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Insights on business, and practical ways to improve your own.

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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 marquee.

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 themselves.

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 mike@clnonline.com. To read previous "Kate's Collage" articles, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

xxx

 

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