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What’s With All the Jerks?

Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to observe the design community from a unique perspective. For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed it. Most of the people I have met have been incredible. The design community is filled with so many generous individuals who freely donate their time, knowledge, and spirit without asking much, if anything in return. I suppose in a lot of ways, the design community is much like the rest of the world; filled with kind and generous people; but like the rest of the world, there seem to be a few bad apples that consistently make hard for the rest of us. I only say this because recently, I’ve noticed the number of overly critical, unhelpful, and sometimes-insulting comments increase dramatically on articles and tutorials.

I fully understand Internet culture. I know that this sort of thing is commonplace. For the most part, I’m pretty laid back. I don’t let much bother me. I know the Internet is filled with jerks; it’s just the way things are. For many years I tolerated them; even cheered them on, but lately, it seems, that the jerks are getting the upper hand.

I read a lot of different design blogs. I most always read through the comments. It’s a great way to see how the community feels about a particular topic. It used to be that when you read through them that you would see a lot of positive comments, a few questions, some constructive criticism, and maybe a couple negative remarks. Today, it seems like the negative remarks are really starting to dominate the discussion and it’s ruining the atmosphere of the community.

I will admit that we rarely receive negative comments on this site. We get a few here and there but nothing that really shocks the conscience. What I have seen however is the tendency of a few people on some other sites to unfairly, and unnecessarily attack an article, tutorial, or author for no good reason.

Sure, there are tons of poorly written articles, and ugly tutorials out there, but does that make it ok to publically flame the article, or in some cases personally attack its author? I think not.

I fully support a public discourse. I think it’s great to voice your opinion and I encourage it on every site I maintain. There is a huge difference however between civil public discourse and malicious, unfair, and insulting statements often made by anonymous readers.

I don’t have any illusions that these types of people will ever stop what they’re doing. I know that they are here to stay. What I will ask however is that the next time you decide to flame an article or tutorial that some one wrote, stop and think before you write. Try to be constructive in your criticism, don’t insult the author personally. Treat them the way you would like to be treated. Remember, we’re not discussing controversial social or economic issues. If we were, I might understand. This is design that we are talking about here. It’s supposed to be fun and educational. There is no need to get upset about a tutorial that some one wrote. If you don’t like it, that’s ok. If you want to voice your opinion, do it. Just be respectful, that’s all.

Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.

  • Wow what a stupid post (kidding :-)).

    I know what you mean but I think the trolls are here to stay on the web. In a way I like them because they give me a thicker skin. For instance nothing puts you in your place better than submitting an illustration to Threadless. Although it may not be the most constructive criticism, it will at least prevent you from getting too large an ego.
    .-= Jon Raasch´s last blog ..5 Asset Management Tricks for Faster Websites =-.

  • jp

    I wonder if what we have here could be a spillover from the political arena, which has dramatically deteriorated over the last 18 months–since the last federal elections in fact. “We can disagree without being disagreeable”, said Obama, and that’s just it: many people no longer want to discuss or even argue. Their minds are made up and closed down, and the only form of expression they have are insults, anger, frustration, aggression, that could be summarized as, well, hatred. As a result, the political climate has deteriorated to the point where some people seem to react as if they were at war. So I heartily disagree with the notion that it’s ok to abandon basic civility when we’re “discussing controversial social or economic issues”. I believe is at least as important to remain polite when debating social issues as it is when discussing design preferences.

  • Mike D.

    I’m reminded of an old joke a friend of mine on another website used to say:

    “How many old-schoolers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
    “Four; one to replace the light bulb, and three to argue about how much better the old one was.”

    What you’re seeing is likely more an example of human sociology in action. One possibility is that haters gonna hate, they’ll always post their complaint, but satisfied people won’t always post comments, especially as the site gains in popularity and age (consistency is a signal for many consumers). Therefore as popularity of a given design website grows and more people visit it, the numbers of haters will increase steadily, while the number of lovers will increase more slowly. The exact amount is more uncertain and variable and harder to predict, but the key is the relationship between the growths in numbers – any growth will always appear to be primarily negative in the comments area, or any social area like a chatroom.

