Dear Web Design Community, Where Have You Gone?

Advertisement

As Web craftsmen, we are living in exciting times today. The frenetic pace of evolution in our industry has created remarkable opportunities for our work. Our established set of design and coding practices is more comprehensive than it has ever been before. Our designs are becoming more usable, our code more scalable, our layouts more responsive. In fact, just by comparing our design processes to those from a decade ago, it’s remarkable to observe how quickly we’ve developed and honed our craft over all these years.

However, the maturity of our industry is far from being complete. While producing a myriad of technological advancements, we have outpaced other developments along the way. These developments aren’t related to the lack of cross-browser standards support or technical downsides of the tools we are using. No, they have a different nature. They have emerged within our design community — a community which is now so fertile and diverse that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure its professional maturity.

In fact, there are many issues that require a thorough, profound discussion within our industry, yet they are not properly discussed for one reason or the other. This article is based on my recent, often unrelated, observations of our community. It features my personal opinion on the problems we need to tackle and conversations we need to start to ensure its healthy evolution.

Where Did The Community Spirit Go?

I was very lucky to have experienced the development of the Web design community from its early days on. As a passionate newcomer to the industry, I was captivated by the sense of enthusiasm that seemed to be flourishing everywhere and spurring everyone. It was a strong and genuine feeling that was sparkled among dozens of sites and magazines and fueled by the motivation of experienced and non-experienced designers. The community was reasonably small and therefore very welcoming and supportive, so everybody was perfectly fine with asking lengthy questions and providing detailed answers.

I clearly remember in-depth discussions with hundreds of meaningful, engaged comments, in which designers would thoroughly analyze the techniques presented and suggest improvements or alternatives. I remember having experienced print and digital designers writing articles and teaching inexperienced designers the obscure details of and practical tips about the new craft. I remember vivid debates spreading from one site to another, connecting designers and building professional relationships in the community.

These discussions still take place today. There are many more designers and developers out there encouraging these discussions. The remarkable work of people like Paul Boag, Dan Mall, Jeffrey Zeldman, Francisco Inchauste, Chris Coyier, Simon Collison, Andy Clarke, Paul Irish, Chris Heilmann, Jeffrey Way, Trent Walton and many others is a vivid manifestation of the tremendous care and dedication of designers and developers to our industry. There are literally thousands of talented folks out there who are writing articles and releasing wonderful new tools and resources for all of us to use. That’s great. That’s great because all of these contributions bring our community much further.

However, every now and again I can’t help but realize that the number of active contributors with knowledge and experience hasn’t increased proportionally to the overall magnitude of our growing community. Way too often I find it extremely difficult to find meaningful debates spanning over the whole community — debates that would create a strong echo and prompt us all to revise, extend or adjust our practices and hence become better professionals.

1
The recent2 hashbang3 debate4 is an excellent example of community-wide discussions that our community could use.

Way too often do I come to the conclusion that this remarkable, inspiring enthusiasm we once had is now gone. What remained are stranded cliques of passionate designers who lead design discussions privately and separately, often unnoticed by the vast majority of the community.

The tragic irony is that although we are probably one of the most connected professional communities out there, it seems that we are increasingly not connecting. It’s not that we’ve become just a bit too comfortable with the processes we’ve developed over the years nor that we don’t care about improving our design and coding skills. In dialogue with our readers and colleagues at conferences or even online, I’ve become confident that this development has entirely different roots.

Finding Time to Contribute

Since there is so much going on the Web these days, it seems only reasonable that many of us might experience difficulties finding time to actively engage in professional discussions. Personally, I am just as guilty as the next guy, as I find it extremely difficult to read more than 5–7 design pieces a day — not to mention commenting on any of them. I’m trying to challenge myself to be more responsive and engaging. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I have firmly committed to this change and maybe — just maybe — so could you.

I believe that the lack of time is one of the reasons for our changed behavior online. Our emails have become shorter, and so are our blog posts and comments. Our interest has become much more difficult to enrapture, and so we’ve become more passive and less critical. We way too easily consume and accept ideas, designs, concepts out there, sometimes without even questioning their validity and correctness. Instead of debating, we agree; instead of criticizing, we accept — or simply click away and ignore the discussion altogether. And this is the reason why many conversations in the community do not get a critical mass of interest.

Screenshot5
Web design discussions on Quora6 and StackExchange sites7 are wonderful examples of websites that we have already started using to exchange ideas, ask questions and conduct valuable design discussions.

The worrying part is that the number of the less experienced active contributors has increased exponentially. Due to that, I am afraid that the community is not led in the right direction. The true leaders — professional, knowledgeable designers and coders — are busy. Busy with their work or perhaps they feel that it’s no longer worthwhile for them to spend much time contributing. I hope this attitude can change. We need more professionals to find time to contribute and help to teach others. After all, so many of us are self-taught. And where would we be today without the contributions of others?

We need more meaningful and helpful discussions within our community. Finding time is difficult, but we don’t have to jump into writing or commenting with both feet. An occasional comment, tweet, reply or short blog post about whatever it is we’ve learned or thought would already help; it might just as well invoke thought-provoking discussions by other members of the community. As artisans of the Web, we love to discuss things that are important to us — be it design, coding, writing or anything else. We might have no time for profound writing, but we certainly have enough time to suggest an idea and encourage our friends to join in the discussions. Taking just a couple of minutes every day to think about the craft we love will bring us further and accumulate the wisdom within our community.

Francisco Inchauste summarized this point nicely in one of our recent conversations: “Everyone has a perspective and experience to share. Without more perspectives, we’ll become limited in our growth. The community is only as strong as our weakest people. To improve, we need to lift others up by helping to educate and guide.”

We Need to Curate Valuable, Meaningful Resources

Probably the easiest way to jump into design discussions would be by observing and replying to the tweets marked with the hashtag #design. Well, that’s what I thought before adding the #design column on my Tweetdeck a couple of weeks ago. After a couple of days of occasional scanning of tweets in that stream, I did find a couple of interesting discussions; however, more often than not I stumbled upon loud, inaccurate and promotional tweets which led to tutorials, freebies or inspirational websites.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against these resources per se, but I don’t quite understand why we, multi-talented, versatile craftsmen of the Web, are restricting the use of such a powerful medium as Twitter primarily to these resources. Why don’t we use it for meaningful discussions as well? Have we somehow become blindfolded by pure eye-candy or tremendous technological opportunities we have now with jQuery, CSS3 and HTML5? We are experimenting with visual and interactive enhancements in our tutorials and our designs, yet we tend to forget about the fundamentals of our work — our design principles, the quality of our processes and the integrity of our creations. We could all benefit from writing and talking about the ways we work, the decisions we make and the solutions we come up with.

Just compare finding a jQuery slideshow plugin against finding a practical resource on UX design patterns. Or finding a social media icon set against finding detailed case-studies written by experienced designers. Valuable, useful resources are becoming rarities and unfortunately many of them just do not get the attention they well deserve.

We need to support and curate the creators of thought-provoking and valuable resources and help them maintain and support these resources. We need to support them because they are the ones that raise questions and seek for answers; they are the ones that support the maturity of our profession; they are the ones that are not afraid to question status quo and encourage experimentation, sharing and innovation — the so needed attributes of our exploding industry.

