Post #700!: Accepting Mediocrity

I wasn’t planning on having an article about mediocrity ready for my 700th post but that’s how it worked out!

As the ability to produce and share has become more and more accessible to your average user there has been a lag in the creativity and quality output that is out there.

Not everyone is a graphic designer, videographer, photographer, writer, or skilled communicator. Nor does everyone have to be. It’s great that someone can take home-movies on their phone and send them to relatives on the other side of the country or planet to help them stay connected. But it’s important to learn that you shouldn’t try to do more than you can. I’m not saying you shouldn’t push yourself or explore new possibilities but sometimes if you try to do things you really don’t know how to do your project suffers for it.

It can be seen everywhere. Look at the number of so-so or even bad photos that show up on Flickr or the shakey, low-quality videos on YouTube, or the websites that are almost painful to look at. Kim has been searching for art teaching jobs and has shared with me some of the just plain awful school district websites that she’s come across. They’ve been so poorly designed and it’s often impossible to get any useful information – unless reading the lunch menu from the week of February 26th, 2001 is exactly what you’re looking for (some sort of chicken sandwich on Thursday, as I recall). Not only has the right info not been available in a usable way, everything else has been so distracting that it’s made her not want to look further.

One of our clients is an organization that covers the entire state of New York and we’ve been their tech and a/v people for a number of years. We’ve done countless projects with them and helped communicate their message to their people across all sorts of media. Lately the trend has been a switch from me updating their website with information and coming events to them sending me self-produced PDF fliers to just post on the home page. They don’t have a graphic designer on staff but once they got Publisher and Acrobat they’ve been sold on creating everything as a PDF themselves.

They’ve seen my work. They know what I can do, and have done, for them. They know that we’ve always been fair with pricing and have had a good working relationship over the years. The change has been that they realize that they can do it themselves for free. It may not always be fast as they troubleshoot their issues and it may not be pretty since they don’t know any principles of design (like color combinations, readability, etc.) but they can do it themselves and they can do it for free.

Occasionally, when I’m meeting with someone from over there they say something like, “Can you put this online for me? Isn’t it great?!” Of course I say “yes” – because I’m not stupid and the client is king. But as I was reading Joe McNally’s The Moment It Clicks (review to come) I got a real chuckle when he wrote:

we’re like the six-year-old in kindergarten running up to the teacher with our scribbling and saying, ‘Look what I did! Look what I did!’ Just because we’re excited about it, doesn’t mean it’s not scribbling.

I know that I’m not your average media consumer and my standards are a tad high, but sometimes as I look at the latest flier that gets sent my way to put online I think about how I would react if I were a member of their target audience. I feel like I would have to be REALLY interested in whatever was being promoted already to actually read the thing. Otherwise I would dismiss it.

When I see fliers of this quality I think one or more of these things:

  1. They have low expectations of their audience.
  2. They don’t care that it doesn’t look good.
  3. It shows that they aren’t taking it as seriously themselves as they want their audience to.
  4. They don’t know any better.

It seems more and more that people are willing to accept the lower quality of consumables being produced. And so the producers are not coming out with products higher than the quality they know their audience is willing to accept.

I’ve said it before that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Or, as my dad always puts it, just because you own a lawnmower doesn’t mean you’re a landscape architect. You need to recognize your limitations and then work hard to overcome them.

I know the title is about mediocrity but it’s more a plea to strive for excellence. Personally, I have a pretty good sense of where I stand in the grand scheme of things as far as the quality of my work is concerned. I’m not the greatest photographer out there, but I know I’m ahead of the curve. I don’t know everything about Photoshop, but I am an Adobe Certified Expert. I know there’s a lot to learn and I will continue seeking out new information and strive to become a better photographer, a better Photoshop user, a better writer, a better person.

I hope that I don’t slip into the routine of only producing things at a level only slightly better than what we’re used to. I hope to be someone who always pushes myself to learn more, to do a better job each outing than the last, and treat the audience of my work with the respect they deserve.

So, as I move on to post #701 for tomorrow, I challenge all of you to not be satisfied with the way things are. Pick up a book, join a camera club or Photoshop user group, commit to watching a podcast regularly, anything to learn more. Experiment. Try new ways of doing things. See what successful shooters are doing and try it for yourself and then adapt it to your style.

Don’t accept mediocrity. Strive to be excellent.

  • Amen!!

    July 1, 2008 at 8:28 am
  • Pat Phillips

    An excellent post! Thanks.

    July 1, 2008 at 3:52 pm
  • Very well said Jason, and we totally understand where you are coming from. Believe it or not – a big part of why we’re leaving the “great” state of SC is because the evidence of its educational ranking (continually 49th or 50th) is rampant across the board. So, take what you are experiencing about the dearth of quality and multiply it by a factor of ten – although I would put you much higher on both the photography learning curve and the PS learning curve as well. As I struggled to find something creative to capture for my Wednesday post of “What’s This?”, I finally gave up and will supplant the Wed. post with the original theme of Wednesday around the web. It’s exactly for that reason – I don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity. I hope the job search goes well. I’ll actually be up in NY for the 4th (Oneonta), so will click an honorary shutter release on your behalf! That’s for the 700 posts thus far, and looking forward to the next 700!

    July 1, 2008 at 11:57 pm

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