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Why Hire an Expert? (Or What the Hell is Mike Arrington Thinking?)

The TechCrunch debacle

What happened to the mutual respect that web professionals are supposed to pay one another? I mean, I know there’s not a formal guild or anything, but seriously – why on earth would anyone want to go out and throw a colleague under a bus without provocation? While I have no sound rebuttal to combat pure insanity, all I can say this morning is this — Michael Arrington of TechCrunch is officially losing it.

Fruit loops. Cracked. Wacky. Bonkers. Cuckoo.

On May 12, one of the most popular blogs on the planet, TechCrunch, redesigned. No, I was not the designer. That unfortunate role was played by Rachel Cunliffe, a well-respected doll of a design-gal who hails from New Zealand.

I call her unfortunate because, well, I think it’s unfortunate when your client is not only mentally insane, but also insanely visible to the public. Michael Arrington, the…umm…man behind TechCrunch admitted his looney-bin status immediately upon launching the newly re-designed site, saying:

Everything wonderful about the new design is because of the awesome Rachel Cunliffe, my designer. Everything wrong with it is my fault for overruling some of her ideas.

Alright, at this stage of the game, I have some thoughts. If I had been in Rachel’s shoes, I would’ve had the following ruminations:

  • If you’ve got such great design ideas, then why on earth did you hire me? Like any other respectable designer out there, I take my work very seriously. New site designs – especially for the likes of a TechCrunch, fer chrissakes – require intense sessions of creativity and mental ball-busting. You want to make each design better than your last, and for huge sites, you want to put something out there that will help define your legacy in the field. Look at it this way – would you hire Picasso and tell him what to paint? Would you accept a finished product from him and then say, “Hmmm, no, let’s move that tree over here…And I think we need to touch up our cubism in this corner over here…” Suggestions are ok, but trumping a qualified person’s expertise on a large public scale is about as sickening an insult as I can imagine in this field.
  • If you admit that there might be things “wrong” with your new design at the moment you launch, then you already knew you had a problem. If that’s true, then tell me – why the hell did you launch if you knew there was a problem?!? Dumbest web 2.0 move of 2006, bar none.

Nuclear fallout and slapping your audience in the face

Predictably, the launch of the new TechCrunch was met with unparalleled amounts of negative criticism. Almost unbelievably, Michael says this about his new design:

We’ve also made some changes to allow for more advertising…And if you’re wondering about the green theme, there’s a reason for it (hint – it keeps me focused on my goals).

I ain't slapped a bitch in two weeks!

I’m all for making money. In fact, I’m all for making lots of it. However, when you eschew the opinions of your own community — the very people who are helping to get you paid — instead of listening to them, you are walking on thin ice. On top of that, nobody wants to feel like they’re being exploited.

The most important fact that I see here is that the younger developmental community on the web feels as though they’ve simply been taken advantage of (thanks to Mike’s “green” comment), and I’ve seen tons of instances where people claim to have unsubscribed from TechCrunch.

Yes, Mike, it’s true that most of your audience isn’t paying you directly. Tell me this, though — would an audience of only 300 gutless, bigwig-wannabe VC’s be enough to score you $30,000 a month in advertising sponsorships? Or do you think that the 55,480 subscribers may have something to do with that? Hmm, way to slap them in the face. Kudos.

Oh, my designer? Pshea, she’s crazy!

In the wake of all the bad press and even worse commentary from Michael over at CrunchNotes, Rachel Cunliffe resigned as the TechCrunch designer. I hope like hell that she collected a nice check before making her announcement.

Well, let’s back that up a second. Rachel actually resigned after Michael, in a moment of infinite clairvoyance and forethought, posted an entry showcasing a reader’s vision of the new TechCrunch.

Die.

If I design a site for you, and then you turn around and post a bunch of crap about what your readers would have done differently, then I suggest you keep your eyes peeled for Italian guys in black suits.

Naturally, Rachel was offended by this, and any designer will tell you that he or she would have felt the same way. Unbelievably, Michael then resorted to implying that Rachel was somehow off her rocker or else just being emotional about this whole deal. Here’s what he says:

Now I suspect that my “thick skin” makes it harder for me to understand why Rachel would quit on me just because I posted a screen shot that someone sent me. Again, I want to stress that I have, many times, written about how great Rachel is.

Keep in mind that Michael has not only butchered Rachel’s design and compromised her reputation, but now he’s also refused to try and see things from her point of view. Instead, (and I just cannot get over how ridiculous he’s been about this) he spins things back in his direction!

If you think about this from my point of view, you get this: People call me names and scream over just about everything I do. What I write about. What I don’t write about. How many ads I have. Whatever.