Screenshot8
HTML5 Boilerplate9 is a remarkable example of a cooperation of dozens of Web designers who share their thoughts and insights to create something useful for all of us to use. Unfortunately, many useful projects on Github do not manage to get such strong community-wide support.

We can use our communication channels wisely and invite our colleagues and friends to join in the discussions, sharing opinions and spreading the word about those of us who truly dedicate their time and effort to produce useful, valuable resources. I am certain that by doing so, we’ll be able to unleash the remarkable potential for a strong and supportive exchange of ideas and expertise.

The emerging conferences like Fronteers10, Brooklyn Beta11 and New Adventures in Web Design12 show very well which benefits a strong community has: it is inspiring, helpful, forward-thinking, challenging. I will never forget the moment when I was sitting among the attendees during one of the conference’s talks and my neighbor turned to her colleague and whispered, almost mindlessly: “I feel that these talks are going to change my views of design forever”. I’d love to experience this feeling in our online discussions, too.

Community-Wide Discussions and Polls

There is so much content out there so that our focus is distributed among dozens of resources and discussions every day; it’s not easy to see how exactly we could lead large community-wide discussions. A blog’s audience is usually limited by its RSS-subscribers, random visitors and social reach of the blog owner. Spreading the word in social circles outside this audience might work to some extent, but it usually won’t help reach the vast majority of the community, especially if the blog is relatively small or obscure.

We need to have some sort of a mechanism that would connect like-minded designers and developers which are not already connected via other media. Twitter’s hashtags are a good example of ways how we are already trying to solidify exchange of ideas and thoughts. But we can make it better.

So what if we had a consistent standard in place? We could strengthen these exchanges through hashtags by developing and having the community adapt some common tags to use en mass. For instance, #design_type, #design_layout, #design_js and others. We could even conduct community-wide polls (#design_poll) that could be easily recognized and retweeted by users with smaller as well as larger followship, thus spreading the word and strengthening the active participation within the community. We could have a website tracking these hashtags, presenting the most popular discussions and filtering spam and other malicious activities.

The same mechanism could be used for supporting valuable design resources and their creators as well as passionate designers who write insightful articles or produce useful resources. When elaborated properly, this approach will make it easier for us to connect and participate in large, community-wide discussions. These discussions might even spread beyond the limits of our community, providing a different perspective on our conversations by professionals from other industries.

So What Exactly Should We Be Discussing?

As Web designers, we’ve come a long way. We’ve shaped a new, strong industry and developed professional design processes. We also have learned a lot on our journey — be it some bits of psychology, copywriting, marketing or other related disciplines. If you think about it, that’s already a massive achievement, and so we have a damn good reason to be proud of what we have contributed to all these years altogether.

However, like in any other industry, we need to permanently revise our practices, innovate and improve our design processes. In fact, there are a number of things that might need to be extended and reconsidered. Let’s cover the not-so-obvious ones.

Our Professional Vocabulary

As mentioned above, when it comes to Web design, there are always so many different disciplines and professions involved, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make sure that everybody involved is on the same page in terms of vocabulary used in our discussions.

Misunderstandings between designers, developers and stakeholders are the running joke in our community. And there is a reason behind it: the vocabulary we are using has dramatically evolved over years — it was primarily expanded, sometimes with abbreviations and concept titles which are counter-intuitive or misleading. We have applied terms from print design to Web design; we have coined new terms for new concepts and methodologies; we have introduced terms that might have become outdated today (think of the outdated floppy disk13 symbol for the “Save” icon). The result is a quite sloppy and inconsistent vocabulary — we often have various terms describing one concept, or one term describing various concepts.

Screenshot14
Unsuck It15 explains terrible business jargon in plain words. Hopefully, we won’t need something like this for the design community as well.

For instance, there are design attributes that we call ‘responsive’, ‘adaptive’ or ‘flexible’, but what exactly do we mean when we apply them? Different designers might even have a different idea on what they mean with the word “design”; is it visual design, design as a concept or maybe UX design? And what is UX exactly anyway? The same problem occurs when we discuss terms such as “HTML5″, “page”, “fold”, “navigation” and others. Just imagine how devastating the results would be if any other professional industry, e.g. medicine, wouldn’t have a common vocabulary for its technical terms?

At the New Adventures in Web Design Conference last month, Dan Rubin talked about this very issue, saying that the industry as a whole needs a common grammar and vocabulary. He asserts that the ones we have now, were perhaps somewhat hastily chosen. And that with some careful thought and planning, we can design a much more accurate vocabulary to help avoid the confusion which can stem from the existing one.

We could use more precise and intuitive terms which would be based on certain concepts that are familiar to us and other professionals. As Dan noticed, “responsive design”, coined by Ethan Marcotte, is an excellent example of such a term. It derived from the concept of “responsive architecture” which explores how physical spaces can respond to the presence of people passing through them. So instead of creating unchanging spaces that define a particular experience, they create spaces in which inhabitants and structure can — and should — mutually influence each other.

Applied to Web design, it means that we could treat our designs (very much like these spaces) as facets of the same experience. The concept can be easily explained and understood. It’s not too technical, it’s not too abstract and it’s not chosen randomly. It is rational, visual and memorable which are all excellent qualities for a term describing a new design approach.

Perhaps we could create a standardized design language which would accumulate our vocabulary and provide us and our stakeholders with a consistent and unambiguous terminology for our discussions. Finding a common vocabulary is a challenging task and it’s an ongoing process that would need permanent revisions and updates.

Our Design and Coding Practices

Actually, we need to refine more than our design vocabulary: our design and coding practices require regular revisions as well. Faced with new design requirements in our regular work, we keep conquering design problems and exploring appropriate solutions for them. These activities are the driving force behind learning; they heavily influence the decisions we make once we approach similar design problems in the future. This is what makes us experienced professionals.

Screenshot16
Method and Craft17 is an excellent website where professional designers and developers are sharing tips about their workflow and design processes. This is a goldmine for newcomers to the industry.

We learn something new every single day. We discover a new CSS trick or a new UX tweak. An obscure Photoshop technique or a beautiful font pairing. Our convenient coding techniques are gradually dating as browsers become more capable and so we discover that certain browser hacks are no longer necessary. We find new ways of how certain common conventions could or should be adjusted. All these small things we discover in our daily routine help us improve our skills and workflow. Actively exchanging thoughts and methodologies with your colleagues will mutually benefit and improve the overall design and coding practices.

We shouldn’t be afraid of asking challenging questions or posing bold statements. If you feel that we should all stop using CAPTCHAs, then say so18 and explain your rationale behind the argument. If you think that there is a way to reinvent scrollbar, say so19 and explain how exactly you imagine this technique to work and why it’s better. And if you are struggling with a personal problem and would like to hear how the community members managed to solve it, say it20, too — it’s very likely that other members of the community have had similar problems and will be glad to join the discussion and help out.

Our Professional Ethics

Saying “no” can be extremely difficult sometimes, especially when personal or financial incentives are at play. However, as professionals, we owe it to ourselves and to our projects to not get enticed by offers and suggestions that do not wholeheartedly coincide with our intentions and objectives. The former can bring temporary benefits, but if applied consistently, the latter will bring long-term benefits.

