This post is the second article of our new series “Global Web Design“. Over the next months we’ll be covering various continents, featuring web developers and web designs from different countries of the world and taking a close look of what is happening in the web design scene worldwide. We started last week with Russian web design1521. We continue now with Ireland (Lee Munroe) and Brazil (Fabio Sasso).
Ireland. The land of the leprechauns, green fields and Guinness. But what about the web industry in Ireland? There have been a host of interesting things happening both North and South of Ireland recently. Nicholas Felton talked in Belfast, Ze Frank talked in Dublin, FOWA3 came to Dublin for the first time and FOWD4 came to Belfast. Are all these high profile events an indication that there are exciting things happening throughout Ireland?
To give you an insight into some of the interesting stuff happening, I’ve interviewed several high profile Irish designers involved in the web industry and how they feel Ireland is making an impact on the rest of the world, along with a showcase of some of the more inspiring websites being produced.
State Of Things
Q: How do you feel the standard of web design throughout Ireland sits with the rest of the world, and how is it changing?
Alan O’Rourke7: I really felt 2-3 years ago that it was lagging way behind. There were a few really good designers you could count on one hand. But lately there are designers and sites springing out of nowhere with top class international standard portfolio sites and an amazing can-do attitude.
Around about the same time a brilliant grass roots community started building with a new openness and sharing of knowledge. Open coffees, Barcamps, and showcase sites all focusing on highlighting Irish talent. In terms of commercial design, photography and illustration I see Ireland being quite comfortably up there with the best in the world. However, it still has a way to go in terms of experimentation and more artistically driven websites.
Eoghan McCabe10: Honestly, the standard of web design in Ireland is extraordinarily disappointing. Most people would rather not admit that and make an excuse: “there are great people out there, they’re just not known”, and so on. But the truth is that there are very few people, if any really, influencing web design on a global level from Ireland. You could make a list of 100 influential web designers from around the world, and not one of those would be Irish.
Why is this? We are a small country and maybe that makes a difference. But there are still plenty of web designers here. I think the problem stems from a general lack of global ambition; a lot of Irish designers, entrepreneurs and others strive for local victories only. But that’s another blog post!
The good news is that change is on the way. And it’s coming from the bottom up. It’s coming from the young guys that grew-up in a more confident, peaceful Ireland. And it’s coming from the underdog Universities like University of Ulster11 and their Interactive Multimedia Design course and, all things going to plan, a good Dublin college who will launch a Masters in emerging web technologies soon.
Ray Doyle14: The standard of web design in Ireland has come a long way in the past 18 months. We are seeing some new, exciting work from talented Irish designers and developers. More so from the small independent Web studios than the big agencies, who I think are finding it hard to up-skill at the rate that is needed in this fast paced industry. Compared to the rest of the world, I think we are right up there. I feel the majority of the Irish companies are more cautious than, say, companies from New York or London. But with a little time, I think we can shift the mindset to be a bit more daring and forward thinking when it comes to creating engaging web experiences.
Sabrina Dent15: That’s a very complicated question actually. We have a pool of very talented designers here relative to our size, but we’re lacking the trickle-down effect of good aspirational design. To a large degree, people’s standards and expectations are influenced by what they’re exposed to everyday; in the Republic, we don’t have any outstanding broadcast sites like the BBC16, no top-notch newspaper sites like Rue 8917, and no WhiteHouse.gov18 – pretty much every government website here is universally horrendous.
Having said that, I think the biggest change is in the clients. More clients are thinking bigger, and looking for higher-caliber design. I think that’s a really positive step forward.
Web Standardistas (Christopher Murphy & Nicklas Persson)21: The island of Ireland is quickly establishing itself as a contender internationally. There’s a real energy emerging in Belfast which makes it very exciting to be working in this field, here, at this time. We’re thrilled to be helping to shape the industry as it grows from strength to strength.
Q: Is education in the web industry important in the web industry and do you feel there is adequate education available, both North & South, for developing professional world class designers?
Alan O’Rourke: Hmm, tough question as I didn’t study design in college myself. For an industry that moves and develops so quickly it must be difficult to build a course around it. Most of the institutions do it very well — judging by the quality of the graduates coming out. In this industry what is important is the ability of self learning. College is a great starting point, but then you need to start tracking the industry’s changing standards and techniques.
However, the business part of web design is not quite there. It does not seem to be covered well as so many designers get quite a shock and, unfortunately, some expensive mistakes are made when they start out in the real world. But then maybe it can’t be taught and you have to learn yourself the hard way.
Eoghan McCabe: I don’t know if I could consider formal education a fundamental part of the solution, but it certainly plays an important role. For a start, if universities were to stop teaching old techniques and technologies, they might not hinder or turn-off those young students that would like to explore their creativity on the web. But in addition, forward-looking courses that can point passionate students in the right direction can really make a difference. One example of this is the mass of excited, talented people coming out of the previously mentioned University of Ulster course. A few of these guys will play a big part in web design over the next five years.
On top of this, grassroots initiatives like the Build conference24 will invigorate those that have lost their way and inspire a whole new generation of web designers. For this, Ireland cannot thank Andy McMillan25, the young, independent organiser of this event, enough. I don’t think even Andy understands the effect he will have on the Irish web industry and, as a result, the Irish economy, by bringing international heroes like Eric Meyer, Mark Boulton, Andy Budd, et al, to our shores. Andy also runs Refresh Belfast26 which is another example of a grassroots initiative that will make a great impact here.