  • I’ve noticed the negative trend too, and it does seem to be growing. It sure takes away from the idea of a community. Thanks for posting this – it needs to be heard.

  • Cue flaming in 3… 2… 1…

    :)

    Very appropriate and well-written article. Somebody needed to say something and I think the design community is unique in that it would actually heed something like this. Thanks for going out on that limb.

  • I agree to a certain extent. The flaming is a bit annoying, but we can;t be surprised. This is how we make our living (the internet) and we all can spot a troll. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good religious or political debate on Digg from time to time?

    However, I think that there isn’t enough of it. If you’re a bad writer and everyone in the comments says “GREAT ARTICLE!” it starts looking like an ebay auction item. And the problem is that the positive comments on a bad article, tutorial or list post just gives the “author” false approval.

    (I’ll put myself in this group, since I’m still getting my feet wet) The majority of the web design/development community is full of “fans, followers, etc.” or people that really don’t know what good design, development processes, or whatnot is.

    The good criticism of a post usually gets buried by “GREAT ARTICLE!” posts that go on forever. That is the problem I see, and I think that’s worse than seeing trolls or flame wars.

    We’ve all learned to pat our own backs with the former and ignore the latter. I say we continue to ignore the latter, and start focusing on how we can get the criticism more visible.

  • Wow, I should have proofed that before submitting.

  • You are right on the mark with your post today, sad to say. I thank you for boldly addressing the issue. I cringe when I read some of the inconsiderate posts left out-and-about.

    Being a “baby boomer”, manners were high on the priority list back in the day whereas today, I see them plummeting to the bottom of the list at an increasingly fast pace.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about expressing one’s opinion in a respectful manner, however, it has always been my belief that those that show disrespect towards another, have no self-respect. If one is comfortable in his/her own skin, one has no need to project negativity towards another.

    Wishing you a BEAUTIFUL first week of summer and thanking you for all that do for the design community!
    .-= Linda Walton aka bobbysgirlforever´s last blog ..GOT PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 8? (PLEASE READ AS THIS IS TIME SENSITIVE!) =-.

  • The amount of rudeness and venom both online and offline seems to be up in general the past year or two. Maybe it is fall out from the economic problems in so many places. Luckily, the percentage of ‘jerks’ still seems to be relatively small.

  • I absolutely agree. In the design community, we’re always learning, and a lot of times feedback can make or break whether we want to continue, or it make us stronger. As a beginner, the last thing you want to hear is how horrid your work is. When I was beginning, I accepted anything constructive that would help me in the long run. I still accept it. But I’ve also learned that those who have nothing better to do than insult and call names are merely just trolling for attention or jealous.

  • Tom

    I think you just managed to gather up my own thoughts and put them in a post. I completely agree. I am too becoming a lot more hands on within the design community, I follow a lot of websites. I really get fed up with the comments which are not helpful, or even diss a persons work or tutorial.

    I believe that anyone can take anything he wants from a tutorial or article. If the final result isn’t great, I’m sure someone can take something from it. Possibly recommend a different way of doing a step.

    I love graphic, web, digital and product design. I have just learnt to take what I can from the posts, read everything with an open mind and I’m sure it makes me a better designer at the end of the day.

    It’s funny how design, being so open, people still don’t realise that everyone has their own opinions. You can’t please everyone. Every job/project has it’s own brief and peoples likes or dislikes can change the outcome. That’s why people who dislike the final work should keep it to themselves unless they are offering something constructive.

  • Tom

    You also have to accept that everythings turning digital these days. More people are getting into the digital/design arena, therefore there are more people around and there is a greater likelyhood of getting these comments.

    I guess there will be no end to this problem online. Just hope it doesn’t get as bad as youtube

  • Heather

    Thanks for such a well written article…

    Many people confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness. And the relative anonymity on the internet allows an arena for people who are usually lacking in self-esteem and assertiveness to take out their frustrations on others.