We need to become more aware of the ethics that we should be following while designing, coding, writing, editing and publishing on the Web. The times when soulless copy-pasted press releases were used “as-is” across online publications are long gone, so let’s stop doing that. Cheap generic stock photos neither visualize nor support the article, so let’s stop using them, too. Professional publications often use “nofollow” attribute to block link-droppers from gaining Google’s link juice; and most users will not click on links titled “Milestone Professional Web Design Agency”, so let’s stop doing it as well. There are many similar examples which we can use to adapt, and optimize our online behavior accordingly.

Screenshot21
The website Ethics and Web Design22 is a valuable resource which covers the fundamentals of professional ethics in our industry.

As content creators, we often depend on advertising, and that’s sometimes the necessary evil that we need to accept to be able to monetize our dedicated writing efforts. And there is nothing wrong about it. However, we need to set clear limits to how the advertising can and how it cannot be presented on our websites. For example, text link advertising and sponsored posts should always be clearly marked as such. We should have a strict separation between content and advertising. Each of us could design a set of personal principles for his or her websites (publishing policy), publish these rules online and stick to them no matter what. This way the readers will respect you and appreciate the simple fact that you are strongly committed to quality work.

We could benefit from being more critical about our content and the way we present it online. It means paying more attention to copy, consistency of our writing style, quality of images and image captions, design of code snippets etc. These details give our writing a different tone; they empower our thoughts and make the content more trustworthy and reliable. Why don’t we make our work more challenging by trying to make every article we publish at least a tiny bit better than the previous one? We could try not to just “put stuff out there”, but curate our delicate ramblings, making sure that every published article has the highest level of quality that we can afford for it. A style guide can be helpful in this case, especially for larger websites.

Screenshot23
Photoshop Etiquette Manifesto24 is a website listing helpful and subtle suggestions to organize your Photoshop documents — making the transfer of them less painful.

In Web design it means to stop using anti-patterns25 — design patterns which are created specifically to trick our users. Instead, we should respect and advocate for our audience and protect their interests. Think about building loyal, honest, authentic user base for your own project or your client’s brand and think about the quality of relationships you create with each user.

Not only should our designs be usable for our visitors, but also our code should be maintainable for developers. Just like with content, you could come up with your set of standards which you’d like to follow in your work, make it public and stick to it. Make it your final checklist item before you hit that “Publish” or “Commit” button. That’s what will make people look up to you and respect your work.

Bottom line: we should strive for responsible Web design that not only embraces best design and coding practices, but also respects our publishing policies, protects the interests of our users and supports the professional work of our colleagues.

Our View of Web Design Trends

As professionals who care about producing beautiful, top-notch products for the Web, we love to explore innovative design and coding techniques. We love to take them apart and put them together again, learning about their potential during the process. We love to discuss them with our colleagues and keep them in mind for upcoming projects. The more other designers use these techniques, the more important they become to us. Among ourselves, we start to respectfully call them trends.

Nevertheless, trends can be dangerous and misleading beasts. They give us an exciting feeling of having a valuable insight that most of our colleagues don’t have yet. We feel fortunate to have discovered one early enough to use it effectively before it becomes common practice. Trends are precursors of the “next big thing,” and so we pay attention to them.

I can’t help but think that trends seem to be spectacularly overrated in our industry. Often they are regarded as bulletproof solutions, respected and universally accepted for the simple reason that they are innovative and widely used (think of drop shadows or text shadows, for example). I believe that we tend to adopt trends too quickly, often getting carried away by their originality rather than understanding their purpose. This should not be the case. Trends are not a panacea for all of the problems we encounter, and often they don’t even provide an optimal solution for the situation in which they were used in the first place.

Not to say that trends are unimportant, though. They are important, especially when they foster innovation and make us reconsider our design decisions. They can challenge us to be more effective and more thoughtful in our designs. Yet they inevitably fail in one particular regard.

Russian Web Design26
We can learn a lot simply by examining obscure websites out there, such as Mospromstroy27, the website of an industrial construction company in Moscow. The code is far from optimal, but the website itself reveals some interesting design decisions.

One thing I’ve learned to love over the last year is thoroughly examining unfamiliar foreign websites; Russian and Korean websites, to be specific. I feel inspired and empowered just going through them, creating wireframes from them, exploring their interaction patterns and analyzing the source code. I love wondering about the decisions that the designers must have made and the rationales behind those decisions. However, I can only speculate about them; ultimately, I cannot know the context in which these decisions were made.

This lack of context is the main reason why design trends should be approached cautiously. If we don’t know why a certain technique was used, then we need to properly test and validate it before applying it into our own designs. This is the part of the process that I find is often missing in discussions about trends.

We should observe and analyze trends but not consider them as finished “off the shelf” solutions. Instead of following them, we should be confronting them, improving on them and replacing them with our own28. Adding elements to our designs merely for the sake of visual or functional interest is counter-productive. We should rather aim for designs that serve their purpose independent of volatile trends. Why not focus on approaching trends responsibly; building on them when they add meaning to a design and ignoring them when they do not fit the contextual scope of the design problem. This would make our websites original, well-formed and timeless.

Learning From The Past

While trends tell us what designers are doing now, we could expand our skills by drawing on our heritage, too. As designers, we are essentially problem-solvers. We analyze existing problems, learn the given objectives and requirements and then start searching for meaningful solutions. However, initially, it is not a clever visual nor technical approach that we are looking for. We are looking for an idea.

At this stage, what helps us most is our experience and creative thinking. And this is exactly where our rich history of visual communication is particularly useful. By studying lessons from the past, we can better understand how ideas and techniques have emerged and evolved over time. We can learn what approaches other professionals have taken to solve the problems facing them — problems that we still might be struggling with today or will in the near future.

Screenshot29
Websites like Design Is History30, Smart History31 and Graphics Atlas32 are all excellent resources on the history of graphic design, visual communication and the evolution of design processes. We can learn a lot about our craft by exploring them thoroughly.

Andy Clarke’s talk at the New Adventures in Web Design conference was intriguing and pointed out the need for designers to learn about the importance of storytelling in Web design. Andy shared a unique perspective in his presentation, saying that we can shape how users not only interact with content, but consume it in general. He drew a comparison to comic books and Western movies from the 1960s, which used various techniques to dictate the pace of how their information was consumed — be it through a stretch of silence in a movie or the shapes of panels in comic strips.

We could use this technique in our designs to keep readers in the grip of our content just a little longer. Instead of letting users not have to think, we could do the opposite and engage as well as intrigue them (a good example would be of the Ben the Bodyguard33 website).

Screenshot34
Ben The Bodyguard35 keeps you on the site longer than you expect.

We shouldn’t hesitate to apply concepts from other time periods or other media into our designs. The concepts actually don’t even have to be design-related. Instead of thinking in terms of shadows, gradients and rounded corners, maybe we should be thinking in terms of tension, timing and narrative.

Next time you’re looking for an idea, pick up that book you’ve always enjoyed reading and read it with a different perspective. Then, search for any unusual points of view that might be worth bringing to the forefront in your next project. Once you’ve found one, grasp this moment, as this is the very second when a unique, innovative design is born.

In Conclusion

As our industry matures, so will our practices and the quality of our work. We may have successfully solved many important problems in our short history, yet there is still much to be done. Writing and talking about the ways we work, the decisions we make and the solutions we come up with will benefit each of us. We could explore the connections between our discipline and other established industries as well as revise and reinforce our professional vocabulary and our ethics.

