You’re A CEO. Not A Designer.

These are the words of lost souls. They have forgotten who they are, and in a desperate attempt to cling onto something real and tangible, they put out their arms, grab onto their in-house design teams, and scream into the void “I’M A DESIGNER NOW.”


“I just knew it was important, and so I wanted it to be good.”

“One weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches”

“I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)”

“That happens, when you start to know who you are.”

A trend is on the horizon, and it’s a troubling one. The CEOs are coming, and they have Adobe Illustrator and DaFont.com.

Earlier this week, Uber announced a total brand overhaul. It has been met with resounding shrugs and perplexed tweets. Granted, the old look and feel wasn’t that polished or refined (despite the intention for it to bring to mind luxurious town car services) but the new one just doesn’t make sense. The icons are hieroglyphics, practically indecipherable except to those who have read the extended explanations on them. In addition, the illustrative elements are a fever dream of mid century modern lines mixed with 1980s Miami Vice/Memphis Movement colours. Normally that wouldn’t be a criticism coming from me, seeing how that’s a vibe I chase, but in this case it’s totally offside.

All of this aside, this post really isn’t about critiquing the rebrand (but credit where credit is due, I like the wordmark). No, this post is about CEOs who think they’re designers.

Those quotes, above, are from Travis Kalanick and Marissa Mayer, CEOs of Uber and Yahoo, respectively. Both have a history and proven track record of leadership, growing and building businesses, and managing large multi-billion dollar companies. Neither are trained professional designers, yet both have taken the wheel when it came to their company rebrand, with less than stellar results.

“I love brands, logos, color, design.” – Marissa Mayer

Yes, I’m sure you do, Marissa. Anyways —

“And, most of all, Adobe Illustrator. I think it’s one of the most incredible software packages ever made.” – Marissa Mayer

Please sit down, Marissa. Anyways, designers already have a bit of an uphill battle these days. Design has become more mainstream and is discussed more often, and with that has created this environment of commonality. People are no longer mystified by good and bad design. They know they like Apple products, and that Apple stands for good design, so if they can see the good design, and can tell you what good design is, they shouldn’t have to pay you for that good design. It’s something every designer has come up against. The client wants you to make something, you make it (having agreed on a price and the expectation that upon completion you will be paid), only to have the client decide that’s not what they’re looking for, or that they would have done it like “this.”

Designers are workers. They are trained professionals who are well informed, highly detailed, and understand nuances of design. They work for years to become good at what they do.

I’m all for people bettering themselves (I bought Gwyneth’s cookbook), and I don’t really believe in the idea of “staying in your lane.” We should all try new things. But I also don’t think a CEO should roll up their sleeves and take the design process by the throat, strictly because they’re so gosh darn keen to figure out all that fancy kerning and colour harmony. A CEO should be empowering their employees, and by reducing the job of an entire department into a discussion over what’s pretty, they are doing more harm than good.

Obviously a CEO will (and rightfully should) have input in the creative process. Everyone involved with a brand should, to an extent. But at the end of the day, when you’re dealing with something as critical as a total overhaul of a valuable brand, it is in the best interest of the company, to let designers, well, design. In exchange, I won’t get in the way at the next Board of Directors meeting.

Tim Singleton is an intermediate designer at 88 Creative. You can chase his vibe on Instagram and Twitter.