    It’s similar to the driving issues I see in Los Angeles all the time. When someone cuts me off on the freeway, I have to laugh because they would NEVER do that in line at a bank or at the grocery store. Likewise, the people you’re writing about would probably not step up and criticize in such a non-productive way if they had to do it face-to-face with the author!

    Kudos to you for pointing it out and rallying the positive aspects of our design community.

  • There’s a bit a difference between someone being critical of your first few designs. I don’t think simply being mean to be mean is acceptable. However, what I tend to have the biggest problem with is the sites/authors who try and speak from an authoritative point of without having the authority to do so.

  • I don’t think the design community is the exclusive domain of jerks. Check out some comments on YouTube. It’s ridiculous.

    It does seem that people need educating on to treat other people. Really, online shouldn’t be any different than in person. Hiding behind anonymity is just cowardice. Poor little people!

  • Great article. I know exactly what you’re talking about and it’s the exact thing that keeps me from writing the posts I want to – because I’m always worried someone will comment and tell me it’s not good enough.
    .-= Marnie B´s last blog ..Adobe CS5: to upgrade or not to upgrade? =-.

  • jp

    Good point, Tom: just a few years ago, a lot of people who are now expressing themselves didn’t have a voice. And some of them are more into cussing than discussing. So I guess some degree of grossness is to be expected. Maybe we could learn to deal with it in a non confrontational way–since the issue cannot be truly dealt with in a confrontational way–and accept to do some education. As to how we’d go about, I have no idea, though.

  • Corie

    Comments on blogs and tutorials is not the only place this type of behavior is happening. I have seen it in action on numerous design forums. It reminds me of something I was once told, in a forum I no longer care to be a part of for this very reason. I was told by a “jerk”, “on the internet you are not a person, you are a bunch of words on the screen”. Well that kind of attitude may be for others, but it is not for me.

    I’m an aspiring designer, learning everything I can from the design community and school. I fully embrace my NOOB status, I’ve never claimed to be a designer or an expert and I embrace and value the wonderful “constructive” criticism I receive.

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • While I agree with the overall premise of this post, I’ve also observed something else at work: the increasing number of English-as-a-second-language contributors to online discussions. We need to be careful not to mistake relative unfamiliarity with English as intentional belligerence or harshness. In addition, not every culture has the same sensitivity to perceived insults or criticism.

  • Your spot on there Grant! I couldn’t have said it better myself :)

    There’s always a nice way to express your opinion and say what you want to, even if it happens to be slightly negative or in disagreement. I see a lot of these kinds of insulting and rude posts, especially on forums.

    I’m all for people having and expressing their own opinion and taking part in a good debate but there’s really no need for bashing of authors and rude, offensive remarks.

    Perhaps some people have simply lost their manners? :)

  • God gave us all a mouth to spout off with but only blessed some of us a brain to work out when to keep it shut :)

    Great blog post there, my type of article. I also agree with Corie’s comment above about it spreading to forums although to be fair any community online or offline has its wide boy and village idiot!

  • Dan Avery

    Interesting observation. Like some of the others here, I think there is a direct relationship to the economic and political climate in the United State. Mostly the political climate. Ever since Reagan entered the White House, the politics in the U.S. has been one of division. The evil empire and Us, liberals and conservatives, etc. It’s been very damaging to our society and with Glen Beck and Sarah Palin on the landscape it’s only going to get worse. The reason behind all of this is that ever since Reagan entered the White House there was been a consistent war on education. These days education on the secondary level is nothing more than teaching people how to take a multiple choice test. Students arrive at the Universities without the ability to analyze. Consequently university educations are now watered down and fairly meaningless. I think the problem is only going to get worse because your average American’s analytical skills are stuck right around the fifth grade level.

  • Dan, I don’t think you can blame Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin for the jerks trolling our blogs but I do think you can lay partial blame to our educational system for producing a generation or two of narcissistic children.

  • I’ve noticed this negative trend as well. It’s one thing to disagree with an article, but another to completely flame it. Most of the time these flamer don’t even have the kahoonas to leave their real names.