Perhaps we could all dedicate 10 to 15 minutes of our time to the community every day. We could (and should) make this a firm personal commitment and encourage each other to take part. Find some time to leave a meaningful comment, support a valuable resource, write a short article about what you’ve learned. All of these contributions matter and will prompt meaningful and inspiring discussions. For starters, we could start raising awareness of our commitments by using the hash tag #wdcommunity.

I strongly believe that if we keep doing this every single day, we’ll wake up one day marvelling at how remarkable our community has become. I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to this day.

Huge thanks to Francisco Inchauste, Chris Shiflett, Nishant Kothary, Paul Scrivens, Andy Clarke, Dan Rubin and others for their valuable contributions and suggestions for this article.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://shiflett.org/blog/2011/feb/javascript-and-urls
  2. 2 http://isolani.co.uk/blog/javascript/BreakingTheWebWithHashBangs
  3. 3 http://www.jenitennison.com/blog/node/154
  4. 4 http://shiflett.org/blog/2011/feb/javascript-and-urls
  5. 5 http://www.quora.com/What-are-some-major-design-pet-peeves
  6. 6 http://www.quora.com/
  7. 7 http://stackexchange.com/sites
  8. 8 http://html5boilerplate.com/
  9. 9 http://html5boilerplate.com/
  10. 10 http://fronteers.nl
  11. 11 http://brooklynbeta.org/
  12. 12 http://newadventuresconf.com/
  13. 13 http://superuser.com/questions/231273/what-are-the-windows-a-and-b-drives-used-for
  14. 14 http://unsuck-it.com/
  15. 15 http://unsuck-it.com/
  16. 16 http://methodandcraft.com
  17. 17 http://methodandcraft.com
  18. 18 http://timkadlec.com/2011/01/death-to-captchas/
  19. 19 http://design.canonical.com/2011/03/introducing-overlay-scrollbars-in-unity/
  20. 20 http://www.swiss-miss.com/2011/03/communication-crisis.html
  21. 21 http://www.robotregime.com/
  22. 22 http://www.robotregime.com/
  23. 23 http://photoshopetiquette.com
  24. 24 http://photoshopetiquette.com
  25. 25 http://wiki.darkpatterns.org/
  26. 26 http://www.mospromstroy.com/
  27. 27 http://www.mospromstroy.com/
  28. 28 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/11/25/dont-follow-trends-set-them/
  29. 29 http://www.designishistory.com/
  30. 30 http://www.designishistory.com/
  31. 31 http://www.smarthistory.org/
  32. 32 http://www.graphicsatlas.org/
  33. 33 http://benthebodyguard.com
  34. 34 http://benthebodyguard.com
  35. 35 http://benthebodyguard.com/

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

Advertisement
  1. 1

    Robbie MacGillivray

    March 22, 2011 3:18 am

    Great post, very well expressed I think.

    More functional community can only be a happy-better-thing. I frequent business forums and mostly 3d-related designer ones, but choose not to participate in discussions after realizing life is too short and my pathological habit of procrastinating via forums had to stop.

    If I had my own selfish way there’d be no more list posts.

    Group hug,
    Robbie

    1
  2. 52

    It is sad to say that design community is dead; but it is true. Major example is the number of comments on this post. SM has 400,000+ subscribers (only on Twitter and Facebook) but there are only 54 comments ? Means 0.01% response. Thats sad. !

    Great read though, I want more articles like this; explaining the facts :)

    0
  3. 103

    I too deeply miss the early days of an enthusiastic and generally helpful community on the web.

    I think that what we are seeing is a result of the commercialised and increasingly crowded space that the internet has become. Social media has become a strong candidate for our time and attention.

    There’s a sameness on the internet, in terms of design trends and networking. People who spend long hours creating quality content or supporting others don’t get noticed by the established networks who continue to promote affiliate links to their already successful buddies.

    As social media is increasingly used for marketing, I think it leaves people more jaded. Becoming aware that brands/people communicate to get you to connect with their brand, or as part of their ongoing market research…

    All this leaves people with very little incentive to support other people’s commercial projects in their free time.

    I really don’t know how to end this comment on a positive note! Some of the commenters above have mentioned the fact that your needs change as you move from being a beginner to an experienced designer and perhaps the answer lies somewhere there. For peers to support peers?

    0
  4. 154

    The community is not dead. It’s just moved from the “free” web into the commercial space. When the leading lights of Design & Development realised that they had a following and their words actually carried some weight within the community they chose to monetize the (previously) freely shared knowledge. You can still find useful and innovative information but it’s neatly tucked in behind a “pay wall” in the form of subscription sites, conferences and workshops. I have nothing against this, let me add. Even if prices are often prohibitive. Everybody has to make a living. And they have chosen to cash in on what they know before some 16yr old copy/pastes a meticulously written article into their own site and claims it as theirs.

    -1
  5. 205

    Brilliant article.

    Time is definitely a factor in the problem described here, but not the most important one I believe. In my opinion it has more to do with the lack of structure for meaningful discussions. We may call our web “social”, but it really isn’t. We connect, we follow, we like, but when it comes to spending more than two paragraphs on a discussion, the web fails us.

    It’s funny, but the “old” web had forums. These were centralized places were people gathered to talk about subjects. There were no character limits, no decentralized discussions, just one thread for each discussion, everyone could chime in.

    It’s also funny you talk about Twitter #, Twitter is probably the least perfect tool for any kind of meaningful discussion. Discussions are hard to track, prone to mistakes and are limited to 150 (or was it 140?) chars per message. This is really no way to discuss.

    It’s nothing new though, except that the problem is becoming more and more obvious these days. In my original article I compared the social web to big raves, which I believe still stands very much to day. You are amongst many, participating in one big event, but you are still very much alone and cut out of social contact with the others present.

    I’ve written this back in 2008: http://www.onderhond.com/blog/work/the-antisocial-web

    1
  6. 256

    Offline in bars, pubs and small conferences?

    -1
  7. 307

    for me our community’s progress is based on the contribution that our dudes has mode till yet and we need to do it more properly and selflessly to make out best out of us

    0
  8. 358

    A very good post.

    When I first started 14 years ago life was simple. I was a web designer. I knew HTML and CSS, I could dabble in photoshop and that was that. Life was so simple then. I had maybe one or two emails a day so I had plenty of time to sit back to help others and learn myself.

    Moving forward to today I’m now expected to be a web designer, a web developer, a graphic designer, a UX and UI creator, a JavaScript coder, a Flash designer, an SEO expert, a Social Media guru, a PPC campaign wizard. I’m expected to know HTML4/5, CSS2/3, Javascript, PhP, .net, MySQL, Action Script. I’m expected to know how to create templates in dozens of different CMS/blog/shopping carts. On top of that I now have between 20 and 50 emails I have to reply to each day.

    My role over the years has grown exponentially. With new techniques, new code, new languages to learn and the dreaded software updates which cause a new learning curve. I simply don’t have the time to contribute anywhere near the amount I would like to. I post helpful twitter posts and I occasionally add a blog post. That is pretty much all I have time for now and I’m sure many others are in the same boat.

