Karma and Coloring Outside the Lines

· March 7th

Growing up, I was always taught that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. I can still hear my grandparents telling me that the first time I said something mean to someone. I was playing with my neighbor and we were coloring in my Little Mermaid and Cinderella books. I wasn’t your average colorer—I took it seriously from the beginning and was less than satisfied when I saw my dear friend color outside of the lines. I saw this and was appalled. My brutally honest, 6-year-old self told her that her coloring was ugly because she didn’t stay in the lines. My grandparents explained to me why I was wrong and the proper way to approach the situation. I might not have grasped what constructive criticism was, but I knew then I couldn’t tell Megan her coloring was ugly anymore, that I should focus on the great things about her artwork and to help her where I think she may be “wrong.” And I was to do it simply because it’s the right thing to do.

By now, I’m sure a considerable number of you have come to notice the use of “karma” that has been sprouting up and becoming a prominent feature on a fair number of websites within the design community. It’s a significant inclusion and nothing but good can come of it—well, mostly. Towards the close of 2012 it seemed as though the gift of positive feedback for the sake of true critique was dwindling fast. On Dribbble, the site so many of us have come to know and love as a place for constructive and positive feedback, there had been some pretty vicious comments on a number of designers’ shots. This wasn’t the community of people I knew—I was shocked. These creatives were coming down hard on the others who were trying so desperately to color inside the lines. I honestly had no idea where this was headed and was curious to see whether or not other creatives would say something or perhaps it would simply stop when the new year came around. It did stop, for the most part. Tweets would go up discussing the nonsensical behavior and then, finally, karma happened and it came around full force in a great way.

Having seemingly become popular with Reddit, the use of karma is given when users produce positive feedback, post a great article, link, etc. Within our design community, though, the use of karma points and how you go about obtaining them is a bit different; usually, karma “points” are given out often for good deeds. It’s something everyone desires and that alone makes it of great use, and for good reason.

Sites like Designer News and critique site, Hunie are putting their own form of karma to good use for the amelioration and growth of their respective communities. Designer News allows you to “up-vote” others for posting great reads while Hunie uses its karma feature in a slightly different way; posting your work and critiquing other designers submissions usually results in “upvote” points (AKA karma points). Long story short, in any karma-driven community doing a good deed and providing helpful information to other designers for the sake of being helpful is guaranteed to bring you karma.

Is this what we needed all along to bring the community back together? Is karma and the reward system the driving force that reminds us why we’re here?

Karma is all about our intentions and I believe we often forget that as a community we are here to achieve similar, if not, the same goals. We all want to improve our design capabilities, develop a better product, become better speakers and so on.  Rather than fearing a fellow user with a staggering portfolio will ruin your chances at a new client or even letting the designer with newfound development skills make you feel inadequate about your own abilities, we all need to stop and realize one thing: There is nothing to fear in feedback; we are here to help each other, not envy. We need to use these great moments to learn and apply it to our own skill set, which, as a result, helps us grow as individuals and creators.

Doing good to others will always help in some way or another—it’s Newtons law, and tis’ a rare occasion when science proves to be untrue! Provide positive feedback with constructive criticism instead of harsh words that make a person feel he or she will never be good enough or accepted within the community.  Help him or her fix mistakes, point out the good things, but explain where improvements could be made. There is no need to remove the spark of excitement that designers feel about their work—the feeling of accomplishment we get while doing what we love on a daily basis—just because you don’t feel like you want to help. Unless you intend to provide usable feedback, you should not “critique” in the first place. Belittling each other in this tight-knit community will only make us crumble as a whole. It is our jobs as co-creatives, to ensure we all succeed.

Using karma within the community is causing a turn for the better and promoting positive feedback. The word is spreading, others are picking up quickly and it is working well. Although personal gain is involved, the thought is that users will not only find it fun to give upvotes and receive karma, but eventually forget the karma is being given to them and the act of doing good for the its own sake becomes a natural task. We are coming together again and as someone who watched the change in a short period of time from slightly harsh to extremely positive, I can honestly say it is great to see. There are so many young designers and developers sprouting and it is our job to make sure, young or old, that our contribution and presence remain a gift to others and our attitudes and art remain timeless. After all, we’re not perfect people. Somewhere along the lines, we all color outside of them, but why should that be a bad thing?