Ray Doyle: Good question, let’s open a can of worms :). I personally feel that in the digital media industry experience is more important than education. I often ask myself would I’ve been a better man, designer, drinker if I had chosen the path of the student and not that of bedroom designer/HTML monkey on minimum wage. I like think to not, well, probably a better drinker.
The main reason I opted for the experience route and not education was the lack of good facilities in Southern Ireland at the time and, based on some of the student portfolios I have seen recently, this is still the case. What we are lacking is an institute dedicated to shaping young talented individuals into digital media hot shots. What we need is our very own “Hyper Island29“.
Winston Binch of Crispin Porter + Bogusky sums it up perfectly “Our Industry desperately needs more schools that specialize in creating and developing digital talent at the level and capacity of Hyper Island”.
Sabrina Dent: I’m probably biased because when I started doing what I do, there was no formal education available — no certifications, and certainly no degrees. I’m one of those people who believes that good design skill is innate; you can learn everything there is to be taught about user interface design, CSS and XHTML and still not be a good web designer. I’d always choose a good portfolio over a good degree.
There’s a lot of value to being self-taught, not least of which is that you develop the ability to self-teach. Standards and trends in this industry evolve dramatically; tables shift to CSS, ASP shifts to PHP, soulless stock photos shift to quirky illustration, and suddenly everyone wants Ajax for everything. You have to be able to learn new skills as you go along — you’re not going to be in a classroom for the Next Big Thing.
Web Standardistas: As educators, we passionately believe in the importance of establishing a strong foundation on which aspiring professionals can build. We’re constantly refreshing our teaching materials and building upon the solid foundations we have established on our existing courses to offer new programmes tailored to this field. Watch this space.
Q: Do you feel it is important for designers (and front end coders) to have working knowledge of development (back end coding) and to what extent?
Alan O’Rourke: Yes, very. I know it had a positive effect on my design after spending a year in a company of developers. It gives you insight into how your design will function, what is required to make it work (or better ways to do it), and how you communicate your design to a developer. I don’t know syntax or functions and ‘object orientated’ twists my noodle but I know what is possible, what is not, and what is just expensive to build.
Eoghan McCabe: I believe in experts with common sense and a healthy appreciation for what their peers do. I have a Computer Science background and I love to try to understand what the developers in Contrast do for our apps. That doesn’t mean I ever could do their work, but it does mean that I can excel at mine in the context of what they need from me.
Beautiful things happen when you throw a bunch of passionate experts in a room together and let them learn from and help each other to achieve a common goal. I always seek feedback on my design work from everyone in the company, no matter what they do, because there’s always insight to be gleaned from different perspectives. Likewise, I love to brainstorm technical solutions with the other guys before they get to work with the code.
Ray Doyle: Definitely, it’s vital for a web designer to know and understand the limitations of web design. I have seen developers cringe when they are handed a design to code up that’s been put together by a print designer. It’s quite funny to see them flip out. Any serious web designer should have a basic knowledge of CSS/XHTML.
Sabrina Dent: It is certainly a bonus. When you’re developing a front end UI, it’s nice if you know which calls to the database are cheap and which are spendy, for example, or how to avoid little design features that are just not worth their weight in development overhead. But as long as you’re open to feedback from the team actually coding on the ground, it isn’t necessary.
Web Standardistas: We feel it’s absolutely critical for designers to have a working knowledge of development principles. The recent debate between Lukas Mathis36 and Mike Rundell37 goes to the heart of the matter. Their posts, Designers Are Not Programmers38 and Designers Who Are Technical: The More You Know, The Better Your Work39, respectively, offer a comprehensive and well-reasoned look at this topic. In the words of Mr. Rundle, “Designers Don’t Just Make The Pretty.”
If I was to offer you a pint, what would you go for?
Alan O’Rourke: Any Laager is fine for me.
Eoghan McCabe: I’d give it the whole “oh… what do they have” thing and then settle on a Guinness when the disappointment sets in. But in a perfect world, it would be a Brooklyn Pilsner, a Vedett, a Sierra Nevada IPA or a Galway Hooker.
Ray Doyle: Is it your round? I would have to go for JD instead of the pint.
Sabrina Dent: A pint of Coke with ice. I know, it’s dreadfully boring, but I try to make up for it by being entertaining company.
Web Standardistas: That depends on where we are. Right now we’re in Berlin enjoying a couple of Erdingers. A firm favourite in Sweden would be Norrlands Guld. When in Hong Kong, it would have to be Tsingtao.
What’s going on in Ireland?
There are a host of upcoming events happening in Ireland in the near future. As previously mentioned, Build11842 will be happening Thursday 5th November 2009 and featuring the likes of Eric Meyer, Andy Budd, Mark Boulton and co. Renowned designer Elliot Jay Stocks43 will be talking at the University of Ulster Thursday 3rd December 2009 (a Web Standardistas44 event).
The first Refresh Dublin45 will be held on Thursday October 29th 2009 and will feature speakers including Sabrina Dent. Run by Niamh Redmond, Refresh Dublin is an event that promotes design, technology, usability, and standards.
Showcase of beautiful web design from Ireland
What do you think?
What do you think of the Irish web industry? Are there any exceptional sites that haven’t been covered? Share your thoughts.
Stay Tuned and Get in Touch!
This article is the second of our new series “Global Web Design“. Over the next months we’ll be covering various continents, featuring web developers and web designs from different countries of the world and taking a close look of what is happening in the web design scene worldwide. We started last week with Russian web design1521. We’ll continue next with Brazil (Fabio Sasso).
About the author
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