Boo frickin hoo, Mike.

You shat all over your designer; you openly admitted to your audience that money is the only thing that matters on TechCrunch anymore; and you’ve showcased a very narrow-minded, selfish view of the universe. Way to go.

I have suggested on CrunchNotes that you write Rachel an apology in an entry that is dedicated solely to her. You ought to listen, if for no other reason than you’ve proven that your PR skills are absolutely in the toilet.

A bit nutty!

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31 comments… read them below or add one

Jesse May 16, 2006

and I’ve seen tons of instances where people claim to have unsubscribed from TechCrunch.

I did, in fact, actually unsubscribe from bloglines, largely because of what a classless guy Mike is showing himself to be, but also because the content is starting to get boring.

What I thought really lacked class, though, was the guy sending in the mockup. In case you never noticed, he’s a fellow designer, and he basically threw himself at Michael like a freaking ho, and Mike being the guy he is took it from there

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Brian Clark May 16, 2006

What are you bitching about Pearson? You still hold the honor of having designed the best looking blog on the planet *coungh* mine *cough*

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Joerg Petermann May 16, 2006

Wer mit dem (Zeige-)Finger einer Hand auf jemand zeigt sollte also bedenken, dass drei der Finger auf einen zurückweisen.

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Jennifer Grucza May 16, 2006

Wow, what a melodrama going on… I’m curious, everyone says that her design was butchered, but has anyone actually seen what it looked like before his requested changes? You compare it to telling Picasso what to paint… but there is a difference between art and design. Design serves a purpose, and you have to serve the goals of your client, even if you don’t agree with all of them, right? If you can’t persuade them that your design is better, or find a solution which both fufills their goals and satisfies you as a designer, then you have the choice to submit to their wishes or to quit.

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Chris P. May 16, 2006

Jennifer, the money situation makes it hard to just “quit.” Based on my own experience, neither side is too keen on wasting time or money in this fashion, and as a designer, throwing in the towel after 20 or 30 hours is a pill that none of us want to swallow.

Jorg, I took 4 years of German in high school, and although I’m sure this is a terrible translation, I think the comment says something to this effect:

“Someone with fingers on the hand should also think that three of the fingers can reject (or overrule) the hand.”

I guess he means that although the TechCrunch readers are mere fingers on the proverbial hand, enough of them could speak out in such a way as to overrule the current TC misgivings.

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Erika Hall May 16, 2006

Thanks for this post. It is both very easy and extremely unprofessional for a designer completely external to the process to go in and publicly “redesign the redesign” for his or her own self-promotion. I would like for this practice to cease, and hope the excellent points you’ve made percolate throughout the community.

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yugotree May 16, 2006

What wouldn’t you tell picasso to move that stupid tree? You paid him to paint and he’d paint to make you happy.

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Regan May 16, 2006

For the idiot who wrote the piece on Valleywag – I am dumbfounded. Anyone who is stupid enough to read their trackbacks before they read their own email deserves to be shocked. To suggest Rachel resigned publicly without resigning privately is just ludicrous.

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David Quiec May 16, 2006

I totally do NOT agree with your point-of-view. As a marketer who’s designed differnt forms of creative (tv, radio, print, web, email, etc.), I think that the process is a partnership. The designer can make look & feel pretty and slick while the marketer is tasked to see if his business objectives are met. More than that, the marketer is paying for the design and have his ass on the line at the end of day. Because of this, s/he has the final call.

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Chris P. May 16, 2006

David, if we follow your lead and assume that Michael’s ass was on the line, then he failed miserably!

Look at all the negative press!

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Liz Strauss May 16, 2006

I was stopped when he said if you see my point of view. It was obvious that’s the only point of view he had room for. I quit reading there.

Rachel had every right to be offended. Don’t say I’m wonderful and in the same sentence say and look at what this other guy did in public . . . and then turn around and say that I should have talked to you before I said something in public too.

Not fair. Self-centered. Again, allowing only one point of view.

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Paul Montgomery May 17, 2006

Bloody hell, I thought I had seen as much arrogance as it was possible to stuff into a single blog post (I read Dave Winer a lot), but this one takes the cake. Equating a blog theme with Picasso is entirely laughable.

The designer got paid. How can she “resign” if she did the work and then got paid? There;s no point, other than appearing petty.

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Volkher Hofmann May 17, 2006

Hm. Assumptions. Again, as seems to be the common ground in these near-to flame wars, just about everything is based on assumptions.

Everyone is assuming that the original layout was great and that it was completely butchered.

Everyone assumes he/she knows everything that has gone on behind closed doors .

Everyone is assuming that Arrington was rude, and intentionally (!) so.

