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You Think You Know Me?
Public exposure of a private life can be misleading,
dangerous, and bad for business.
by Nancy Nally (September 18, 2006)
Recently in the scrapbook segment of the craft industry we have
seen a movement towards what has been called "real life"
scrapbooking. The concept is being increasingly taught and seen in
both regular issues of magazines and special publications.
Scrapbookers are being urged to record the intimate, gritty reality
of their lives, making their scrapbooks more into photo journals
than simply decorated photo albums. The result is often a moving,
raw, and beautiful work that lays bare its creator.
I believe that as a whole this type of scrapbooking can be good
for the health of the scrapbook market segment (and often
therapeutic for the scrapbooker creating the pages). But there are
also some serious potential pitfalls of which professional designers
– and the people who hire them – need to be cautious.
The dangers in this kind of design for professionals lie in the
public display of their work and the possible repercussions for
their personal privacy. A personal layout kept in a private album
reveals nothing to anyone that is not personally selected by the
album’s keeper to view it. Publication or other public
distribution of a designer’s creations, on the other hand, means a
layout can be viewed by virtually anyone. This can create all kinds
of potential problems when you consider the broad range of people
viewing the work.
First, there are basic security issues to consider. In this day
and age "you can’t be too careful" seems to be the
mantra for personal safety. Because of this, for instance, many of
us won’t give out our full name, location, or personal information
on the online message boards we participate in.
Yet designers’ layouts containing personal information about
themselves or their families are still published in some
publications alongside their full name, city, and state. Other
publications no longer publish the designer’s residence but in
many cases that can be ascertained anyway from the content of the
layout. In a time where we are increasingly protective of our
personal information, should designers really be comfortable with
that information being out there? Many of them I’m sure have not
given it much thought – and probably won’t until some damage is
done to someone and it is too late to limit their own exposure.
Beyond the issue of security, there is also the issue of privacy.
When a very personal layout is published, there may be un-imagined
consequences down the road. For instance, would you really want a
future (or even current) employer knowing all about your messy
divorce, your college partying, your health issues, or your painful
attempts to have children?
Because when that information is being put out in public, there
is no guarantee of who will or will not see it. And for a freelance
designer doing trade show work, it’s almost guaranteed that other
potential employers might see their layout – and thus its contents
- on display.
Designer privacy should become even more important a concern to
everyone involved when companies use marketing to create
"celebrity" designers to help promote their products. This
often means publishing a large body of that designer’s work, and
making them accessible to the public through teaching engagements
and interviews in magazines, Internet chats, or podcasts. It means
in many instances building a "cult of personality" around
the designer and her work, in order to sell a product line with her
name on it or to attract participants to events with her name on the
You cannot overestimate the danger of the false sense of intimacy
created when the public sees repeated glimpses of a personality’s
private life through their publications and company marketing.
Larger-than-life images may make great name brands, but they can
also easily be a brand’s undoing, because no one can live up to
that large of an image.
It is too easy for the public at large to assume that the
snapshot of a designer’s life they see in public work is the whole
picture, instead of inevitably just a corner of it. People can begin
to feel that they know that person and make global judgements about
that person from the things that they think they "know." A
false sense of familiarity really can breed contempt, and when that
backlash against that designer happens, it will almost certainly
affect the bottom line of the associated products as well.
So what are the answers to these problems? How do we protect
designer privacy – and the revenues of products they promote –
in an industry that is essentially personal? Unfortunately, there
are no easy solutions to these unavoidable problems.
At the basic level, designers and companies should think twice
before releasing any personal information. A chatty blog may seem
like a great marketing idea, but what will it really accomplish?
What is the possible downside, versus the likely benefit? Publishing
layouts of a designer’s innermost struggles may be inspiring to
others facing similar struggles and attract a lot of attention, but
will that story possibly come back to haunt that designer later?
These are questions that both designers and companies need to ask
Companies should also be wary of working too hard to create
celebrities to use in their marketing projects. The public doesn’t
need to know everything about a designer to respect, value, and wish
to emulate their work – and that is what makes them marketable.
Crossing the line into a cult of personality only invites more
problems than benefits for both the designer and their sponsor.
When the personal becomes public, a bell is rung that can’t be
un-rung. Care should be taken by all involved that it’s not a
death knell for a career or a company.
Mike Hartnett Comments.
1. There have been recent media reports of young people
losing out on jobs because of what they had posted on sites such as
MySpace.com. The person applies for a job and the human resource
director finds him/her on such a website and learns things about the
person that weren't on the resume.
2. A while ago there was a startling report on a TwoPeas
message board. A scrapper had posted one of her layouts on the web.
Months later she opened a magazine and there was a photo of her
child. Someone had lifted the photo from the original layout,
included it in a new layout, and submitted it to a magazine, which
unwittingly published it.
3. CLN has also heard of cases of scrapbooks used as
evidence in divorce cases. If a disgruntled spouse tells a court
that he or she has been miserable for years, the other spouse might
scrapbooks filled with photos of smiling, happy families.
4. As for the cult of personality, Martha Stewart's business
nosedived when she went to prison.
(Note: Nancy is writing regularly for Creative
TECHniques and Scrapbook Premier in addition to her own
website, Inside Scrapbooking (www.insidescrapbooking.typepad.com).
To comment on Nancy's warnings, email CLN at email@example.com.
To read previous "Kate's Collage" articles, click on the
titles in the right-hand column.)