Why I hate it when you like it!

How we love to “like.”Like2

We use the word constantly and with little thought. Like has become the milk-toast of affection. Not that it ever meant much; I remember using it when a high-school girlfriend asked what I thought of her brother who consistently threatened to beat me up. “I like him,” I cautiously said.  Meaning, “I could live without him.”

Today Facebook allows you to “like” the photo of a firefighter emerging from a burning building with a swaddled baby in his arms. Moments later, you can use the exact same like to show your amusement at a waste-of-time video about a kitten sheltered between a Golden Retriever’s paws. Sometimes you even like things that you dislike, because someone you like posted it (or worse, asked you to like it) and you don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. He or she will see that you liked it, like that you liked it, and like the next thing you post for your “friends” to “like.” In making “like” the currency of approval for billions of people sharing trillions of pieces of content, Facebook has utterly devalued a word that already struggled for significance.

FacebookDread

Must I really like, comment or share?

 

But the thing I like least about liking is far more insidious: the term’s over-use is among the clearest indicators of our utter self-absorption as we participate in public conversations. Because liking is all about ourselves—the overfed consumer of information wandering the digital landscape in search of the next like. This self-absorbed bottom-feeding impacts much more than our personal lives. It has crept into the professional arena, which I personally find even more depressing. Walk into any meeting where people are evaluating creative concepts, and you’ll hear more likes than you can count. Why? Because if given the opportunity, we default to thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe. Faced with any situation, our instinct is to react to what we like and don’t like.

Our education and professional training should save us from our thoughtless judgements as we strive to do great work. We should never evaluate work with our own likes and dislikes, but rather put ourselves in the target audience’s position. At HB, we deliberately remind ourselves and our clients to ask not whether we like something, but instead ask if it works according to the criteria we set for the audience. But despite these reminders, we easily fall into the trap of evaluating work based on personal preferences.

This individual, center-of-the-universe perspective is one of the reasons why crowdsourcing produces mediocre work. A friend recently invited me to evaluate designs that he crowdsourced with 99designs, a company that glibly notes “Make 850k+ designers work for you.” (I’ll leave ethics aside for this discussion… but really??) My friend also crowdsourced the design evaluation to an informal team of friends and colleagues. I participated in the process, and the web site asked me to rate each design option on a five-star scale and include a comment. I was invited to do this several times as my friend went through design iterations.
99Designs
I assume that, like me, each committee member had varying degrees of knowledge specific to the business: its personality, voice, goals, stakeholders, priorities, industries served, etc. in addition to any other success criteria for the design. But none of this was included in the presentation of designs, so it would be difficult for anyone to remember such details while evaluating. Those details and decision-making criteria would have enabled us to bring intellectual rigor to a process that was quickly becoming about liking or not liking.
The designs I saw, a handful among the 187 that my friend received, revealed that the designers created visual representations of the entity’s name instead of relying on background information and criteria for success. I figured this was because the crowd-sourcing business model encourages designers who want to get paid to play a numbers game—submitting as many designs as possible as quickly as possible. They have little incentive to invest time and energy into the story that should inform a great design, and they probably know that the people coming to them aren’t that discerning; many will probably ignore much of the preliminary work they did, if they did any, the minute they see pretty things and default to liking or disliking.
The crowdsourced evaluation committee is in the same boat as the designers: we’re all busy professionals, wondering, “how little time can I spend on this to honor my friend’s request but not sacrifice too much of my scarce personal time?”  The quickest solution is to avoid deep thinking, focus on what I like, and add a comment or two to show that I took it seriously. I noticed the other evaluators were doing just that, most often speaking of their personal reactions to the designs rather than trying to rate them against established criteria.

Does any of this matter? As it turns out, my friend is happy with the design he selected. He likes it and likes the fact that it cost $10,000 to $20,000 less than a local agency would have charged him. The costs are probably there in the time he invested, the time that numerous designers who weren’t the winners invested, and the time his group of friends and colleagues invested—but those costs stay with those groups and do not hit my friend’s P&L. In the old days, my friend would have gotten Cousin Joe’s niece, who just graduated from college with a degree in graphic design, to do something for a few bucks oFedexn the side or for free. The crowdsourcing model gives him much more choice of selection. What bothers me is that the designs he got, like so many designs I’ve seen from crowdsourcing models or Cousin Joe’s niece, suffer from rookie mistakes that experienced designers would not make.
I don’t want you to like designs that HB creates. I want you to feel they work. Sometimes you might even fall in love with them because they’re so much more than a pretty face. If you’re hoping your brand moves beyond your local sphere and want your visual identity to tell a lasting and layered story over time, liking it is not enough, no matter how many people like it, especially if those people are uncompensated friends taking time away from activities they value more to chime in for your project.
Imagine if the Fedex logo had been crowdsourced by designers trying to get clients to like something they did as quickly as possible before moving on to the next opportunity to make a few bucks. Based on what I’ve seen in crowdsourcing, the logo would most likely have included a plane or a truck, and an envelope. Many people would have liked it, the way they like a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Read about the Fedex logo here and get a glimpse into what sophisticated design can offer.
McDonald's
Perhaps I’m living in the wrong age. The world is moving quickly, we all have too much to do, and liking might be the pinnacle of what we give and get. Even if that’s the case, I believe we each want to discover more meaning, make the greatest impression, have the longest impact… and liking doesn’t help achieve such goals.

As Matthew May concludes in his piece on the Fedex logo: “Lindon Leader’s design is considered by many to be one of the most creative logos ever designed. Not because of what’s there but because of what isn’t.” I don’t “like” the Fedex logo. I think it works according to what I imagine the company set out as success criteria. I love it.

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