And so on.

I have to admit that I always thought that a designer is paid to do what he or she is told to do. Yeah, that sucks at times, and you always have the chance to get out if you don’t like what’s happening or simply refuse the job.

And yes, common courtesy may have been thrown out of the window in this case, but unless the party in question, the designer, speaks up, we just won’t know, will we?

I do think though that design critique that takes such a subjective personal stance from the get go (the earliest reviews came out sword in hand, ready for battle) is responsible for fanning the flames until we had a veritable bush fire.

I think THAT is unprofessional (unless, of course, they knew something we weren’t privy to, which I doubt).

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backup May 17, 2006

@Chris:

Yes, your German translation does suck, four wasted years of German classes :)

This is what Joerg was saying:

“Wer mit dem (Zeige-)Finger einer Hand auf jemand zeigt sollte also bedenken, dass drei der Finger auf einen zurückweisen.”

“Who is pointing the index finger at someone else should realize that three of his fingers are pointing back at himself.”

And my English is crappy, I know :)

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Jeremy May 17, 2006

As a designer from the pre-web days, it’s obvious to me that Rachel and all the other whining “web designers” are complete amateurs.

In the real world real designers working for real corporate clients never get to pull prima donna hissy fits and insist that their work be used unchanged.

That’s fine art, my friend, not commercial art.

Depending on the scope of the job, multiple concepts are presented with multiple iterations, testing, and input from staff and customers.

If Rachel had spent any time in the local art and architecture bookstore, she’d know that when graphic designers publish books of their work, 80% of it is stuff that was never used, rejected, or changed.

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quux May 17, 2006

Oh, cry me a river.

I hire you to design my new (website, shoes, house, whatever). My job is to a) pay you, and b) communicate what I want you to deliver. Your job is to create one or more designs that meet with my satisfaction.

And when you are done … it’s MY (website, shoes, house, whatever). Not yours. If someone then makes another suggestion that I like, and I act on that … well. Remember, it’s my thing. Not yours.

I’m just dumbfounded that you called the guy ‘Rock Dumb’ for praising her like he did, and going out of his way to take blame for *anything* customers didn’t like about the design.

You, sir, are an idiot, and I hope all your possible future customers read this web page *before* paying you to work for them!

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Chris P. May 17, 2006

Most of you recent commenters have been writing from the “design bitch” perspective, as though designers are just commissioned to do a job in a robotic, subservient kind of way.

While that may be the case for some, it certainly is anything but that for me. My clients come to me because they respect my work, my opinion, and my expertise. Together, we work interactively to create much more than simple designs. We reinvent brands, enhance usability, and do our best to make an impact that extends well beyond the pixellated realm.

If I really thought I, or any of the other marquee designers out there (yeah, I said it), were “design bitches,” then I believe the quality of our work would be very poor by comparison.

On top of that, the last few commenters speak as though they’re the big dick corporate cheese, pushing money around to try and create some sort of dictatorial result. The outbound author links from the comments (if they’re even included) are less than spectacular in terms of perceived business, so this leads me to a very sound conclusion.

Clearly, the negative critics believe in a system that does not champion amazing work or mutual respect. Instead, they are espousing the characteristics of a highly biased capitalist structure that is riddled with inequality.

Personally, I’d like to believe that we’re all capable of much more than that.

And just a note here: I design because I enjoy creating things. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, my career goal or even my true “passion,” but it is something that helps me pay the bills while I continue to learn new things, which is what really drives me.

So, “Quux,” in direct response to your last line, yeah, I do hope that my possible future customers all come to read this. I hope that the only ones who contact me are those who truly understand the value of working with the best people, not just the best drones.

God help you or anyone else who’s reliant upon your managerial skills.

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Evan Erwin May 17, 2006

This was just…sad.

Crying “artistic integrity” gets real close to pompousness real fast.

While “Design Bitches” may be a -bit- much, the end result is this: She was paid, respected, and her work was accepted. Her boss then found some cool ideas through a user submission.

“How dare he! Doesn’t he have a designer on staff?!”

This viewpoint is flawed because it assumes that the designer is infallible.

If you wish to keep on with this infallible perception, that is your right. But it is very telling.

You say you are all about the ‘artistry’ then you say you don’t want to do this forever…

Oh well, life will go on and this little drama will pass. Until then, if this isn’t your Life Plan, for god sakes lighten up.

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Peter Cooper May 17, 2006

The thing that irritates me about the whole debacle is how at least 50% of commenters across the various blogs seem to think Web designers are deserving of some magical status above all other technological workers.

