I enjoy reading signalvnoise in general, but this article really struck a chord with me. It's literally something thoughtful among the noise of the fast-movers, thing-breakers and self-proclaimed disrupters. It is refreshing to see more and more designers starting to question their own doing and to ponder the responsibility they take on by putting their products in front of people out there. More of this please, and there might be hope.
Are you even a Designer at all? Or are you a glorified Huckster—a puffed-up propaganda artist with a fancy job title in an open-plan office?
This is a bit of a heartless sentiment compared to the compassion for humanity expressed earlier in the post.
Some designers work at companies (or even small startups) where they don't have the luxury of choosing everything they design. They are working to provide for people they love and to enjoy their lives and pursue their passions and stand up for the causes they feel strongly about. Suggesting that everyone else can do this as they do at Basecamp is kind of privileged.
I like the general idea of convincing folks to work on something meaningful, but calling the designer out seems like barking up the wrong tree. Calling the people out who run the businesses, the venture that funds them and the LPs that fund them seems more aligned with the goal of change.
The author might or might not know that's how the mass of the technology industry flows, but from someone who's built software for both "consumer" / everyday people and for venture firms - this is how a majority of the decisions get made. Wayyyy before design is involved and with more authority than the author suggests the designer has.
That sentiment was fully intended to be harsh. We need to take a hard look at our work and decide whether we feel OK standing behind it. Shrugging things off and decrying that we don't have the necessary authority to say no is exactly how harmful practices keep making their way into products.
I experienced the same bit of discomfort when I read this. I understand that it is meant to be somewhat provocative and ask an uncomfortable question, but it feels like it is doing so from a place of privilege and in an unnecessarily condescending way. I certainly have my own opinions about what constitutes meaningful work, or a meaningful product/service (they are not always the same), and those opinions have changed and evolved a lot over the course of my career.
So it's still a worthwhile question to ask yourself, but the author also assumes a universal notion of what is meaningful and making the world a better place and what is not. That can be a great conversation to have when you show respect for other people but the perceived tone of self-righteous felt unfortunate.