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Posted on Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

Dave!I've studied quite a few languages off and on... German, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, French, Italian, Thai, and Swedish... to name eight. Out of all of that, only Italian and Japanese really took hold enough for me to offer passable conversation to native speakers. All the others just kind of faded away.

And while all languages are interesting in their own way (and provide a fascinating insight into those who speak it)... German has the word "schadenfreude" which earns it a special place in my heart.

Schadenfreude is "shameful joy" and is used to describe those who find pleasure in the misfortune of others. Like when somebody you don't like breaks their arm and you feel happy about it... that's schadenfreude.

Every once in a while a local school or college calls me up to ask if a student can "shadow" me for a day or two so they can see what it's like to be a graphic designer. If I have the time, I always say "yes" because heaven only knows I would have loved to have had that opportunity when I was in school.
Most of the time, it's okay. The student observing me is grateful to be there. But two years ago I got a guy who already knew everything... he wasn't satisfied with observing, he decided he was going to school me on what's what. Skippy (not his real name) liked to talk a lot about how talented he is, and was very fond of working the words "old school" into the conversation when discussing how I approached my work. I just ignored him, knowing full-well that he had a lot to learn about reality in the graphic design business.

So guess who called me today?

Turns out Skippy finished up school and got himself a design job! Unfortunately for Skippy, he found out the hard way that sometimes "old school" isn't such a bad thing. Sometimes "old school" is just another way of saying "time-tested and proven". Sometimes when you cut corners in your work, you aren't being creative or innovative... you're just being sloppy and lazy.

And so now Skippy wants my advice. He's on the verge of tears because he's taken a bunch of short-cuts to finish a project, and everything has gone terribly wrong. Can I tell him what to do? Can I help him out of the jam he's in?

And there it is, that feeling of schadenfreude that has me wanting to say "suck it, fool!"

But, of course, I'm just too nice of guy for that. I ask him to send me the project so I can take a look, and am horrified to see what a mess he's got himself into. There's really nothing I can do. In order to help him out, I'd have to start over from scratch and I just don't have that kind of time.

So I break the bad news to Skippy... he's boned. I offer a few bits of advice, then give him my condolences and hang up the phone.

It's then that I feel really, really bad about the schadenfreude.

But only for a minute.

I am such an old-school bastard.


I am getting a little bit of "link love" where people are misunderstanding a few things here. Primary of which is that I am "old school" because I don't know how to use the newer tools that are available in "modern" graphic arts programs (like Photoshop and Illustrator). People are assuming that I stubbornly stuck in an "old" way of doing things, and refuse to learn anything new.

This is not the case. I always keep current with new software versions and the magical new features that come with them. The point that I was trying to make is that while these new tools ARE useful for some situations (and obviously I do use them when it makes sense)... sometimes just because you CAN do a thing does not mean you SHOULD do a thing. Sometimes the "old" way of doing things is the best way. If you are interested in some examples, I've put them in an extended entry...

Okay then, as a "for instance"... Photoshop has a tool called "Magic Wand" which allows you to select a range of colors without having to manually draw something up. There are also "masking tools" available which are fancier versions of the "Magic Wand". I rarely use them, because usually you want a "clean" selection, and it's better to use channel selections or the pen tool. That way you don't have camera noise or film grain giving you fuzzy selections...


Now, I've exaggerated here a bit to make a point (using multiple selections with the Magic Wand tool in a smaller gamut would give better results)... but the principle is the same. The Magic Wand is not really appropriate for a situation like this but, since it's easier and faster, it's the first tool many designers reach for. Here is a case where "going old school" gets you a better mask, better results, and you can always go back and paint back the little fibers into the mask if you need them.

Another "new school" toy is called the "Healing Brush"... it's a wonderful timesaver for touch-ups on smooth surfaces when you have a good hi-res image, but I see many people using it in places where it produces blurry little welts that ruin the natural texture of the item...