    A great many web designers are expected to be front-end, back-end and graphic designer all rolled into one and there simply isn’t enough time for many of us anymore when we are expected to know so much…

    15
  9. 409

    This is a fanTAStic article. Thank you for the plethora of new resource websites. I agree. As a designer working from home, I often feel a complete disconnect from any kind of design community.

    0
  10. 460

    Popular web folks don’t feel like there is meaningful discussion out there because you don’t follow your followers. You’ve created this closed club of dribbblesque members who don’t pay attention to newcomers. The newbies are the ones that really benefit from discussion, and are the ones that bring new ideas to the table. I’ve often mentioned a big wig on twitter in reply to an article and get no response, no follow… Most of the time I don’t participate in discussions because I feel like no one is listening.

    12
  11. 511

    This is mostly because people that are very good at what they do are busy doing it rather than blogging about it. Likewise, if I’m better than most people at something in particular, it doesn’t benefit me at all to teach other people how to do it, particularly via public websites where I would likely be training a cheap replacement overseas. This is the reason you never see anything worth a damn on CodeProject.

    As far as debating “design” with people. Design is too subjective for debate. Particularly with a community that seems to be about 95% uneducated, inexperienced amateurs. If you’re like “no it’s not”, then either you’re in the lucky 5%, or you’re one of the 95% and you’re just too stupid to realize it. Anyone that’s been in the hiring process for a web designer can tell you, you’ll meet about 19 amateurs to every 1 professional. Trust me, it’s agonizing.

    … and that will bring you back to our problem. Professionals are busy. They don’t generally have time to participate in a “community” and even if they did, it’s more likely to increase the abilities of their competition rather than help them. Most professionals are college educated, which means they’ve PAID for their knowledge with money and hard work, some are just seasoned veterans… again, they’ve paid for their knowledge with time and hard work instead of money. Asking for more community involvement from these people is like saying “Please give me your knowledge for free”. Anyone that would do that, outside of volunteering with children, is a fool.

    All of that said, thank you for sharing your knowledge, I’m happy to take it for free. BTW, I use AdBlock. ;)

    7
  12. 613

    I’ve been designing for 10 years. I’m not sure if that makes me and oldie or not. There are so many more layers to design now: Web 2.0, what CMS you are using, etc. Often times I am trying to concentrate on my specific design issues in working with these limitations. Its so much more complicated and I feel I related less and less to what other designers are tackling. I’m also not an early adopter, and when you combine that with the rapid pace that so many things are updating and changing at – I find myself sitting out of many discussions purely because I know a new set of issues is going to come along in time any way.

    I think the line has moved from what a front-end coder is over the years. Earlier on it was easy to mingle the technical with the design, and now its so complex and overwhelming I find myself retracting from it and just looking for something that works where I can concentrate on actually designing.

    3
  13. 664

    Thank you Smashing for giving us a wake a call , in our busy world trying to learn and understand so many new trends , we skip the base of our knowledge which share and discuss the same things with other people, Hey! when we need to learn something we ask, search and talk about it right? well the concept is the same we just have to express more frequent. Time is always short but during the day we should stop, think and post something interesting or simple ideas ….this is the beauty and the start point for our new design and the growth for our community.

    1
  14. 715

    This is a very thoughtful and in-depth post. I like the idea of using #wdcommunity to try and get some more relevant discussions going.

    However I also think some of this is moot. As the design community has grown and grown, to try and maintain it as a single “community” is pretty much impossible. Instead of ONE BIG HUGE HONKING HAPPY FAMILY, it’s splintered off into many, many separate communities, either based on geography, specialization, language, interests, political views, pant size, whatever. I don’t think this is good nor bad, it just is.

    Personally I’ve had some challenges entering some existing communities because there have been such strong players or opinions. Instead of forcing the game, I just took my toys and found other places to play. Yeah, if I read “Flash sucks!” on more time…

    Anyway, I’m all for chilling out, sharing ideas and being open-minded. Good call on the hashtag and the idea to try and take some time to participate.

    0
  15. 766

    Good post, and great comments. I agree with many on here that time constraints are a factor in keeping busy (good) designers & developers from blogging and interacting more. You suggest we take 10-15 minutes out of our day to contribute, but whenever I write a blog post it takes FAR longer than that — usually at least an hour. Because of that, my contributions are few and far between. If anything, that limiting factor drives me to Twitter.

    I would love to contribute to the community. I also understand that publishing blog posts and articles isn’t just selfless — it’s great marketing. However, at this point I don’t have time for any marketing, nevermind genuine contribution. I’m booked months & months in advance, and struggle just to keep up with professional obligations.

    On a different note, I totally agree with Anna above. There seems to be an “inner circle” of 10 or so revered blogging designers & developers whose material is referenced over and over and over in this “community”. Not that it’s not good stuff — much of it is. I’ve read and familiarized myself with most of them and they’re true pros — but at this point, I’ve generally taken what I can from them, and am ready for something new.

    Fresh faces are always welcome — but then again, I think time constraints are limiting new entrants.

    5
  16. 817

    “Paul Boag, Dan Mall, Jeffrey Zeldman, Francisco Inchauste, Chris Coyier, Simon Collison, Andy Clarke, Paul Irish, Chris Heilmann, Jeffrey Way, Trent Walton”

    ‘Cuz I guess there are no female designers that matter…

    -6
  17. 919

    We’re in the hide0ut.

    -4
  18. 970

    Something I’ve noticed in recent years is the proliferation of pay-monthly services for things which people used to share for free.

    The best community sites offering the best content and/or tutorials seem to be the ones which don’t update as frequently probably because the author is busting his or her chops on different projects.

    I’m a designer who after 10 years in the industry still can’t find the time to design, produce and maintain a personal website. I’m in awe of designers who still make time to contribute to the community.

    If I was being cynical I would say that the industry seems a little more selfish these days. People invest time in learning how to do something well and then they don’t want to simply give away their secrets to designers who could be competition.

    I have to confess I’ve not fully read the above article or all the comments but I will re-visit this when I get home.

    0
    • 1021

      Crystal Odenkirk

      March 28, 2011 8:59 am

      Me too, Spartacus. After spending all day working on my employer’s web applications, who has the time to put together a truly awesome personal site, let alone write in-depth articles AND seek out these hidden “designer communities?” I’ve been in this for over a decade. The article asks, where has the design community gone? My question is, “There was ever a design community at large?”

      0
  19. 1072

    I will comment for once, as someone who generally doesn’t bother.

    I came into this industry in the last four or five years and believe the community is there if you are part of the clique. Asking questions, showcasing design and code is great if your stuff is pretty bullet proof. If however, you are a professional but very much still on the steeper end of the learning curve engaging with the wider community is daunting mainly because the times you do, you find your design and code ripped to shreds by cocky individuals who seem to want to keep you out.

    So I don’t bother. I keep my Clients happy and I do my best. My design is probably not the best, my mark-up is not the leanest and neither is my css. It will get better because I enjoy it I think, not because anyone in the community has helped me directly (this does not mean I do not see and read all the great resources out there and am not grateful to the people who produce them – as they have helped me).

    I have not had great experiences contributing to the debate that’s all.

    Cheers rant over! I’m not really a sour-puss I guess I’ve just never got that off my chest!

    4
  20. 1123

    Great post. And the problem is not limited to your industry. It is a tsunami. I’m using the hashtag #signal2noise to highlight great examples, such as this article, of guidance on how we continually improve the content, and quality of discourse on content, in our respective domains, industries, etc. Spread the word!

