Is Drinking Okay While Designing?

Advice from The Sherwins for August 2016


Dear Sherwins,

I'm a freelance UX Designer, and have a project that needs to get done for next week. I was going to work most of Saturday, and I was wondering—is drinking okay while I'm designing?

Thanks! —J


Can we talk about drinking in design?

Sure. Let’s.

Maybe a better question is: Can you design well and not drink?

That’s what you’re really asking, right?

We here at Ask The Sherwins are big on hypotheses. So, you could test this. Can you test it? Who knows. Designers tend to test for yes. Most people have a problem searching for ways to disprove their hypotheses, even if doing so make their findings more substantial, more reliable.  

But think of the risks! Would you have pulled that concept out of nowhere if you hadn’t taken that beer break at 8pm? Would you and your team be this close to awesome if you weren’t doing beer o’clock every Friday?

Would you still be sitting in front of your laptop, waiting for inspiration to strike?

Would you be the designer you are right now if you didn’t drink? That’s what’s you’re really asking, right?

What if the answer is yes?











(Uncomfortably long pause for reflection.)












Can we talk some more about drinking in design?


First off, don’t get us wrong. We dig classic cocktails, rye neat, wine tastings on Saturday. And we’re from hard-drinking cultures. 

But we’ve seen the bad side to liquor-fueled creative people. The literal blood cost.

Let us tell you about a student slicing his finger off with an X-Acto blade. Let us tell you about the fall down the stairs and the broken leg.

Let us tell you about the sexual harassment and the affairs and the car accidents and the arrests and the woman in the next cubicle puking her guts out on a Wednesday morning while everyone pretended not to notice.

Let us try to remember all the things that we’ve tried to forget.

But we’re not talking about that, are we? Drinking and design, isn’t that right? It’s Friday wine time. Splitting a whiskey when you get through that freakish client review. That guy two cubicles away from you who’s always game for a beer between the long day and the long night ahead.

Never mind the woman over there who doesn’t drink. Or that guy’s “problem” with liquor that you found out about in the most awkward of circumstances. That guy’s religion, that woman’s pregnancy. Never mind them. We just work with them. We’re all adults here. We can make our own decisions.

So let’s talk about drinking and design. Drinking with design. Drinking for design. How quickly we turn to liquor as a chaser to creative activity. How quickly a glass becomes part of the culture. Part of belonging. Part of the job.

Is this the only way we can get that jolt of inspiration. How many times have we joked about the Ballmer Peak? How many of us think it might be true

Maybe it is true. We know so many people (maybe even people strongly resembling ourselves) who saw that the big idea, the beautiful destruction of everything that came before, the sustained swim in the pool of inspired genius—it happened after a pour from a bottle, or a smoke, or some other distraction of choice. Calming the nerves, clearing the mind.

But, like we said, we here at Ask The Sherwins are all about testing hypotheses, and maybe this is one you really can’t test. Maybe we’ll never know.

So we ask this:

Can teams make drinking a choice, a real choice, and not an expectation? Can teams be inclusive of everyone, a true meritocracy regardless of how many beers you can afford? Can you definitively say there’s no long-term cultural cost for an individual who doesn't drink, while working on a team that does?

Can you recall the last time HR asked everyone to think about liability around drinking while working? 

Can you negotiate client expectations around “bonding” over alcohol? Can you recover from your critiques and client feedback without an adult beverage in hand? 

Can you have one holiday party without a staggering drunk and a missing set of keys—or is that the only way that we know we’re having fun? Can you celebrate with clear heads and steady hands? 

Can we belong as designers if we don’t drink?

Can we be creative and not drink? 

In the end, maybe this last question was what you were really asking. All that other stuff, that comes afterward. Right after: What if the answer is no?

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