Again, this is a bit exaggerated (the new "Patch Tool" would probably handle it fine), but the point is that the "old school" clone stamp is a much better choice here because it allows you to paint in the texture without any blurry edges or strange color shifts that rough surfaces produce with the Healing Brush. But, again, the Healing Brush is much faster and doesn't require much thought to use, so a lot of people reach for it when they really should be making a different choice.

In the end, it's all a matter of the situation at hand. Yes, sometimes the cool new toys are a real timesaver and produce excellent results. But it's not always the case, and learning to know when NOT to use them is critical to get professional results. And if that's what people want to call "old school" then I am not bothered by the term one bit... old school or new school, I use whatever approach will produce the best possible results for my client.

Categories: DaveLife 2006Click To It: Permalink


  1. “Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude (denn sie kommt von Herzen)”

    — Schadenfreude is the best kind of Joy (because it comes from the Heart)

    Good story.

  2. James says:

    Ahh, the great Dave shows the ugly cheek. Nice.

    Dude, I want to shadow you! That would be so cool.

  3. mrjerz says:

    That’s horsebleep, Dave. You told him to suck it, and I know it. Poor Skippy. I know how you fell, though. I’ve taught a broadcast class for the past few semesters for a day about editing, and there are kids in there that think they have it all figured out. Like, for instance (and this is really geeky) that iMovie is somehow a superior editing tool to Final Cut Pro. But in my very warm and caring nature, I usually laugh and tell them to preemptively suck it. That’s always fun.

  4. R says:

    I don’t know if anybody cares about this comment or not, but I just wanted to say for no reason that you remind me of my husband–same sense of humor, interest in Buddhism, trying to be a good person, finding himself to still be a human being in spite of his best efforts, and the graphic design career. My hubby works for a television station here and has had to do the same thing you were talking about, have students shadow him for a day or so, even help choose the new hires. Sometimes they are the know-it-all jackasses that you mentioned.

    Oh, and just so you know what dorks we really are, we knew the word schadenfreude from the Simpsons episode where Lisa says to Homer that he’s too happy about seeing Flanders’ business fail. Yeah, we know wayyyy too much about the Simpsons. We are such dorks . . . Well, maybe “nerd” is more fitting.

    Take care,

  5. Anthony says:

    This “graphic designer” story is fooling noone Dave. It’s clear to all, you are in fact, an assassin.

  6. Nicola says:

    What a great choice of fake name!

    At least he’s learnt his lesson now, or at least hopefully he has.

  7. JoeBruin88 says:

    Nicely written. Very funny.

  8. kilax says:

    Haha. Skippy deserves what he got.

  9. ms. sizzle says:

    it all comes back around. karma! woo! ok so karma technically doesn’t occur until the next life but you know what i mean.

    old school bastards rock.

  10. Kevin says:

    I hate to take delight in the misfortune of others; but sometimes people really do deserve it. I see it all the time being in creative fields like you are. People take the easy way out in designing Web pages on a regular basis. However, I am always required to fix what they have done because, when someone on the outside notices the problem, the blame lies squarely on me and my department because I am the Web developer even though they may be the ones responsible for their department’s pages.

    So that’s what Schadenfreude means. I’ve been wondering about it for a couple years but never bothered to look it up because I always forget the word by the time I get home to my German dictionary. Thanks!

  11. Jeff says:

    ‘Twas a good lesson for him. He’ll thank you later on for making him a better designer.

  12. Bre says:

    Word on campus is that “old school” is coming back into the light… so that should really be good for you, no?

    As for Skippy, he (like every single student I deal with) got his reality check! They all get one eventually!

  13. SJ says:

    Is it wrong that I keep picturing Skippy looking like the villain in The Incredibles?

  14. Kristy says:

    Damn, that’s exactly how I felt when you where having problems with Horizon Air (I worked there for 15 years). Now I have a word for it–thanks!

