Humility and Arrogance

Clay Shirky, who has made a name for himself by turning conventional wisdom on its head, has a provocative piece in this week’s A Brief Message:

“Arrogance without humility is a recipe for high-concept irrelevance; humility without arrogance guarantees unending mediocrity. Figuring out how to be arrogant and humble at once, figuring out when to watch users and when to ignore them for this particular problem, for these users, today, is the problem of the designer.”

Can a designer be arrogant and still have humility?

This question is particularly interesting for me. In 5 Principles to Design By, I advocated for humility, suggesting that the designer must get over themselves if they are to create a really great design. But now that I think about it, with Clay’s insistence, it might be possible to be arrogant at the same time. If Design is your muse, and you stop at nothing to create a great design, it might be considered arrogant. But are you putting your own values above others, or are you deferring to the Muse?

On that note, every time I watch an interview with the iPod’s designer, Jonathan Ive, I’m struck by his humility. Soft spoken, curious, and quietly confident. Yet we all know that the iPod would never have happened without Steve Jobs, considered by many to be extremely arrogant. Could that be it? Could arrogance and humility be the two sides of the design coin, embodied to near perfection by the Apple duo?

A Brief Message is a nicely done mini-blog site, consisting of 200 word posts and illustrations from designers and thinkers on interesting topics. A bite-sized portion for a YouTube world.

Clay Shirky, who has made a name for himself by turning conventional wisdom on its head, has a provocative piece in this week’s A Brief Message:

“Arrogance without humility is a recipe for high-concept irrelevance; humility without arrogance guarantees unending mediocrity. Figuring out how to be arrogant and humble at once, figuring out when to watch users and when to ignore them for this particular problem, for these users, today, is the problem of the designer.”

Can a designer be arrogant and still have humility?

This question is particularly interesting for me. In 5 Principles to Design By, I advocated for humility, suggesting that the designer must get over themselves if they are to create a really great design. But now that I think about it, with Clay’s insistence, it might be possible to be arrogant at the same time. If Design is your muse, and you stop at nothing to create a great design, it might be considered arrogant. But are you putting your own values above others, or are you deferring to the Muse?

On that note, every time I watch an interview with the iPod’s designer, Jonathan Ive, I’m struck by his humility. Soft spoken, curious, and quietly confident. Yet we all know that the iPod would never have happened without Steve Jobs, considered by many to be extremely arrogant. Could that be it? Could arrogance and humility be the two sides of the design coin, embodied to near perfection by the Apple duo?

A Brief Message is a nicely done mini-blog site, consisting of 200 word posts and illustrations from designers and thinkers on interesting topics. A bite-sized portion for a YouTube world.

Published: October 12th, 2007

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