Monday, August 29, 2016

Some Thoughts on a Recent Controversy

This post may anger or otherwise upset some people. It is not intended to. But witnessing the past few days’ worth of online outrage over a dispute between a local brewery and an individual contractor they engaged for design work has left me dismayed at what I believe to be a fundamental lack of perspective.

As I know and consider myself friends (or at least friendly) with most of the individuals involved in this dispute, I do not wish to “take sides.” It is not my dispute. Neither, however, is it the dispute of the hyperjudgmental mob taking to the Internet to trash people they don’t know, imputing all manner of nefarious motives to them and feeling free to issue categorical opinions, all on the basis of a few Facebook posts.

Here, then, is my attempt to provide some of that sorely lacking perspective. But before I get to that, there are a couple disclosure-y things to note so that you, the reader, can properly judge what I have to say.

First, the brewery in question, which everyone who is reading this knows is Glasshouse Brewing on Ann Arbor’s west side, had a logo design already done for them long before any of this controversy erupted. I connected the owners of Glasshouse with the designer who did that original design. It’s here:

The owners liked this design well enough that they ordered logoed glassware. I can’t say why they decided to re-do a logo they already invested in, but it is worth noting that this is the case.

Second, I’ve been a full-time freelancer since 2009, so I’m coming at this with some experience of the challenges thereof. In fact, I once even performed a minor amount of work for Glasshouse, writing some copy for their old website. (Yes, they did pay me, and promptly.)

Right, then. Now for a few nuggets of perspective I wish more people would consider before jumping to conclusions – conclusions that can materially affect the livelihoods of folks they, again probably in most cases, have never met.
  1. There are always at least two sides to every story. Life teaches you the truth of this, over and over again. Too many people are willing to form snap judgments without so much as even attempting to hear another account of a given event or issue. I’ve been guilty of this over the years, as has pretty much every other human, as well. This is a plea to the angry mob to slow down and temper the emotional with the thoughtful. Usually your view of something changes once you observe it from more than one angle. Do I know all the facts about what’s going on here? No. Neither does anyone who wasn’t directly involved.
  2. This isn’t David vs. Goliath. I’m fairly certain Glasshouse isn’t run by a conglomerate of evil, cackling misers looking to take advantage of the naïve and inexperienced in order to further expand the vast piles of cash they roll around naked in every night. A more realistic view takes into account the understanding that the family who own Glasshouse have successfully operated another, well respected small business in Ann Arbor for decades. Presumably this means they are acquainted with the importance of reputation, professionalism, and fair dealing in business. (If they weren’t, they simply would not be in business.) Glasshouse is an entirely new venture whose success is not assured. It doesn’t make sense that the owners would jeopardize their standing in the community because they wanted some “free” design and web work. Maybe they just thought they would not be publicly called out for it? Perhaps, but again, is that the only explanation? Or even a likely one?
  3. Reputation is important to any business professional. Being “a creative” (not a term I like) myself, I take care to handle my business in such a way as to generate positive word of mouth. I would not recommend to anyone taking dirty laundry public in any but the most extreme of cases. The risk is making a name for yourself that sees potential clients pass you over for someone else they view as less “difficult.” Yes, many of us know people in creative fields who have had clients attempting to pass off “exposure” as a form of payment. But in my experience, this is the exception and not the rule. Just because some “creatives” have at times gotten shortchanged by some clients doesn’t mean every dispute is of this nature. The view of “good creative” vs. “bad client” is as apt to be a lazy template as it is to be a considered opinion.
Conclusion: I believe this whole thing to be the result of a miscommunication between the parties involved. Who bears what share of that miscommunication I don’t know, but I do know it’s entirely possible for people to miscommunicate without any of them being white-clad, pure-of-heart heroes or black-clad, mustache-twirling villains. Also, I think the vast majority of people opining on this subject need to step back and realize they 1) likely don’t know what they think they know and 2) could be inflicting possibly irreparable damage on people whose side they have not even attempted to hear.

