by Dan Mall

21 Apr 2012

At Grok, I had the privilege of sharing a thought that’s been on my mind for some time now. Since starting my own business, I’ve been blessed enough that I can choose the types of projects I take on. That choice never comes lightly, as it often has financial, emotional, and spiritual benefits and drawbacks.

It’s definitely an important time for design. Lately, I’ve noticed a trend of many talented designers looking to do something “bigger,” whether that’s doing more meaningful client work, joining a startup, or creating their own products. Brooklyn Beta really exposed the great opportunities to help organizations like charity: water, be disruptive in stagnant markets, or kickstart the reformation of the United States healthcare system.

I was raised to believe in moderation; too much or too little of something is often a bad thing. If everyone’s helping to solve a global crisis, who’s left to help the local mom and pop shop get their business off the ground with a small new website? If everyone’s reforming healthcare, who will create that silly iPhone game that will bring my daughter hours of enjoyment?

When I was contemplating starting SuperFriendly, I thought very hard about the type of work I wanted to take on and how I would describe it. I landed on this tagline: “Defeating apathy and the forces of evil.” While it’s a bit silly, I really do believe in it. It serves as a reminder to me about why I’m doing this in the first place. Defeating apathy is about creating more enjoyment in the world, whether it’s making my wife laugh or entertaining a whole nation. Defeating the forces of evil is a constant challenge to leave the world a little better than I found it with every project I participate it. Will this create pollution… environmentally, digitally, or otherwise? Will I harm someone physically, emotionally, or psychologically? Will our planet have been better off if I never did this? I was convinced that if I kept this as my focus, I would be doing my part, regardless of the scale of that impact.

At Grok, I rhetorically asked my group whether I was shirking my responsibility if the impact of my actions wasn’t large. In retrospect, I wanted affirmation. Instead, Tyler Mincey called me out. He said I was absolutely neglecting my obligations. He reminded me that this is the most opportune time in history because we have immediate influence. I can send 140 characters into space and a small army’s worth of people are ready to argue, agree, fight, discuss, or activate at a moment’s notice. And, if I take that tremendous ability and squander it on creating the next fart app, then yes, I’d be doing a disservice to myself and all the people I could have helped.

Damn you, Tyler.

I continually struggle with this. I want to work on the whimsical, the first world, the "let’s make good even better" stuff. I want to groan and whine when Netflix streams at medium quality instead of high, and I want to count it a huge success that I convinced a client to choose that particular shade of orange… you know the one. But there are other kinds of work that are important.

I still believe in balance. In that discussion, Rogie made a great point that if you’re hungry, you can’t properly feed others; if you’re not whole, you’ve got much less of yourself to give. I agree wholeheartedly. I believe that there’s an equilibrium. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but at least I have a different way to look at my work.

With great power, and all that jazz.

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