How to think differently about doing good as a creative person: A guide to avoiding “creative savior complex” when working on social impact projects.


An open letter in response to conversations that corporations would prefer to keep behind closed doors.

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The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald is seen after being vandalized in Montreal, Friday, August 17, 2018. Photo: GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS via The Globe and Mail
Hi Stephen,
Yes, I’m sorry for the outcome as well. And I do also want to affirm our friendship and our common desire to spur each other on to “love and good works”.
However, I think your short time with [name of project manager] and his attempt at self-deprecating humour has painted a different picture of the man I'm coming to know. He certainly doesn't identify with the current ISM brand/website and is working to steer the ship in a more Jesus-aligned direction.
How did Jesus initiate change that transformed and continues to challenge our world? I believe this is key to the “how” of systemic change. I know I don’t have all the answers.
Looking forward to continuing the conversion - hopefully in person.
[My good friend, whose name I will omit out of respect for the relationship of trust we built working together over the past years.]

I am sure that you didn’t mean to say that you want to continue the “conversion”, but rather to have a conversation. But, it is telling.

White Saviour Complex is real.

How to think differently about doing good as a creative person: A guide to avoiding “creative savior complex” when working on social impact projects, written by Omayeli Arenyeka and illustrated by Neta Bomani.

How to think differently about doing good as a creative person
A guide to avoiding Creative Savior Complex when working on social impact projects, written by Omayeli Arenyeka and illustrated by Neta Bomani.
  1. A superiority complex: the belief they’re better than the people receiving their “help,” or that other people are incapable of helping themselves. This distinctly patronizing belief is often rooted in racism.
  2. Selfishness: the illusion they’re “helping” other people, when they’re actually helping themselves.
  3. A lack of consent: The work being done is happening without the consultation of the group they’re trying to help.

For a book-length treatise on this problem, refer to the work of Anand Giridharadas in his book, Winners Take All.

To understand the decisions made through authoritarian corporate hierarchies to create the conditions for the gross inequalities and the lack of faith in our institutions that have led to the social unrest that we are witnessing at this very moment, I would recommend a book by Louis Hyman, Temp: The Real Story of What Happened to Your Salary, Benefits, and Job Security.

Temp by Louis Hyman: 9780735224087 | Books
Winner of the William G. Bowen Prize Named a “Triumph” of 2018 by New York Times Book Critics Shortlisted for the 800-CEO-READ Business Book Award The untold history of the surprising origins of the...
A tech monopoly is authoritarian corporate capitalism, benefitting from the inequities created by and designed into the system. By enforcing policies through the asymmetric power of corporations over humans, @Apple perpetuates systemic injustice.

This is the problem that I was noticing in my interactions with yourself, Rhyson, Stephan, and Amy. There is an asymmetry of power in the relationship that you are trying to establish with me. I should be happy to have the work that you are offering me. However, the work happens to involve enabling the enrichment of corporate parasites who are offering services to disinterested CEOs with the prospect of increasing profits while quelling unrest within the corporate work force, the exact situation that led to my decision to leave Domain7.

Domain7, a global digital transformation agency
Transforming culture and systems.
As designers, we have power to give our time to what is important and necessary and required. We also have power to withhold our labour from the very systems that are built to oppress us.
Candid, Solution-Focused & Gritty
A response and open letter to Peter Reek, Smart Savvy + Associates, for whom I created a brand design. What would motivate me to commit professional suicide by making myself untouchable and…

The HR manager of the agency where I used to work is directly responsible for my current financial precarity. He hired or promoted incompetent managers who knew nothing about design and put them in charge of the productivity and profitability of our business units. He cut off communication between the members of our design team through efficient project management practices, which isolated designers into production units driven by project managers who delivered very little to the project while increasing the production demands and reducing collaboration, capacity, and the ability to effectively coordinate as a team.

When I raised concerns about burn out, health problems, incompetent managers, and lack of collaboration, communication, agency, and opportunities for advancement or personal learning and development, my concerns were rewarded with the promise of an opportunity to collaborate while working on a significant project.

The team was tasked with designing and building a solution for a higher education website as a responsive web design for Claremont McKenna College. The catch was that Claremont McKenna College was looking for the success of Regent College with a budget that allowed only for a three-month commitment, in comparison to the one-and-a-half to two years that it had taken for the more comprehensive UX design project for Regent College.

Claremont McKenna College
I quickly built a static site generator with XSLT that would be able to deliver an interactive prototype and production-ready assets, building CSS with SASS as part of the asset pipeline.
Regent College
Domain7’s first large responsive web design project involved a redesign for Regent College, resulting in an award from Applied Arts, and establishing the web agency’s reputation for UX design and responsive design for higher-education.