    /t

    0
  21. 1174

    Talking from my personal experience, in the past couple of years: there are so many changes in the web industry, new technology appearing all the time, etc that I find myself having less and less time to actually read comments that people post. Keeping myself up to date with everything new, work a full time job and have my own freelance clients takes most of my time. Maybe the issue is that the industry is evolving really fast and we need to dedicate more time to absorb it all in, hence we have little time to actually get involved in discussions and debates?

    3
  22. 1225

    I was a bit surprised to read that you feel there isn’t enough community in the web industry, and even more surprised to see so many people agreeing. This hasn’t been my experience at all. I’ve been in web for at least 15 years, and as I see it, there has never been more sense of community and active, intelligent sharing of knowledge, information and opinions than there is now.

    When it comes to any online forum, I admit I’m always a bit annoyed when I hear people say they don’t like the quality of discussion they are seeing. As Ghandi said, “You must BE the change you wish to see.” If you don’t like the discussion you’re getting, start one you do like.

    1
    • 1276

      Crystal Odenkirk

      March 28, 2011 9:12 am

      Commonly in discussions like this (not just about design community, but any community) I see a lot of comments at either extreme. “So dead” and also “Never better”, at the same time. And generally, I think both are accurate. The problem always seems to me not that there’s a lack of discussion, but that most people (myself included here) have no idea where the discussion that is worth having is happening. People tend to form community groups and within the group, things seem great. To people outside the groups, it seems dead. Perhaps those groups would be open to new members (though it seems many are not), but even the most open group won’t attract new people if the people on the outside don’t even know it’s there.

      So open question to anyone reading these comments: WHERE are these pockets of great community, also with great content of a varied and useful nature? Preferably, not the ones that are invite only or outsider-unfriendly. Simple blog comments generally don’t generate much in the way of actual discussion, just regurgitation of an opinion with no back and forth. Twitter and Facebook are generally blocked for most of us at work and at home we’re most likely busy with our families and friends with no extra time for random weeding through design blogs. So where to look?

      0
  23. 1327

    This begs the question: what is considered community? Locally, my web design community is astounding. I’m a board member for the local AIGA chapter, I volunteer time as a mentor for students at our local college and I participate in group critiques. Just because we work on the web doesn’t mean that my sense of community needs to come from the web. In fact, I find it much easier to have an impact in person than I do interfacing with a comment system.

    I blame dribbble for my loss interest in the online web community. I’m interested in critical feedback, not people fawning over my work. Drawar has been a good place for it, but even better, are the people in my town. I know the quality of their work so I can then trust their feedback – this compared to relatively anonymous visitors on a site.

    That aside, I don’t think the community is dying, just changing. The absolute pervasiveness of the internet in our lives has disillusioned us from a promised sense of community and driven us back what’s local and not virtual. Farmers markets are huge again. Buying local manufactured products is considered best-practice; it just makes sense to me that we are moving that way in our personal lives as well.

    3
  24. 1378

    You should probably make a big difference between community, the professional community (who never had any of the problems you mentioned above – it’s part of the game) or the public. What most people believe it’s design, it’s actually not. It’s pure bullcrap, photoshopped trends, that YOU as part of the public community, helped create.
    You don’t have new ideas sharing anymore, because the professionals realized just how dumb the public is. A designer (a REAL, university schooled, that can draw, that reads, that understands the visual arts in all its forms) will always have someone to talk to, to experience/share/discover with, new and interesting things. But as long as you, as an individual within the community, help create this giant mass of design trolls, you are responsible for the outcome. When common so called “web-design” sites use these troll to generate profit, by spreading mediocre informations, trends, most 100 *stuff* awesome amazing, the real deal (Sites that inform you, that can teach you, that value content over presentation etc) tend to be left away.
    You want the next step, progress, change of paradigm? Break the goddamn rules! And don’t need a community to support your idea. No major artist needed. He did not followed the community, it was the dumb public that followed him.
    So you want that old thing back? “Get buffed”, or move aside and let the other pass.

    2
    • 1429

      Well said, albeit a bit harsh. I like SM but it surely is a “cheap” blog, or so it was, things are improving. The same is true for nettuts and all those other popular web design magazines. They are part of the problem, as you rightfully put, they hardly teach design at all. They lure for traffic using populistic article titles and repeat the same design trends all over. As I said in another comment, design is being commoditized as a cheap off the shelf product and these sites have found a way to monetize it. Typically they own entire networks of such sites, including theme sites in which they promote this culture of copy and paste.

      And now we are surprised that the newcomers in the industry are not properly educated? They sites are to take an example from A List Apart, those are people that genuinely care about their craft, new and better ways, original content.

      This criticism is not for SM, it is for all the usual suspects, which includes SM. Again, SM is improving for the better and I am enjoying the more in-depth articles.

      2
      • 1480

        To make my point more clear:

        You do not list the 100 best color tools, you teach how to use color in your design.

        You do not showcase the top 500 dark web designs, you teach how to make one. How it relates to contrast, font selection, feel for spacing.

        You do not teach how to replicate OSx icons, you teach how to create depth in design, how you can consistently create the illusion of a light source.

        This is teaching design, and most magazines are doing a crappy job at it. While I’m ranting, there’s another opportunity: bleeding edge articles. How about some serious HTML5 canvas tutorials, that go beyond drawing a bloody circle. Or a full WebGL showcase? There’s plenty of things like that that you will find almost nowhere.

        6
        • 1531

          Totally agree with these points – well said.

          0
        • 1582

          But don’t you think there is place for that too? Granted, I am a real beginner, but I have found articles like “25 free fonts” or “50 Drupal themes” very helpful at the time. I learned how to create my own theme since then, but in the beginning you are just overwhelmed by the learning curve of the whole thing. I was glad to find something which seemed well made in the whole jungle, and that is how I actually started to read this magazine. Of course I understand it doesn’t help seasoned pro’s like yourself, but this kind of “populistic” articles can bring over some noobs to learn design more in-depth. Just my 2¢

          0
  25. 1633

    A well written article, my compliments. I think a few things are going on:

    – Fragmentation. The community has exploded and so have the amount of blogs, twitter accounts and other platforms to share. By the way, I don’t find Twitter a valid platform for discussion. It is hardly surprising that you will only find links there.

    – The industry as a whole has moved from experimental to delivery. A large majority of web sites and apps are not as innovative or groundbreaking as the ones you see on design blogs. Design is an afterthought or the cheapest possible solution is sought. It is being commoditized. Design of the shelf.

    – Just like in the IT industry in general, the industry attracts money seekers. They’re not here to stay, nor do they have a passion in design. You will be surprised how many programmers and designers never read blogs, books or visit conferences. They have outdated knowledge and just see it as a job that pays the bills. This ruins our industry.

    – The world is in an ugly place right now and you cannot exclude world events such as the economic crisis from the equasion. People are in survival mode.

    0
  26. 1684

    One more word to those new in the field or somehow insecure on publishing themselves. Don’t. Just write. It’s how everyone started. If you get nasty comments, that is good news, it means somebody is listening and you can learn from it. The writing itself is liberating and very educational. There is no better way to learn something as to teach someone else. Once you have a basic routine going, start to pick some fights. Experiment and write about a topic few or none have written about. I also highly encourage you to take on pet projects.

