The Secret Designer: The Time I Almost Worked for Satan

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May 03, 2018
The Secret Designer: The Time I Almost Worked for Satan.
No matter how much we might wish otherwise, money is integral to our society and our lives. It’s a powerful motivator, and it can tempt even the most morally upright and ethically-concerned among us. And let’s be very clear: I try to be a decent person, but I would not call myself the “most” anything. For all that I once dreamed of being a superhero as a child, I can’t claim superiority now. And so when Satan (I’ll explain…) came and asked me to name my price, I very nearly worked for him, or some of his representatives, anyway. Imagine, if you will, a political party that most rational people would call “evil”, or at the very least: “misguided in the extreme”. While many people the world over are reasonably concerned about things like immigration, these people would be the first to sling racist nicknames around. Not for free speech, oh no. Because they liked it. They genuinely believed themselves to be on a crusade against impurity, against invaders. They weren’t violent, as such. No white hoods. They just wanted everyone else to “stay home”, and weren’t afraid to use dirty political tricks to achieve this. They were ignorant. They believed every crackpot theory that even smelled like a conspiracy. A party name just popped into your head, didn’t it? There are parties like the one I’ve described all over the world. Sure, it’s that one. Let’s go with that one. For brevity’s sake, I’ll call them the PoS, which mostly stands for The Party of Satan. Last note before the story continues: they are not in my country.

The Approach

They approached me online, and asked if I would be interested in doing some design work for them. I was, as you can imagine, quite hesitant. Well, no one starts out with the intention to sell their soul. But I was curious. How could I not be? For one, I wanted to see if they were as bad as everyone said. They asked me to look at a website they’d set up for their very own PoS news network: just a simple WordPress setup with a minimal theme. They wanted to know if I’d “spruce it up” a little, and generally just make it look more appealing. And I actually said “no” to that. I couldn’t bring myself to directly work on anything they touched. That would put me too close to the racism, in my own eyes. But this was a political party, so they had money. I was a relatively new and poor designer, so I wanted some of that money. I decided that I could probably live with it if I worked only as a consultant. I could look at their site, and tell them how to make it look a bit better, and make it more usable. It wasn’t anything they couldn’t learn themselves with some Googling, anyway. After spending quite a bit of time rationalizing (I’ll explain…), I thought, “I’ll ask them for [a lot of money]. If they say yes, then what the hell?”

Temptation & Rationalization is the Worst Jane Austen Book

Well, they didn’t even blink. My rationalization was that I lived in a different country, surrounded by people they didn’t like very much in any case. I would take that money (which, at the time, I could have lived on for a year), and spend it in the local economy. The money would only benefit their “enemies”. And it was not as if they would simply shut down and fall apart without my help. Some “good” might as well come of it. I wish I could tell you that everything fell through when I came to my senses, and realized that no amount of money was worth my integrity or self respect. The truth is that my sense of integrity was still forming at the time, and I had no self respect to speak of. The truth is that I could only think of myself, and how I could live off that money while working on grandiose ideas like “writing a book”. I was in my very early twenties. That would have been a terrible book, anyway.

And Then it Fell Apart

It was mere chance and a lack of forethought on my part that saved me from making the biggest professional mistake of my life. I had another site that I’d started with a friend. It was a sort of side agency targeted at small business customers who wanted to get their first websites up and running. And on that site, I made the mistake that prevented the other, much bigger mistake: I listed my prices. The prices listed for small business websites were, of course, much lower than the one I had quoted to the PoS for mere consultation. They, to their credit, did their research, and saw those prices. They emailed me asking about the pricing discrepancy, which was more than fair. I couldn’t very well tell them, “I asked for way more from you because you’re Satan. And because you can afford it while they can’t. And I’d charge any other political party the same, probably.” Well, I wanted to, but I didn’t. That was perhaps the first professional thing I did in that whole situation.

Lessons Learned

It was after everything fell through that I realized I’d gotten very lucky. If I’d had any hand in that party’s operations, I would have hated myself for it long after. And if they’d put my name anywhere, I might never have been able to work with people I actually liked ever again. Stick to your principles, simple as that. I guess, if I’m honest, these sorts of situations do a lot to help you define your principles, and to see how far you’re willing to bend them. I saw, I was disgusted, and I developed a stricter personal code. And if you do intend to betray your principles for money, for goodness’ sake don’t list your prices anywhere. Your integrity should not come cheap.

The Secret Designer

The Secret Designer is a regular column in which different designers open up about some of the most shocking, difficult, and confusing times of their careers. Do you have a story that you’d like to tell anonymously? Then get in touch.

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