  • Dan Avery

    Grant, I should have been more clear. I wasn’t blaming Beck or Palin for the problem; my intent was to say that they are escalating the problem, or at the very least they are fanning the flames of anger and division.

  • Dan, how would you feel if I had blamed liberals like Bill Maher, Chris Matthews, and Christopher Hitchens for “fanning the flames” and “escalating the problem”?

    Rudeness and division is not the exclusive domain of any given political party or cause, but insertion of partisan politics into cultural discussions certainly sets the stage for those things.

  • Dan Avery

    Actually, Eric, I wouldn’t have minded one bit if you had named Maher, Matthews, Hitchens, Madow, or Oberman at all. They are excellent examples for sure. I just grabbed the first two that came to mind and didn’t want to rattle off an entire list. Quite honestly I really don’t think there’s anyone in the U.S. media these days that is worth listening to. Sadly the matter of degree between the National Enquirer and the New York Times or Orange County Register has shrunk in the last the last couple of decades. They all pander to their audience rather than help preserve the freedoms of our republic like they are supposed to do.

  • SoWhat

    It IS the internet, trolls and anonymous comments are its nature. As is a lot of craptastic “me-too” blogs and websites, ESP. in the design community. Your site does stand out with original material, but there’s such a glutton of “I got a WordPress blog with the trendy-like theme & lots of ads and I join the same network of other designer blogs” that it’s just assinine and a regurgitation of reposts, reposts of reposts of comments, reposts of stupid “Top xx” lists, and so on.

    So yeah the trolls have a point in most cases because there’s so much garbage to wade through mostly due to people wanting to cash-in on the genre and just not providing unique material.

    And, if your going to bitch about it, you shouldn’t be doing it.

  • Deb

    I couldn’t have said it better myself! Nice post, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this.
    .-= Deb´s last blog ..To “GUEST” =-.

  • Amy

    “I don’t think the design community is the exclusive domain of jerks…” ya know, I don’t think it’s even an Internet thing. People anymore are just mad… always mad! It’s sad, really. Except for you fine folks here… you seem like a nice bunch. I think I’ll hang out here for awhile :) Seriously though, great post!

  • Dianne

    I recently read an article by someone who claims he won a Pulitzer Prize (maybe he did; I didn’t bother to check) who wrote that he likes Twitter because of the opportunity to argue, and use derogatory language in an exchange, not of ideas, but of the most vulgar language he can think of (which, unfortunately, he shared in the article). If I didn’t have reason to skip Twitter before, I certainly do now. I don’t understand the mean spirit of our current politics or the Internet participants, but you are not the first person who has complained about an increase of bad manners. Maybe it is the anonymity, maybe it is economic stress, maybe it is a lack of education or an excess of ego, but, to me, it reflects more about the poster than it does the person who is on the receiving end of the current trend.

  • jp

    Seems you’ve hit paydirt, Grant! NPI) Dianne, I would no more blame Twitter for abusive language than I would a telephone for an obscene phone call. IMHO, it’s a great tool and it’s here to stay. As for this upsurge of incivility, it may come with new social media territory, as Tom mentioned earlier, and I agree with Dan that it probably also has a lot to do with the present political climate, where some people are reacting (over-reacting, actually) to an era of change with closed minds and spews of hatred and propaganda. It’s quite discouraging to see, since this kind of attitude is as remote from democratic debate as the howling of a monkey pack. I wonder, however, if the very violence of these reactions could not indicate–in some strange, twisted way–that somebody, somewhere, is on to something.

  • @Dianne, are you really skipping one of the easiest to use networking and communication tools available to us because of one person? Grant, maybe you should write something for Dianne explaining how Twitter is NOT full of vulgarities like she assumes it is. LOL.
    .-= ngassmann´s last blog ..ngassmann- -jonmoser That IS the best photo- =-.