    1
  27. 1735

    4 things happened for me.

    1. Link bait articles by many of the design-centered blogs killed my interest in many design-centered blogs, and my main connection to the industry/community. I stopped going to them as much, then I stopped going to them altogether (this one included).

    2. Champions of design and code became authors and speakers. What used to be conversations about standards became conversations about waiting for a cab at the airport in whatever city.

    3. I had an early desire to work to become some sort of industry expert/internet famous kind of guy. I quickly got over that when I realized the work was more important then my ego.

    4. I think a lot of us reached maturity at the same time. There’s always more learning to be done, but most of that is independently done, and in specialized areas.

    8
  28. 1786

    At the end we all still have the same goal, but forgot that we are not alone.

    0
  29. 1837

    Long-winded blogs and comments are a big fat trend.

    I encourage everyone to be more concise with their words. Craft your intent into a potent flow of readability.

    Get me on the skim.. get me with bullets and headers.. with well formed info-graphics.. charts.. interactive demos.. get me with page layout.

    If you don’t get me, someone else will.

    ~The Use

    -1
  30. 1888

    I love this article because it expresses a passion that as the author states we haven’t been making time for.
    It can be difficult for some depending on their work environment. As these new technologies have proliferated the scene, not all make it a point to keep up with the lastest trends, or build a solid foundation before trying out new ones.
    Moreover, it is up to each and everyone of us to stand up for new principles and standards that work as we continue to learn about new ones that come to the forefront of our industry. It is all too easy to do something the “old” way, when it is being recommended from a senior member who did not start in this industry – we have to remember not all are students of the game – and they don’t have to be.

    -1
  31. 1939

    Fabiana Simões

    March 22, 2011 5:19 pm

    I’ve seen a few comments that made the whole discussion seems like some sort of newcomers vs cool kids battle. I’m a newbie myself, but I guess that completely misses the point. In fact, I think that only harms the community even more.

    I think we’ve just been missing each other. Seems like we’re trying to engage in the community the same way we did years ago. That’s just not happening. Engaging in the community shouldn’t be something this painful, something you gotta force yourself to dedicate 10 minutes to. If it’s feels like this, then we’re just doing it wrong.

    I absolutely agree that we all should be more thoughtful about the community, but the 10 minutes a day solution just won’t work. Some will do it for a week. Some will do it for a month. Some might even be able to manage this for longer. But, getting real, the fact is that most of us will drop it at some point ’cause it just isn’t part of our (nowadays) daily routine. Not in a “natural” way.

    Even during the most over-scheduled week I see most still manage to check Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I feel like I can’t say the same about our favorite blogs. Actually, it’s from Twitter that we hear of most of the articles we’ve been reading. That’s why I love the hashtags solution. What if the big blogs finished their posts with something like “Follow this post in Twitter @ #blogabbr_whatevertopic”?

    I do agree that a 140 characters limit isn’t the best condition to raise in depth discussion, but I guess it’s better than no discussion at all (and if you have time to go deeper, we’ll always have comments). Also, this would really help finding spots of interesting discussion and raising awareness about what’s going on in the community, specially when you don’t have time to go over all blogs and stuff (which is pretty much what happens most of the time).

    That’s one way to go and there gotta be plenty more that we just haven’t figured out yet. The main point, I guess, is to make community part of our routine, ’cause the other way around just isn’t working.

    1
  32. 1990

    We’re busy working. There is only so much time in a day and any free time goes to my family. Very good article though.

    3
  33. 2041

    This article is FANTASTIC! Very well written and covers some things that I have witnessed over the course of my 10 year foray in web design/development…

    0
  34. 2092

    The community has definitely been slacking lately, myself included. I’ve been so busy working on stuff for my own business I’ve been neglecting the forums throughout the web for sure. I’m going to hop back in and try to keep up.

    What can I say… your post was inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    0
  35. 2143

    Good article! Our experience in our 12 year old studio is there´s no time for everything, now it´s great time for co-workers. Thanks

    0
  36. 2194

    The webdesign spirit is gone where, true skills are gone for a time.
    Today most people in Agency’s using Plugins, CMS, Frameworks and Tutorials
    that they take from the World Wide Web without real compliance.

    Today you need to know xhtml and CSS – to style CMS System and copy FIles around, copy and paste is known as true work flow. PHP, Javascript or Flash are not realy needed more,.. Fast and “Cheep” Work.

    0
  37. 2245

    There was a big crowd developing windows native applications, then the internet came along and a lot of the good creative people moved into ‘web development’. There were still a lot of good developers, but the community didn’t have the fervor that it once did.

    Now there are ‘Apps’, it’s the new shiny thing, creative & talented people are frequently drawn to shiny things. There is still a lot of really good web developer talent out there, but any community is going to ebb and flow with its environment.

    0
  38. 2296

    Hi Vitaly,
    thx, your thoughts are all right. Many professional designers leave the community, specially discussions platforms. Why? OK, a lot of work. But I have 2 other theories: (1) Newbies are too lazy to search and ask the same questions. At some point you lose the desire to reply.

    And (2), “pseudo-professional” designers are pure killjoy. See Dr. Web in Germany… hab ich Recht? ;)

    2
  39. 2347

    I myself am a 26 year old professional web designer. I studied a multimedia degree in the UK but like most people, much of what I know has been self taught and self learned through books and online. I remember when in college if I needed help with something I would use one of the many forums out there, where people where usually more than ready to help out a novice and or student. Fast foward to today, and although I consider myself a professional, I’m by no means the finished article or greatest web designer on the planet. I still look for lots of help online, however one thing I noticed is that, when Smashingmag introduced its forum I tried to ask some people some questions on there on a couple of occasions, and the general response was one of disdain, either you wouldn’t get a reply and those that did were more concerned with the ‘online politics’ that seem to go in a forum. For exmaple, because I’d written thread, and then added to it before anyone replied, somebody only bothered to comment to tell me how rude I was to keep spamming the message board with what I felt was a legitimate question asking for help on a particular subject. I think people are too busy blogging and leaving useless comments than, trying to actually help a guy out.

    I think too many web designers put themselves on a pedestal, far too quick to ridicule something or someone rather than contribute or help someone out!

    2
    • 2398

      Had I had the time, or brain power yesterday, this is almost exactly what I should have written in my original comment.

      I especially like the, ‘pedestal’ point. Interestingly enough I am 28 and wonder if it is our, ‘generation’, that are feeling this most?

      0
  40. 2449

    These are all things that are definitely true about the current design community – and unfortunately, as a young student, I never really got the chance to experience the design community when it was new, exciting, and more of a community.

    I think it’s really important that designers learn to become more receptive to others, especially students, because it makes it rather difficult to break into the industry if we aren’t offered any help by those who came before us.

    2
  41. 2500

    Over the past several years the web design community has become fragmented by specialization. When I first began building and designing websites in 2001 we were all still web designers. In 2011 rarely will someone describe themselves as a “web designer.” Instead they’re a “user-experience designer” or a “front-end-developer” or an “interactive designer” or a ” web developer” and the list goes on. This fragmentation has created specialized communities populated by “experts.” If you’re not an expert in a particular area of web design, you’re less likely to contribute to the conversation. Instead you leave it to the experts and only observe the conversation for the latest information. I don’t think this is a good thing.

