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A Response to "The Cost of Social Norms"

September 18, 2017

This essay might have gotten a bit away from me as I was writing it. I tried to keep a good 3rd person's arm distance from the topic, but inevitably I got a little bit too involved. Really great read though. Dan Ariely's voice as a writer is actually pretty edgy. I was surprised at how wittingly he used relationship/sex examples right off the bat, but utterly shocked that this college professor who is publishing really groundbreaking research WENT TO BURNING MAN (and LOVED IT). So yeah, I had some things to say..

 

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Dan Ariely’s “The Cost of Social Norms,” takes a look at the two pretenses which humans engage in during transaction- social norms and market norms. Despite the fact that the two mindsets are virtually mutually exclusive, the circumstances which they motivate (or demotivate) are incredibly fascinating. To summarize, market norms are assumed when in clear, business-like transactions. Eg, youre trading your product for x amount of dollars. Social norms, on the other hand, occupy a much more opaque area of social interaction. While we don’t accrue explicit debt or credit in our extended relationships, there is still an underlying mindset that still keeps tabs on the exchanges with these people.

 

What makes these norms especially interesting is the way they operate between each other and, subsequently, the way that designers operate with their work and clients. The world that graphic designers and artists live in gets murkier the more you dive into the profession. The fact that the field is naturally devoid of any objective visual standards is only the beginning of the foggy path that we must navigate. The very nature of our work has no objective conclusions and much of our community dabbles with the same resources as a hobby. In Predictably Irrational Dan speaks at length about what motivates people to do the work they do. His research reveals that, in the absence of monetary compensation (social norms), we actually work harder than we would if we knew we were getting paid (market norms). Add to that the fact that if we feel we are not being paid a commensurate amount of money to the work load, we work even less enthusiastically.

 

During the pursuit of my psychology degree, I have subconsciously remembered this study. To be honest, it has haunted me and continues to do so. Will I be able to find a real graphic design job one day and pursue that paying work with the same passion with which I currently throw myself at my current side projects? Only in the past few days, I think I have begun to find the answer. While it may only be an answer for myself, I have determined that those projects have not only filled me up, but they have also made me even hungrier. They squeeze against the buckle of my schedule and force me to get more done faster.

 

On a completely different front, Predictably Irrational brought up some great points about the norms we operate from as professionals too. What makes them even better is that his research has been corroborated by a (much less legitimate) professional in a field  much closer to home: Aaron Draplin. During a podcast with Chris Do (Exec of Blind - a large branding agency in LA) he talked about what it means to really be a solo act that’s only really interested in “making it in the little leagues.” If a friend comes to him with a meager budget, he said he’ll usually just do it for free- but they have to sell him their passion. If he’s into their idea and believes in them, he’ll pursue it. But not for the money, because that “cheapens the whole thing” (I’m paraphrasing). He’s a big, potty-mouthed powerhouse of a designer, yet he has capitalized on the very thing that Dan Ariely talks about in his book: not putting a price tag on everything and reaping the ambiguous, yet hearty, rewards from fields of social grace.

 

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