  15. Dave2 says:


    Please tell me that you were schadenfreuding HORIZON AIR and not ME!!

    Otherwise, I’ll be spending the rest of the week trying to figure out exactly how I pissed you off! 🙂

  16. Karl says:

    Funny, I can’t help but think of “Family Ties” when I hear the name Skippy. Or peanut butter. Sometimes both.

  17. Laurence says:

    Oh. Schadenfreude…
    German language can create “mots composés” (made up words). French language does not allow it. But we have writers like Jules Renard who said : “Il ne suffit pas d’être heureux, il faut encore que les autres ne le soient pas”. (It is not enough to be happy. It is still neccessary that the others are not it.)
    I think that it is a little schadenfreude, n’est-ce pas ?

  18. Deb_LA says:

    I loved Family Ties! Skippy was on Last Comic Standing but he didn’t make it past the first round. Now he’s going to be fired too?? Poor Skippy, he’s having a bad month.

  19. babyoog says:

    I’m a designer myself and for a while I had another (very young) designer working for me. Skippy reminds me of her. Quite the hot shot – she knew everything and had no interest in my creative direction. She left to go work for a bigger company. I sometimes wonder how she’s doing now that she’s working for people who probably don’t give a rat’s ass about her personal and professional development.

    Also reminds me of the young programmer I planned to interview for a job. One day (before the interview), he thought it would be funny to IM me with a screen name I wouldn’t recognize and try to flirt with me. Needless to say, I cancelled the interview.


  20. Laurence says:

    You want that we reveal when we are “Sch…”. (I write “Sch…” because I am unable to pronounce this word.)
    Fine, but it is not very nice to hear. You will discover that I am undoubtedly a horrible person.
    I am a “Sch…” when some of my students are inattentive. And when the examinations arrive, I see them perspiring during my examinations (2 or 3 hours).
    Now, I suppose that you are glad to know that you are not the only one with being “Sch…” But I am sure that you are disappointed by my behaviour. Me, in any case, I am not proud…

  21. Göran says:

    I´ve started writing a few comments now and deleting what I wrote. This post really got me thinking about stuff and I can totally relate to you and the kid. I remember being in artschool and everything seemed so easy to do back then. *poof* and it was hot out from the printshop. It was easy being cocky until you were spit out into the real world, just like “Skippy” is now.

    Alittle schadenfreude is always good though 😉

    I´m gonna go reread Siddhartha by Hesse now!

  22. Tracy says:

    If you’ve not heard the cast recording of “Avenue Q”, you must…there’s a brilliant song in the show about Schadenfreude!

  23. Chanakin says:


    Skippy visiting this site and reading thirty-some posts ripping on him.

  24. Eve says:

    I think I would have felt and reacted the same as you. That tiny feeling of satisfactory joy, but you didn’t stick it to him. You helped him out as best as possible. But hey, Skippy and his know-it-all ‘tude had it comin’.

  25. I think schadenfreude is perfectly natural. No matter how hard I try to be a better person, there is still that little devilish feeling I get every once an awhile.

    As for Skippy, hopefully he has learned that when you roll old school, you roll the best!

  26. Charred says:

    The Bastard side of “the Force” grows strong within you. Soon you will graduate to the level of “Rotten Bastard Master.”

  27. Dave2 says:

    For anybody reading the comments feed here, I’ve added an update to this entry to clear up some confusion some people had as to what Skippy considered to be “old school”.

    Good ol’ Skippy!

  28. Chanakin says:

    So “new school” means University of Sally Struthers.

    I hate the Magic Wand for the exact reason you give. I like to use the Magnetic Lasso and simply ‘layer via copy’. That’s only because I have no idea what I’m doing.

    Clone Stamp rules. If you can’t take two seconds to adjust the brush settings to give you the best stamp…

  29. Mocha says:

    I’m so proud of you, Dave. What a big boy you are! 😉

  30. Erin says:

    Cool – I learned something without the pain of calling someone I’d previously been an ass to – poor Skippy, I bet this was a hard lesson. Thanks for the Photoshop hints!