  • Dianne, the great thing about Twitter is that you choose if you are exposed to that type of communication. If someone disgusts you with the way they’re speaking, you simply unfollow them. I can guarantee there are hundreds of thousands of Twitter users who AREN’T like that and are worth their weight in gold.
    .-= Marnie B´s last blog ..Adobe CS5- to upgrade or not to upgrade =-.

  • Dan Avery

    Dianne,

    A lot of twitter is nonsense, but I’ve learned a great deal by following some of the design blogs that post a url to their articles. Oh and there’s this guy “averyshortstory” who writes 140 character short stories. They’re almost like haiku.

  • Juane

    It’s easy to criticize when the people is sitted down in the armchair of their computers. With all the comforts a few steps away. I really believe this is happening, cause the people get used to search and find the easy way of doing whatever they want, or looking for easy answers, or even for the exact flawless solution they need.
    But that is not all. Also I believe, there is people who misinterpret projection, and the “digital avatar” of those who believe can help the others. Here in Chile, we call jacketing (chaqueteo). When someone attacks verbally (or in any other way) to another who’s getting success, on what his doing. It’s pathetic…

    It took me so much more to verify, if this was correctly written… hehe if it’s not… at least hope you’ll understand the main idea…

    I’m improving my english, but still’s not perfect…

    Greets,from Chile

    Juane

  • Juane,

    Or people follow a blog and expect people who have a large following to put out quality content or be able to vet the people that they hire to write for them.

    C-H-I… L-E. Chi-chi-chi. Le-le-le. Viva Chile!

    (mom was born and raised in Santiago. :)
    .-= ngassmann´s last blog ..ngassmann- -djm182 Same here on both points =-.

  • Angela

    They are pathetic little trolls there only reason for being online is to disrupt, they are jealous and complete moronic people in real life, there is never any excuse for rudeness some of them seem to forget they can and most times be traced via their IP address sooner rather than later I think most sites will include a report button, straight to the isp they are connected too, its getting out of hand.

  • Marnie B

    Angela, I really hope not. It would to against everything the Internet is about, the same way the new filtering systems and the proposed Internet kill switch do. The Internet isn’t owned by anyone and there aren’t any real rules, except those its users create. It’s about freedom – not just of information, but speech too.

    Trying to censor people because they are assholes or have an opinion that differs from the majority’s is bullshit. Turning the interwebs into a dictatorship isn’t the answer.

  • Juane

    I only understand what Angela said under the perspective if we are talking about extreme cases of these trolls. Sometimes they put you against the wall, and you don’t have any other choice than try to exclude them from the rest. But always with some creativity you could avoid that possibility.

    BUT!!!…
    Considering “here, now, the present”, It’s really necessary to delimit some “rules”, ways of doing and living the experience of internet. And we can’t forget that an important part of freedom it’s to respect others. Sometime I heard something that really works for me…
    Your freedom ends where your neighbor’s freedom begins

    I hope like my last post, this one could be “understandable”, ehhehe… (I really don’t know if that word exists)…

    Greets from Chile!!… again!

    Juane

  • Thor

    This article sucks.

  • Great topic. A lot can be said about the lack of internet etiquette. I guess it is much easier to be a jerk when you are anonymously sitting behind a keyboard. The truth is though, the comments made on the internet can have as much of an adverse affect as those made in real life. Someone should write a book about it!
    .-= web2000´s last blog ..Modern CSS3 One Page Portfolio Template =-.

  • Tomolan

    I would rather someone be truthful than hurtful.
    Criticism can be looked at as being productive in letting us know how to make a product better.

    But sometimes it doesn’t matter what you say, it’s HOW you say it too. The problem with communication is that it can be misread and taken out of context. We are also very emotional driven and this can cloud our judgement.

    I think the key is if someone is giving you something for free, you’re getting what you’ve paid for. If it isn’t at all what you wanted and you did pay for it, then maybe you should complain about the quality of the service.

    The problems of being in a media-bombarded culture is our grossly abundant need for “instant gratification”. It’s natural for us to demand a certain level of service when all around us we’ve been spoilt.