Maybe it’s just because as a young man I admired Henry Fonda’s characters in both 12 Angry Men and The Ox-Bow Incident that a profound mistrust of and distaste for mob justice remains an unalterable trait of mine. People of course can and will do as they wish, but I invite everyone tempted to weigh in on this to at least slow their rush to judgment in a disagreement that is neither their own nor one in which they are aware of the entire circumstances.


  1. You're right that there are two sides to every story. We've heard the damning story from a well-respected designer, and almost zero from Glasshouse. I'm more than willing to listen to, and fairly consider, Glasshouse's side of the story, but they're completely ignoring the shitstorm, which leads me to believe the worst about their side of the story.

    I know they have no obligation to publicly respond to an allegation like this, but any Public Relations 101 course would tell them to get out in front of something with this much steam.

    1. Maybe Glasshouse prefers to deal with matters like this privately rather than airing it all out for everyone to see - which is the normal way to do it. And if talking doesn't work, there is always small claims court. This social media first, normal resolution channels second methodology we see these days is horrible for companies that may have ultimately done nothing wrong. As long as someone can write a sob story believable enough and make themselves look innocent enough, the first party to speak wins in the court of public opinion.

      At this point do you think anything Glasshouse can say will make people believe them over the designer? Do you think there is some statement they can release now that will magically shift the ire of hundreds or thousands of people that are up in arms on behalf of the allegedly slighted party in this scenario? I highly doubt it.

    2. They're free to choose to deal with this matter privately, but from a PR standpoint, they have to understand that it's a terrible choice that will cost them dearly.

      Yes, there's a segment of people who will never believe them in any case, but there are many others (myself included) who want to hear their side of the story. Silence is an admission of guilt in the court of public opinion, and there's no way many of us will be supporting a business that treats its contractors like this.

    3. Sounds like they are no longer private about it:

      "Its sad that some people would call all their friends and have them write a bunch of lies to try and hurt our business. They also have our web page holding it hostage. She was paid for everything she did, and paid well!This will all calm down real soon. We will not be held hostage to an idiot who thinks they own the place. We paid for that logo! and also paid everything else that she did, so stop the crying and grow up. I wonder how much all of this is going to cost you in the end." -Sunday Taylor Payeur

      Or the things said here:

      As to the question what could they do to change peoples minds, proving that they paid her would probably go a long way. This sounds like something that could be cleared up with a receipt. That the owners are doubling down and calling anyone who voices disgust liars and children says an awful lot.

      I have reason to believe the designer. I have no reason to believe the owners.

    4. It seems people think the designer has received *no* compensation from the brewery. This is inaccurate, according to the designer herself. The dispute seems to be over the past couple weeks' worth of work, and again my suspicion is a miscommunication about the scope of work.

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  3. I've tweeted for them to provide the signed SOW or any sort of contract. If they signed something that outlines what projects she's responsible to design/create and some sort of hourly rate or estimated flat rate, they're screwed. Otherwise it's a he-said-she-said and it's going to get messy.

    If the designer didn't get something in writing, she has no right to expect any financial compensation and this is a great lesson for her. With that being said, if she paid for the hosting and domain registration with her own funds, then it's legally hers and she can do whatever the hell she wants to do with it.

    As a freelance designer, a proper SOW and good communication regarding the status of projects and what compensation is owed is very important. If I estimate 10 hours @ $50/hour, then try and bill the client for 20 hours without giving them fair warning, that's just going to ruin any further working relationship. If the breweries claim is true that they already paid her and she went rogue and started designing a bunch of assets that weren't in the SOW, then they just need to prove it and put her in her place.

  4. i would truly hope the designer never intended for this social media smear campaign to happen. It's down right evil and in my opinion will hurt her as well. She would not have stayed working with the glasshouse for 5-6 months if she was not getting her monthly contracted pay. I understand she went above and beyond her contract since her boyfriend is the brewmaster at the pub. If she wanted to get paid for that she needed to renegotiate her contract when the pub actually started making a profit. But now this smear campaign that she caused has jeopardized everyone involved. I know who I won't call for graphic design work and I'll be sure every business owner I know in Ann Arbor does the same!