As it turned out, it was a “more bricks, less straw” project to design and build a solution for a client without adequate time and resources.

Hierarchies and Networks
I have been meeting with people as part of a group that gathers weekly to learn about how to grow personally and professionally in the area of leadership. It is essentially a book club for…

While the initial team consisted of several people, the resources dwindled over time as the project manager pulled people into other projects. In the end, I delivered the project, practically single-handedly, working overtime to deliver within time and budget. During the project post-mortem review meeting, the appreciation for the work went to the person who threw together some Balsamiq wireframes as a way to provide the illusion to the client that work was progressing while I was trying to complete the actual work of building HTML, CSS, and JavaScript templates without the necessary time and resources, since the larger team that I had been promised was reduced to myself and a UX designer with no competence for the work that needed to be done.

I have offered further details of my testimony:

Now, you would ask me, what does any of this have to do with White Supremacy?

Repentance, Forgiveness and Reconciliation
As an experiment to build friendships and understanding with people who are not like me, I started hanging around with a bunch of guys gathering Monday evenings around a backyard fire in a Canadian…
I Love Donald J. Trump
I hate everything Trump stands for but we need him. He is a 70-year-old child with no impulse control who needs to go back to Kindergarten to learn how to share. Still, I love him for who God made…

I would posit the argument that Western European Christian monarchies and aristocracies exported their religion, laws, and economic systems in an effort to gain converts while colonizing the world and exploiting its resources for their own economic enrichment.

Extraction Empire
Globally, more than 75% of prospecting and mining companies on the planet are based in Canada. Seemingly impossible to conceive, the scale of these statistics naturally extends the logic of Canada’s historical legacy as state, nation, and now, as global resource empire.
Canada’s work has always been the theft of Indigenous land on behalf of the British Crown.
The work of the #CanadianGenocide needs to stop.
The real work is to tell the true histories of this land and to stop whitewashing with bureaucratic PR.

Now, these good white Canadian Christians are trying to tell us that they are not racist or white supremacist. But the ongoing actions of the majority of the citizens in this country indicate that they are content with our system. They might even insist that it is this system that is actually responsible for the benefits and amenities of the modern world and the wealth of nations.

However, from another perspective, this belief system betrays a learned helplessness that accepts the existing system as normal and incapable of remediation.

I would argue that this learned helplessness is a failure of imagination and a lack of political will.

Exactly how long do we wait for white people to do better?
For over 500 years, you have been stealing, looting, terrorizing, kidnapping, raping, killing, enslaving, and exploiting.
You cannot and you will not do better.
#AbolishTheRCMP #ShutDownCanada

This is how systemic racism works. It depends on the learned helplessness of those who work the system and benefit from it.

Fascist Architecture
A transcript of an excerpt from the excellent Nice Try! podcast about Utopias and how they go wrong. This episode is called Germania: Architecture in a Fascist Utopia. Traces of this fascist utopia…

This is the bargain that we have made when we participate in this system, when we choose “the economy” over the well-being of people.

A clear choice is being made between a value in human abstractions (in-groups, ideologies, property, capital, the economy, the border) or in living, breathing human beings.
Every time people declare what they value, believe them. They’re choosing whether to be human or inhuman.

I have been thinking for over seven years about what my response should be to the injustices that I have witnessed in my lifetime.

I have chosen to take back my power. I refuse to work on behalf of this system. I will not be propping up the status quo with solutions that are meant to maintain control over the narrative through corporate monopolies over public discourse. This is the system that white Christian European nations imagined, designed, and built to maintain power over the land and resources and to eliminate and assimilate the Indigenous populations through intransigent bureaucracy.

A good white Canadian telling us how systemic racism works: through intransigent bureaucracy and the learned helplessness of its citizens as land theft and genocide on behalf of the Crown continues unabated. Canada is racist. The Indian Act is genocide.

I have the power to refuse my labour.

As designers, we have power to give our time to what is important and necessary and required. We also have power to withhold our labour from the very systems that are built to oppress us.

Instead, I will be reimagining our social architecture and exploring how we imagine, design, and build the future together.

Mental Models for Human Experience
Transcending human-centered design, this is design that seeks to learn from nature, to put into practice the knowledge and principles of biomimicry to reimagine and redesign our environment, to reconnect ourselves to our own humanity and to reconnect us to the earth and all living things.

We are building leaders to design a resilient society.

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