The Sad State Of The Web Design Community

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Editor’s Note

This article is the first in our new series of “opinion columns,” in which we give people in the Web design community a platform to raise their voice and present their opinion on something they feel strongly about to the community. Please note that the content in this series is not in any way influenced by the Smashing Magazine team. If you want to publish your article in this series, please send us your thoughts1 and we will get back to you.

Smashing Magazine is working hard to serve the design community with professional, in-depth articles about Web design, and we are doing our best to improve the state of affairs and to help designers share their wisdom and connect with one another. Thus, we want to address community issues more directly through this new column. Please feel free to discuss the author’s opinion in the comments section below and with your friends and colleagues. We look forward to your feedback.

— Vitaly Friedman, Editor in Chief of Smashing Magazine

Opinion Column

Consider this article a development of a discussion that has been going on quietly in forums less prominent than the one you are reading now. I would argue that becoming a part of the Web design community is more difficult for newcomers now than it was 10 to 12 years ago. The community is slowly collapsing upon itself.

First of all, let me be clear about what this article is not about. Unlike the original discussion, to which you’ll find a link at the end of this column and from which I’ll be borrowing bits and pieces, I won’t focus on specific examples. Also, I won’t single out any of the distinguished individuals in this community. I’ll try my best to avoid harsh language. This will also be short and sweet—a starting point rather than a conclusive piece.

The writing on Web design has been steadily increasing. While it’s well understood that this increase in quantity hasn’t come without a cost, this fact is hardly discussed in any detail. I was about to suggest that finding good articles on Web design is becoming hard, but instead I’ll state that finding any articles on Web design is hard. What we have instead are known as random “listicles2” with context-less stock photos.

I blame some of the decline in quality on what can be best termed as the Digg mentality. It’s tempting to rate articles and comments that have a lot of Diggs higher than others without bothering to read them first. We tend to promote stuff by famous people—rock stars, if you will—almost automatically. On Twitter, retweeting a link is easier if it points to an already popular post.

Many Web design listicles contain no information whatsoever. Often, they do not explain why the items were selected to appear in the list. Why did the author include such-and-such an image instead of another in his article on “Victorian Morality in Web Design: Examples and Best Practices”?

The Big Crunch

On the brink of another death of a community two years ago, I wrote then that there’s a big difference between helping people and doing their job for them. It seemed that instead of teaching, we were merely solving problems and designing for other people. The current situation feels familiar, at least to me. Back then, I thought the community was progressing in cycles, in which novices became masters, who in turn helped the next generation. Now, I think I should revise the metaphor and describe it as something that collapses to the state where it began, only to be reborn and reinvented again.

If the community pays attention only to a select group of people, then the burden of advancing the industry falls—unwanted—to the few. You know who I’m talking about. Just look at the front page of Dribbble3. They are all very talented, these famous people; no denying that. The problem isn’t that these designers are famous. They got to where they are by carefully perfecting a style of their own. The problem is that there seems no way to promote good design without either being famous yourself or referring to famous designers. This leads to the same kind of work being showcased everywhere.

Anyone who has been in the business for a long time would confirm that we messed up this community ourselves. We got what we needed from it but did very little to keep it alive, and we just moved on. We used to have forums in which issues were discussed in great detail. We could go to those websites to learn a lot about the trade, but a lot of that knowledge has been lost because nothing has taken their place. There are still places to go to discuss basic principles of Web development and design, but they are hardly mainstream. And many of them are private. When no place is left for an aspiring Web designer, all we can do is start over.

What Are You Talking About?

Many of you reading this undoubtedly have no idea what I’m ranting about, and that reinforces my point about the gap between generations. Here is an excerpt from the discussion that I promised to link to:

So, I wish someone would actually show all of us newbies what the heck kind of educational posts you’re talking about instead of always complaining, “Oh, the community is going to hell in a handbasket…”

The only community we know is the one that retweets list posts and all the stuff that you guys seem to be against. And so that’s why we retweet the same crap as well. Show us a better community and we’ll all be a part of it. It’s not like we aren’t intelligent and can’t discern a quality educational post from a list post, but we just haven’t seen any of that around, and so our definition of the design community is what you seem to hate about it.

I’m not arrogant enough to present any answers to these problems here, but I sincerely hope some of you try to find answers. Trying and failing might merely amount to failing for some, but many of us are failing right now because we aren’t even trying. I’ve been criticizing design blogs a lot lately, but at least now I’m doing my small part to either go down with the ship or help keep it afloat.

Finally, here’s the link4 to the discussion, as promised. Aside from Smashing Magazine, this discussion is currently taking place on Drawar5 and Finch6.

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/contact/index.php/form
  2. 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listicle
  3. 3 http://dribbble.com/
  4. 4 http://www.drawar.com/forums/79/the-sad-state-of-the-industry/
  5. 5 http://www.drawar.com/articles/self-promotion-in-the-age-of-annoyance/138/
  6. 6 http://www.getfinch.com/finch/entry/the_demise_of_selfish-promotion/

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Kari works at Nordic Commons Oy in Finland and various type related projects around the world, like We Love Typography, along with a plethora of seemingly endless personal projects.

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  1. 1

    This is a pretty interesting article. I do think content quality does seem to get lost sometimes but there still is quality out there.

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  2. 102

    Wow, that was a bit depressing to read, especially as a ‘newbie’ to this particular online community. I’m glad that I read on to ready Vitaly’s response and then investigated further myself. With any community, their will be constant change and flux, but I think the rigor of the writing on this site is probably some of the best out there for designers, and I wouldn’t say that the community collapsing on itself. (That said, I am new so I could be wrong.)

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