Designers, we need to talk about personal responsibility. In my previous article, I covered five reasons that every designer should be conservative. I genuinely believe that if your goal is to become a good designer then adopting conservative principles is an important step to getting you there. It is also true that pursuing excellent design will drive you toward a more conservative mindset. The two go hand-in-hand.
Even very famous liberal designers, such as Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, or Shepard Fairey slip into a conservative mindset when you get them down to talking design business. Do you think that their businesses, Pentagram, Sagmeister & Walsh, or OBEY could have become major design icons without practicing these five conservative principles? No way. Maybe these designers espouse liberal politics, but their lives and business decisions are guided by conservative principles.
You don’t want to be a sucker who falls for the liberal mindset myth, when those at the top know it’s all for show. Maybe you don’t believe me, or you don’t want this to be about politics. Fine. So here is a complex conservative characteristic that you need in order to be a good designer: Personal Responsibility.
Objectively speaking, personal responsibility is not a political or philosophical thing. But the key components of personal responsibility are included in conservative values and not within liberal values. They also happen to be very important factors in design. So what are they? Organization, Diligence, Punctuality, and Respect. In this 4-part series I’m going to cover each factor, as well as why they are necessarily conservative virtues, and specific tips for bringing them into your life so that you will become a more responsible designer.
The fundamental definition of design is, the organization of information using text and imagery. A modern definition would include audio, video, digital technology etc in addition to text and imagery, but the unchanging aspect is organization. In other words, it is the designer’s job to be a force of organization in the world, regardless of the medium in which they work. So if the product that you make needs to be organized, then shouldn’t you be organized too?
PragerU’s video Fix Yourself, with Jordan Peterson, argues that a good daily task is to make your bed before leaving home in the morning. The argument goes that by taking mundane steps to organize your life, you will be better prepared to tackle bigger objectives. Admiral William McRaven is even more direct. He says that making your bed allows you to start the day by completing a task, assert some control over your immediate environment, and that if you have a really bad day at least you will come home to a bed that is ready for you.
Organizing the physical world in your own life is just one part of it. What about organizing your mind? Dennis Prager’s Theory of Three Mirrors is a great example of how to do so.* I particularly like his Mirror of the Mind: the quality of your writing reflects the organization of your mind. I think that a designer might take it to another level because design is writing and spatial arrangement. I don’t know how anyone could do that if their mental infrastructure was disorderly. All of this points to the fact that if you are going to be an organizing force in the world, which is a designer’s job, then you need to have been one in your personal life.
*Dennis also broadcast his Theory of Three Mirrors in his October 13, 2009 radio show. Unfortunately, I have not found a written version.
Let me ask you a few questions about the people that you know who are devout leftists, especially the designers: Are they polite? Are they emotionally-balanced? Are they well-dressed? Is their home clean? Are they clean? Do they take care of their body? Do they regularly drink or smoke pot? Do they have a consistent or unique passion that motivates them? There are right and wrong answers to these questions. Invariably, conservatives will check off most of the right boxes (no one is without vice), but leftists will do the opposite. Why?
The answer is that leftwing values are diametrically-opposed to living in an organized way. The proof is in the language and thought exercises that excite any leftist: They want to unpack, question assumptions, deconstruct, and fundamentally transform. None of these phrases mean anything that would help you accomplish a task but they are really good at confusing simple issues. When I say, “I better make my bed and sort my laundry,” then you know what needs doing. What does “I need to deconstruct my bed and fundamentally transform my laundry mean?” Perhaps “I need to unpack my bed and unpack my laundry” can mean something but they aren’t the things you need to do here.
The inability to use leftist principles to act in specific, positive, utilitarian ways is why leftists check all the wrong boxes. Instead of motivating people to put their lives in order and accomplish reaal tasks, leftism pits them in an endless battle against pointless philosophical conundrums - like questioning their assumptions about the need to have a bed in the first place. If you want to have an organized perspective then the first thing you need to do is drop the leftwing perspectives that are holding you back.
Here are just a few specific tips that I’ve been trying out for myself. By no means is this a comprehensive or even a general guide. However, each one has been surprisingly helpful for me in the past year.
1. Find a few tools that will help you get your thoughts out of your head. For example, I’ve found a tool called Airtable that is extremely efficient for organizing my team’s workload at PragerU. Why not use that same tool to organize tasks in my daily life? Why not for my website, blog posts, publishing schedule, and even this newsletter? The point is that you waste a lot of energy trying to keep everything sorted in your brain. Get it all laid out in front of you and save your thinking for important strategic plans instead. Pro-tip: use a digital tool with good options for visualization and automation. You don’t want to have to move things around manually to see new connections, which is why sticky notes and paper pads tend to pile up counterproductively.
2. Establish templates for what you do and when you do it. A great example of this is outlined by Chris Do in his book, Pocket Full of Do. Right at the back of the book, he details which days of the week he spends on meetings, writing, designing, self-care, etc. He puts it this way “Move toward a schedule that is focused, has fewer distractions, and switches between tasks less.” You could call this having a pattern, or as I call it, a template. You should template as much of your life as you can. For example, I try my best to do the same simple chores every night: clean the dishes, tidy up the living room, and to put anything I find lying around the house back in its spot. Then weekly cleaning is a lot easier because I followed that basic template to prevent clutter. You can template small tasks too, like writing a newsletter. I always try to break a topic into 3-5 bullet points and write about each one in order, which gives me a structure to follow. Templates will immensely improve your life by organizing the mundane stuff that would otherwise gobble up your energy.
3. This one will sound like it’s out of left field but, simplify your wardrobe. I’m the type of person who has just a few outfits that I actually enjoy wearing, so without fail I end up using only a small portion of the clothing I own. What happens to the rest? It just sits there taking up space. Worse, I often found myself dressed out-of-place. You don’t want to be the guy who wears a button-down and blazer to work one day, then a graphic tee shirt the next day. It’s schizophrenic and dilutes your image. So here’s what I did: First, I identified the scenarios that would dictate my outfit. Business, Work, Casual, Relaxing, and Exercise. Next, I decided what I like for each and I’ve begun to replace my entire wardrobe with only a few items that fit into each category. I also have tried to ensure that I buy the best quality garments possible for each. For example, I recently ordered just a handful of nice long sleeve tees in black or a dark color. Enough that I could essentially wear the same outfit each day without wearing any particular article twice. This way, I don’t have to think too much about my clothing, I’m always comfortable, and I’m always appropriate.
I want to close this by addressing the biggest obstacle to organizing your life (or anything), which is that there is some effort and hard decision-making at the outset. To get organized, you have to decide how you want to be organized. People stumble here because that first step can be so huge. You may need to chuck out your whole wardrobe, completely rename your file system, spend hours prioritizing your tasks and schedule… at first. However, a conservative truism will help you here: There are no solutions in life, only trade-offs.
When you tackle that first tough step in organizing, it’s a good amount of work but you’re trading hundreds of hours of work in the future for just a few hours now - so don’t let it hold you up. The best thing you could do to get your life in order might be to start organizing in the first way you think of, then making adjustments later on. You can trust me that moving from one organized system to a better one is always easier than moving from a very disorganized state into a perfect one. So don’t start by aiming for perfect ok?
Just aim for a system of any kind and trust me, it will start working for you immediately by offering the insights you need to improve and ultimately find something that orders your life in the best manner available. If you can order your life in this way, then you will be an unstoppable designer able to go out and give order to the world.