The level of available information we have reached is unprecedented. Anyone with a connection today can reach more resources in seconds than any researcher at any other point in history could pull together in hours from the largest libraries. This is almost scary—and indeed, has potential for serious drawbacks. People increasingly rely on Wikipedia for information, sparking a frustration among professors similar to that inspired by spellcheck in English teachers or by calculators in middle-school math teachers. But, like a calculator, it is a tool that can be used to further our knowledge and capability. It is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to advance—and it’s at our fingertips. But, if you’re reading this, you already know that.
What you may not know is that, while the information that today’s connectivity provides is incredibly helpful, it is not the most important aspect of the internet. The greatest resource that the internet has given access to is people. With online communication, we have access to people we couldn’t dream of speaking to if we were in a similar position two decades ago. Geographic, social, and a myriad of other limitations are swept away by the common denominator of the internet. We call it hyperdemocratization.
All of our current design heroes have email addresses; most of them have twitter accounts, Dribbble profiles, blogs and other forms of communication. There is a world of knowledge to be gleaned from their thoughts and experiences. Whether they are decades or just a few years further along in their career, everyone has something to share—whether it be some bit of experience to pass on to those who are just graduating, going through the process of self-education, or struggling through the first few years and trying to find their footing. Despite their busy schedules, these people we admire often not only find the time to respond to personal communication and questions from those hungry for knowledge, but seek out opportunities to be helpful to those looking for it.
Many busy people I have emailed in the past, hardly expecting a response, have emailed back with solid advice and encouraging words. Logotype master Claire Coullon seeks out those interested in lettering on Dribbble, lending her expert eye by offering insightful feedback. Ryan Hamrick, another great letterer, regularly posts hugely informative, practical advice on his blog. Matt Chase of Design Army wrote a solid article of advice for recent grads on this very site. Instead of simply focusing on their own endeavors, they take the time to help others and give back to the design community. They have acquired an enviable amount of experience and knowledge, through books, professors, colleagues and hard work, but rather than turning up their nose at those who are a step behind them, they go out of their way to pass on this knowledge.
What’s more, you don’t have to be an expert in order to be helpful. There’s always someone out there who would love to know what you know. Granted, anyone should avoid giving advice on something that you don’t have experience in, but for every area you don’t have that, there’s another area that you do. Take some time and offer somebody some advice today. And tomorrow. Make a regular habit of it. It’s not a rat race, in which we try to put others down in order to make ourselves look better. Creative communities grow together.
Don’t be that narcissistic middleweight designer that begrudges every minute of time that it takes to respond to that hungry student’s email. Don’t be the business magazine stereotype of what they call “creatives”—the difficult egotist ignoring everyone you don’t feel is on “your level”. Be greater than that. There’s no better time to begin giving back than right now.