the amount of work that goes into building an application. They can’t really. To do so one has to fully understand the application architecture design, building, and coding process. In most cases to understand that you have to be a developer capable of it. If you are a developer capable of it, why are you hiring others? All this leads to the guy or gal in front of you asking you to change “just this little thing.”

People do it because people tend to think anything they don’t know how to do is easy. I think this is because our touch points with each other’s disciplines are so small and shallow. Our work is all icebergs. There is a little that can be seen, but underneath the surface it goes on and on.

What does this have to do with design?

The other day a typography site named launched. I follow a couple of the founders, and thought it was a cool idea. Then I happened to read a blog entry from the guy who designed the logo. (He’s John Langdon by the way, who did the ambigrams for the Dan Brown novel Angels and Demons.) In it he talks about the logo and the process of creating what is essentially a custom font for it.

Look at the logo. Did you have any idea that there were volumes and volumes of thought behind that logo, dating back to the invention of the printing press? I certainly didn’t.

Which leads me to think about the hundreds of fonts on my system (working for Adobe has its perks.) Each one of them contains some measure of this thought. Each of them is an iceberg too.

This leads me to think that every design comp I’ve ever seen is also an iceberg with hours of thought and volumes of reference and knowledge behind it. Makes me wonder about the push back I’ve given.

This does not lead me to say that all of these icebergs mean that I should not criticize other people’s work, or ask for changes. Volumes of content condensed into the wrong logo are still wrong, as John Langdon’s post reveals. It also does not make me naïve enough to think that every comp has had hours put into it, just that there are hours of expertise leading up to it.

It leads me to the thought that we need to be more mindful of the fact that what other people produce is not only what we see, but the accumulation of their expertise. We as developers need to see it when we look at the work of designers. We also need to see it when we look at the work of other developers. Once we do that we just need to go out and convince the rest of the world to look at our work that way. How we do that is a mystery to me, but I suppose it starts with doing it ourselves.


6 thoughts on “Icebergs

  1. It seems to me that the key factor in whether we appreciate it how hard it is to accomplish something is whether we have ever, in earnest, tried to do that thing ourselves.

    In the abstract, I’m pretty sure that I can fix a leaky sink, argue a case before a jury, design a logo, design a website, build a picture frame, write a technical article, and change a spark plug.

    In practice, after trying many of those things, I’ve found that I can really only do one or two well.

    The problems arise when I hire someone to do something that I’ve never attempted–in these cases I’m most likely to ask for something they think is unreasonable, or they’re likely to charge a fee that I think is unreasonable.


  2. It doesn’t have to be this way, and I have had better experiences than the iceberg experience. All it takes is a little intelligence and a little respect on the part of the customer – they don’t have to understand what I do, they only have to understand that they don’t understand what I do. If they understand this, they begin with an inquiry. I’ve had customers who’ve come to me and asked for my opinion: “Is this a good idea?”, “What are the pitfalls?”, “What would you advise?”, “How long would it would take?”, “Do you have time?”. When a customer asks me these questions, I know that the relationship is going to be a good one, and I am never shy about advising them to do or not do their idea. Customers who treat me with respect in this manner always get the best service.


Leave a Reply to Richard Davies Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s