Tech Life Having an opinion takes work


Early in the design discussion for the logo for the latest Rands in Repose charity t-shirt, Robert Padbury responded to my early design feedback: “You know, I realized something when I was thinking about this the other day – People don’t really have more than the following three responses to a design:

  1. It’s awesome.
  2. It sucks.
  3. Apathy.”

This short list of responses captured me with their lack of subtlety. Three bullets effectively describe the majority of opinions people have about topics that often deserve more consideration. While Robert’s eventual point was different, his observation serves as a starting point for understanding why I’m once again offering a t-shirt supporting a literacy charity.

Rands V3 Benefit Shirt

As with all other prior shirts, all of the profits go to First Book, a charity focused on promoting children’s literacy. The reason I continue to choose this charity is simple: I think the more people take the time to read increases the likelihood that they can build a defensible opinion.

Having a defensible opinion takes work. There is infinite information out there and that means you need to pick and choose the topics where you want to stop and ask, “Wait… why?” I’ll explain via a creepy story.

Back before there was a publicly available Internet, a doctor told my mother that smoking would keep the baby’s birth weight down. Funny thing is, it’s true. The unfunny thing is that low birth weight babies are at an increased risk for serious health problems and lasting disabilities. The decidedly unfunny thing remains — it was her doctor who told my mother this “good news”.

History is full of lies and ignorance propagated by people who’ve put their trust in the ideals of allegedly qualified others. Now, as we live in a world divided by opinions acquired via Twitter, it’s never been easier grab onto a clever 140-character quip and assume it’s the truth. The fires of ignorance burn wildly on these acts of intellectual laziness.

Having an opinion takes work. It means stopping in your tracks and staring conventional wisdom in the face and asking it to explain itself. It means drilling deeper than the conventionally polarizing opinions that a topic is simply awesome, it totally sucks, or it’s completely irrelevant to you. Chances are, it’s a little bit of all three, but that type of ambiguity is mentally exhausting, right? Can’t we just love or hate? It’s so much easier to yell when it’s right versus wrong or us versus them.

Having an opinion means starting to explore in Wikipedia as a means of defining and refining your curiosity, but not trusting that it’s true. It means researching and building an intellectual map around a question. It means having the confidence and the courage to open a book, find the facts, and working to build a complex and defensible opinion so you can personally answer the question: “Why?”

And I think it’s a habit we want to encourage as early as possible.

The third version of the Rands charity shirt has a new purchase option. You can either purchase the lovely red shirt or the limited edition gun metal version, which also includes a set of customized Field Notes. The clingy bamboo stylings of previous shirts are gone and replaced with American Apparel’s finest short-sleeve cotton t-shirt. Again, all proceeds of both shirts go to First Book.

I’d like to thank Robert Padbury and Jim Coudal for their generous donations to this effort. They are both awesome and now you know why.

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9 Responses

  1. That’s a beautiful design, and I’ll likely buy one at some point, but the incredibly comfortable bamboo/organic cotton of the previous two shirts was what encouraged me to buy two of each over the years.

    I’m not a huge fan of American Apparel (Dov Charney in particular, and I’ve never once felt a plain cotton t-shirt that felt nearly as soft as the bamboo ones, especially after repeated washings.

  2. Great idea, love it.

    One gun metal shirt winging it’s way to the UK ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Phil McT 13 years ago

    Ah…thank you for ditching the bamboo-style t-shirt that did not look good on nerds! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. But look at all the books that have been wrong, too. Especially (and most dangerously) in the textbook industry, where special interests have been influencing the content of what our children are learning from books.

    That’s not to say that I disagree with your overall point, and I will again support your charity, but promoting media literacy and criticism applies to all media, not just tweets and Wikipedia.

  5. LeMel 13 years ago

    Nice shirt!

    Real design criticism requires some domain expertise, and possibly not fair to put upon the general audience as a prerequisite for giving a bit of feedback on something they are consuming. It’s more the designer’s job to know how to draw meaningful feedback out.

    Kind of like asking if someone liked a movie, (“I didn’t like it, it just didn’t move me”) and then insisting on an astute screenplay assessment to validate their opinion.

    Personally, I like the shirt. It appealed to me immediately, because I like solid color shirts, usually red black or white, with single pieces of iconic art on the front center.

    A “real” assessment of the design would require understanding the requirements and goals, then making a judgement as to (1) whether they were met, followed with (2) critique on the way in which they were met.

    Again, nice shirt!

  6. Noah Yetter 13 years ago

    I encourage you to read John Holt’s classic book “How Children Learn”, in particular the chapter on Reading.

  7. monica 13 years ago

    I saw that Buy Olympia is selling this version of your charity shirt, as well as a previous version (brown bamboo/cotton mix). Are they affiliated with you and also giving money to the same charity?

  8. This is the third shirt I’ve done — all sold via Buy Olympia. Same charity.

  9. Is there a 2012 t-shirt coming?