  31. Another German word I really like is:


    It means “finger tip feeling”. Feeling your way around blind….taking a risk…going by your finger tip instincts.


    Oh and there is also:


    Talking past one another.

    I minored in German and am half Kraut. this gives me mad skills in strange Germant semantics, ordering beer and cussing people out. Especially the beer part.

  32. Nancy says:

    I took a year of graphic design eons ago, what fun! The stuff you do it great!

  33. claire says:

    I’m no photoshop wiz, but I use the clone stamp often to clean images up. I’ve tried the healing brush and patch tool (the latter I’m getting a little better hang of), but mostly they just cause more trouble for me. Yea old school!

  34. Wayne Hall says:

    I love the Photoshop examples. The concept of “old school” vs “newbie with a few tricks” extends everywhere

    – Networking computers
    – Parenting
    – Driving
    – Planning a wedding
    – unix
    – blogging
    – humor


    – comments


  35. Dave2 says:

    Ooh! Ooh! By “parenting” do you really mean “beating your kids”??

    Because a lot of kids I see now-a-days need a serious beating…

  36. Wayne Hall says:

    Yeah, see, I call that “old school” but *some* folks think that a fair amount of discipline, especially at an early age, should be called “child abuse.” Physical discipline, when administered with love and consistent boundaries help set the stage for proper behavior.

    Now, with the “Parenting for dumbasses” book hitting the stores soon, I will be happy to have some copies standing by to hand out as needed, so I can remind folks of the old school ways.

    “schedules are a _good_ thing” – getting your kid in bed at a set consistent time may interrupt your TV schedule but if you must put your TV watching before your kids, at least get a TiVo.

    “don’t bend when they’re little” – you may _think_ you’re being too hard-nosed on a 3yr old when you tell them “if you do that, then ” and you follow-through with it. You may _think_ you’re winning favor with the child by saying “well, just this once you can get away with it, because heck, he’s just 3 and it’s so darn cute!”. You may _think_ it’s easier to just give in when they ask 300 times for a cookie before dinner.

    But you’d be wrong. If you set the expectation early that “daddy doesn’t budge” then they grow up knowing that. It’s like the story of the elephant, aka “Elephant Trap”, taken from wiki

    “From when an elephant is a baby they tie him for certain periods with a rope to a tree. The young elephant tries his hardest to escape, he pulls and wriggles and jumps and crawls yet the rope just tightens and to the tree it remains tied. Learning that, the elephant doesn’t try to escape and accepts his confinement. A couple of years pass and the elephant is now an adult weighing several tons. Yet the trainer continues to tie the elephant to the tree with the same rope he’s always used, for the simple reason that the elephant has the concept in his mind that the rope is stronger than him. Abiding to this conditioning the elephant is trapped for life. To break free all the elephant has to do is erase that limiting thought for in fact he is free to go.”

    (note: to my knowledge, I’ve never owned an elephant. I’ve never worked in the circus unless you count the County Government. So I’ve not actually tested this statement with an elephant; I’ve only heard it. Then I liked it. Then I thought it was great supporting evidence for a portion of my parenting style, so I’ll quote it since it suits me.)

    If my son knows I won’t budge on something as small as a cookie, or 30 minutes more TV or whether or not he can eat his broccoli, it doesn’t even cross his mind when it’s something more serious. *He* doesn’t “know” the cookie, TV or broccoli to be small things. He just knows he tried and tried, but this wall called Daddy wasn’t breakable.

    By the time he grows up and can think for himself, he can break free of the mental rope. And I hope he does shed the rope when the time is right. I’m not interested in having my kids have that rope on their entire lives.

    But I do want them to have the rope when faced with society’s ills, temptations, bad decisions, and traps.

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