Working for hire is just that. If the client won’t listen to you, and you’re a proud person, you have a choice.. you either ditch the client or do exactly what they’ve asked. If you do exactly what they’ve asked, you’ve accepted the situation and are working for hire. If you ditch the client, you’ve kept your integrity.

The reputation and integrity was dented when accepting to do a job you know would turn out crappy rather than at the end when the client wants to tweak it.

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evan May 17, 2006

I work as an online/offline designer and this whole thing is so blown out of proportion and completely ridiculous.

I feel bad for the rep you’re giving us designers, making it look like we’re a bunch of whiny pansies.

The client “drove” the design – it happens all the time.

The end design was 10% of what the designer had envisioned.

The designer gets paid, and the client can do as they please.

It happens to all designers at some point or another – no reason to get all in a huff about it.

And all Rachel said was “I resign.” It’s blog posts like this that make designers look like jackasses.

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Jon May 17, 2006

I find it amazing that all this drama came from one post that has a screenshot of a modified design submitted by a reader.

I saw the blog posts critiquing M. Arrington for ‘dissing’ his designer and they all link to that post with the one screenshot saying “I like some elements of this design”.

I keep going back to that blog post to see what Mr. Arrington wrote there that was so offensive and couldn’t find it. He never says “Rachel’s design sucks”. He never says “I dont like the redesign”. He just says “I like some elements of this reader-submitted design”. And that’s what all the drama is over?

Designer does design. Designer gets paid. Gets upset that client doesn’t like all aspects of the design and plans on changing it. Guess what? That’s 100% fair and he has every right to change it.

If this is how all designers behave, then I’d hate to ever hire one.

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simen May 17, 2006

I don’t understand why all this has to be public. If the customer isn’t happy with the services being delivered, he discusses it privately with the provider, right? Not so in this case.

I Mike wasn’t happy with the design, he shouldn’t have pushed it live. Still, it’s his blog, he’s free to post whatever he likes, and the post in question didn’t attack any person. It certainly smells extremely unproffessional to quit via a blog, going public with it before the customer even knows.

None of it is our business, but why did there have to be so much public drama?

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Stephen Hamilton May 21, 2006

I was going to leave comment here, but it has already been summed up nicely by Evan Erwin.

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Teli Adlam May 22, 2006

I see both sides of this coin and I believe both sides were in the wrong to some degree.

Mike shouldn’t have posted the screen shot the way that he did. I can understand his wanting to highlight the “kindness” of another designer, however, in the recent wake of all that has been said about the redesign it could easily be misconstrued as taking a knock at the design done by Rachel. It may not have been the intention, but he would do well to remember that not everyone who crosses his site is a seasoned reader.

Rachel was wrong for blogging while upset. Blogs have draft mode for a reason. Yes, I understand from my readings, she sent the e-mail before posting to her blog, but did she allow for enough time to pass before Mike actually opened his e-mail client? Had she waited, the situation may have been handled in a much different way and Rachel may or may not have resigned.

At the end of the day, this is just a learning experience. Hopefully everyone reading about the saga (because, let’s face it, that’s what it is now) learns how to communicate a little better with one another.

~ Teli

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John May 26, 2006

I agree… Mike should apologize when Rachel gives back the money.

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Gutschein March 2, 2007

Very interesting article! Good work!

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Mattes July 17, 2007

I don’t think that google video ads will fail. but we’ll see that in future!

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Frank Summer March 25, 2011

Why all these facts have to be public? I think if the customer isn’t happy with the service which was delivered, he has to discusses it privately with the provider? Why don’t in this case?

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DMC July 12, 2011

Evan Erwin summed it up exactly the way I was going to.
Oh wait, did you actually refer to yourself as a “marquee” designer?
That, my man, is hilarious…

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Joey Z July 12, 2011

As a web designer I know first hand what happens when your client has a tantrum and says “I dont give a fuck about usability, gimmie shiny buttons dammit!” So it was almost unbelievable to see that abortion of a site go up when I’ve seen the rad designs Rachel has in her portfolio.
But what he did was like taking your girlfriend to hooters and saying “check out that chicks rack” . I just hope she got paid.

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Melisa October 12, 2013

So, life’s like this in the Design world, just like everywhere else. I thought it’s like being a da Vinci or Michelangelo (sorry, I’m not a fan of Picasso), where your design is highly valued and respected.

Our market mentality has forgotten about independence and craftsmanship. What we have now is the ever so common “boss” and “employee” relationship, where the latter holds the slave post.

Today it’s like this: Your craftsmanship is good, but we need cash. He who pays is he who rules. Because such people detach the work done from the worker who did it.

The work is the worker’s art, even if they were paid to do it. But it’s a Money Rules economy, so this happens all the time.

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Hoot and/or Holler

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