Artificial Conversations: Shitty Work

| Shannon E. Thomas

Like many agencies, The Artificial starts every week with a meeting to preview the upcoming week. This meeting covers project status, BD, and important calendar events. It is accompanied by breakfast. This week, we added something new to accompany this meeting: a design-oriented conversation.

This week’s conversation was inspired by friend-of-a-friend Femke’s blogpost about shitty work. The TL;DR is that designers publish too much perfect work. Rather than seeking critique, we seek validation, and even the platforms that were originally created with the idea of sharing work in progress have become places to share polished portfolio pieces with the hope of raking in the likes.

It’s notable that none of us thought this to be untrue. So the conversation evolved from talking about the many problems to brainstorming some approaches for solving them.

Nobody wants shitty work to haunt them.

In her early days at university, Natalia created a self-portrait using gradient meshes. It looked like a pancake. At one point, any image search for her name would bring up that gradient-mesh-pancake self-portrait. This shitty work was haunting her.

What if publishing work in progress didn’t mean publishing permanently? Ariane brought up how her friends and family use Instagram Stories. Actual grams are more permanent and perfect, while stories are spontaneous and temporary. Knowing that shitty work would expire might help designers post more of it.

It’s hard to publish shit in a world of perfectionists.

Kamila was recently approaching her first post on Dribbble, and was confronted with a message about her first post or debut being super important. The pressure was on. She needed to make it count.

There was no way Kamila was going to share anything short of perfect. When Dribbble was originally created as a platform for sharing work in progress, this scenario seems like one they wouldn’t have imagined.

Manjari shared that she had noticed that people seem more comfortable using platforms like Tumblr to publish work in progress. Perhaps it’s the open-endedness of the platform and the variety of different user bases (from perfectionists to novices and professionals to hobbiests) that make creators feel comfortable publishing less-than-perfect work.

To this same point, Hans brought up how developers often share code within small teams. The sense of shared responsibility creates a safe space for sharing and for getting meaningful feedback. Perhaps we shouldn’t seek a large social network to get feedback from strangers, but rather create small groups and networks of valued peers.

Shitty work needs meaningful feedback.

Once the shitty work has been published, a new problem springs to life: shitty feedback. No amount of likes, hearts, or positive comments will save shitty work from itself. Rather, shitty work needs meaningful feedback to overcome its shittiness.

Stack Overflow ensures meaningful feedback by ranking its users by how valuable their input is. By making popularity less important than a reputation for helpfulness, they ensure that comments are meaningful to users.

But becoming a user with a high reputation requires investment, and is challenging in more subjective fields. Ariane mentioned that it might be helpful if the designer who was publishing could guide the conversation. For this, a designer might use polls (which are the new Stories IMO) to get input on a specific topic.

Did this conversation change anything for The Artificial? We’ll certainly continue sharing our shitty work with each other internally, and maybe we’ll even start telling more of the process stories on our blog…