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What's Goin' On?

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“Is it just me or has the vibe on type twitter gotten increasingly hostile in the last year?”

That’s a question I received a few weeks ago from a colleague. This is somebody who everybody knows, trusts, and respects. “It’s not just you,” was my answer.

There’s an aroma, an odor wafting around our community for the last year or more. It’s a slightly sulfuric, rotten smell, and it’s coming sometimes from people and places where it really ought not to.

What's Goin' On?

There is some hostility in our discourse online, among our community. We could be nicer to each other. We could choose to not to share a negative opinion when we have nothing positive to say. We could be more generous with praise, and more respectful of the opinions of others.

I'm not linking to examples, because we all make mistakes from time to time. But I've shared this sentiment with enough of my peers to know in my bones that our community is falling a bit short of our aspirations for how we behave online.

Why is this happening? What does it mean? Is it something endemic to the type world, or is it part of a general trend on the internet? Or in our culture? 

The type industry has plenty to be upset about. The reports I’m getting about the general trends in business are, for the most part, not encouraging. And there’s enough bad news in the world at large to put anybody in a foul mood. Maybe that's partially to blame, but it's no excuse.

There’s also cause for tremendous optimism. Here, I'll give some examples. This year at TypeCon the board did an amazing job of shining the brightest light on the diversity in their program of speakers. While the results aren't perfect, the transparency was astounding and an extremely welcome development. This is an incredible accomplishment.

Another item: When I see pictures of graduating classes from Type@Cooper programs, or when I look around the room at TypeCon or Typographics, I see faces that better represent the spectrum of people that we want to see in our community. I’m so proud to be a part of this industry when I realize how many people have worked so hard to improve diversity throughout it.  

A Reminder

I want to offer a reminder to all of us: If we choose to tolerate, enable, apologize for, or ignore a toxic, discourteous, intolerant, or unkind environment — we’re sending a message to that new community of colleagues. And we are sending a message to the people who have been working their butts off to welcome them into our line of work. And that message is: We don’t care.

I know you do care, and if we all make an effort to show it, we can drown out the bad vibrations. Give somebody positive feedback. Offer to help out with a resume or portfolio, or with a job search, or with their job. Create safe spaces where bad attitudes are not welcome. If you’re not already, try to get yourself into a mentoring role. It feels like a million bucks.

We all make mistakes. Everybody has a bad day, says something they don’t mean, or chooses words that they later regret. It’s never too late to take responsibility for an error, or to make a choice that bumps the world back towards the direction you want to see it go. Life is full of opportunities for you to give a boost to somebody who has it a little bit tougher than you do.

One of my very wise clients made a great analogy. They pointed out that it sometimes seems a little bit of accomplishment goes a long way in making one feel comfortable punching down on the internet. He said: Once you’ve achieved some success, don’t pull the ladder up behind you. Reach down and pull somebody up along with you.

Ladder Down!

For my part, I’m going to make sure I’m keeping the ladder down. Starting this coming week I’m going to start offering free 30-minute 1:1 consultations by Skype, starting this coming Friday September 20. I consult on topics like career development, sales, marketing, resumé writing, client problems, pricing your work, things like that.

Free sessions are first-come, first-served for the first 10 folks to register. Email mjr@bizlet.org. Please include a few words on what you’d like to talk about, so I can be prepared.

There are a lot of people out there working harder than me on diversity, inclusion, and keeping our community kind and respectful. I want to thank them all for their efforts. It means everything that these people have chosen to work so hard to make this business a better place for all of us. I don't want my grumbling to detract from that. 

Thanks for reading. 

—Matthew

"ஆடுகளம்" by Logeshwaran Rajendran is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Matthew Rechs