    Web design is exciting because it bridges the gap between design and technology. This is what makes web designers unique. We’re on the forefront of the merging of art and science, design and technology. Not only is specialization breaking apart our community, it is also fragmenting this exciting development in the realm of creativity.

    We need to embrace the concept of being hybrid designers with the goal of pursuing a deep understanding of both design and technology. We all need to be expert user-experience designers, user interface designers, web developers, graphic designers, content strategists, interactive designers, artists etc. under the umbrella of “web design.” You don’t see print designers or architects trying to endlessly redefine themselves or separate themselves into specialized groups.

    To quote Robert A. Heinlein, “specialization is for insects.”

    Let’s all become web designers again.

    0
  42. 2551

    I take issue with so many people out there calling themselves a “professional web designer”. There was a time when that actually meant something.
    Today, anyone who downloads a free 30 day version of CS5 web premium then re-skins a wordpress, joomla, or drupal theme and publishes it as their own work will self title themselves as a professional web designer. They think of a catchy new ‘profile name’ and design a cool avatar in Illustrator so they can subscribe to various blogs, newsletters or post their concepts on feedback sites.

    3
  43. 2602

    On top of all the other reasons mentioned in the article, time most importantly, we should also acknowledge that it is pretty much impossible to have a discussion even if you would want it.

    Take this SM article. It has 106 comments. The article is lengthy. If I were to properly analyze it, consider its pros and cons, and then do the same for all comments, it would take me hours. The size of a discussion is not infinitely scalable. It becomes unmanagable soon. In business, it is recommended to not have more than 8 people in a meeting, preferably not more than 3 if it concerns a discussion. Here we have dozens.

    Plus, it is not conversational. I could post a comment here. Then I have to come back (which could be hours later), to see if somebody responded. In the meanwhile, the entire discussion may have changed and move on to another level. You simply cant have rich discussions on a popular blog and Twitter is even worse.

    The only thing I want to suggest is for people to stop making comments that are meaningless. I’m not saying mine are great but I don’t want to scroll through enormous lists of “great job”, “well done” looking for a comment with actual content in it. If you like something, like it, or vote on it, but please dont say it.

    5
  44. 2653

    Well, if you are really excited about what is happening, start from your Smashing Network. Sorry for saying bad things, but half of the feed is junk and bullshit.

    And the whole thing is sad but true. The web design community has gone posting in their blog yet another “10/20/30 things/pictures/logos to inspire/tutor/something-else”.

    0
  45. 2704

    Jens Grochtdreis

    March 23, 2011 11:05 am

    Hi Vitaly,

    thank you for this lengthy piece. As a spokesman of the German webstandards-community I want to discuss some of your thoughts. I cannot discuss all of them, as it would be a too lengthy answer.

    I don’t see the present as dark as you do.

    You look for leaders and claim, that they are all busy. Well, the old discussion-leaders are busy and resigned years ago. There is seldom any real input by Eric Meyer, Dave Shea, Molly Holzschlag, Zeldman or the like. All those heroes of the past had their time. Now is another time. And I personally don’t miss them.

    Today the most heard voices are from browser- and search-engine-evangelists, Javascript specialists and webdesign-magazines. The actual heroes are Chris Heilmann, Bruce Lawson, Paul Irish and some others. We moved from a few influential blogs to a huge ecosystem of knowledge and discussion. And this ecosystem is alive and in constant change. Maybe in a month there will be a “new kid on the block” who thrills us with good articles, good tutorials, good demos, good ideas. And as this ecosystem is so vast there are no real leaders anymore.

    Readers on the other hand may have not been professionalised, like all the authors have. Often I read articles about a very old topic which receives excited comments. Or there are articles about YUI where half of the commentors claim jQuery to be super-cool. Not-so-intelligent readers don’t disappear.

    Everything in our business is now more professional. There are hundreds of conferences around the globe all year. Many of these talks are delivered as mp3 or the slides are on slideshare. That is great and it feeds our knowledge. There are more and more books published and fortunately there are more and more books for specialists and pros.

    Real discussions are not easy. We have much more magazines and blogs than “in the old days”. So where to focus? On Smashing or CSS-Tricks or Nettuts or dev.opera or dev.mozilla or …?

    Waht drives me more nuts than any possible loss of discussion is the lack of professionalism in many articles and examples. There are many articles about jQuery that don’t care about a correct, semantic HTML or about a really useful example. You can even find those strange codes in books. And there are many CSS3- or HTML5-demos out there, that are nearly without use/sense or aren’t what they claim to be.

    I think we can indetify a lack of patience and professionalism out there. Many people ask querstions without researching the topic in the first place. And if the presented solution doesn’t fit perfectly many “developers” aren’t capable of customizing the solution to their needs.

    You write “We need more meaningful and helpful discussions within our community”. Well, we have those discussions, but the are ignored because the noise of all those blogs and magazines is so loud. And on the other hand did we have good and effective discussions in the past. It is unlikely that young developers will use layout-tables and it is more and more likely, that those young developers care about accessibility. But there is a small and very influential habitat in a parallel-universe that influences all our debates: the W3C and the WHATWG.

    Not long ago the W3C’s HTML5-group claimed that there should be a role=”layout” for a table in HTML5. Those guys are killing the effects of years of discussion and promotion by the webstandards-community. This is awfull and they should be ashamed. But I guess they don’t get it.

    Time gets faster and faster. You realized it in your article yourself. I myself write fewer posts in my blog than I did three or four years ago. And for reading it is worse. About two years ago I nearly quitted reading rss-feeds, because I get more links than I can read via Twitter. So the techniques and services we use change and they have an effect. Many discussions that could take place in blog are now held via twitter. So twitter has both a positive and a negative effect on our community.

    You are right that high-end infos are rare and tend to be ignored because of all those fancy CSS3-jQuery-HTML5-thingies. It’s a shame but it is not unusual. It is like the real life where the tabloid papers get more readers and attention than the intelligent newspapers.

    I think we have a few real “problems”.
    1. We have a huge information-ecosystem.
    2. Twitter focusses discussions and informations.
    3. The number of half-educated “pros” is rising. And many of them don’t like to think and research by themselves.
    4. Many code-examples (and jQuery-plugins and CMS-plugins and …) on the web are pure rubbish and nobody tells it to the developers and readers.
    5. There are no real groups that focus attention. We are a huge bunch of individuals.
    6. The W3C doesn’t care a bit about what the webstandards-community does and thinks. And this although we are the supporters that are teaching the standards they create. There is no cooperation between the W3C and the community.

    5
  46. 2755

    Kristine Jubeck

    March 23, 2011 1:54 pm

    Wow, THANK YOU for this article. I have felt the void in meaningful discussion, and was not in the web industry early on to experience the original sense of community that you describe. I’ve tried to start up my own discussions with a minor amount of success (www.awebsitetolove.com) and I gobble up anything I can to learn more about processes and best practices, so thanks for the links to several wonderful sites.

    -1
  47. 2806

    Scott Richardson

    March 23, 2011 4:17 pm

    Doesn’t help that you have countless Indian ‘off-shore’ cheap-ass web development/SEO/PPC companies turning quality web design into the MacDonalds of web design. They completely devalue what we’re trying to do by bastardising and downplaying what it is that makes what we do important.

    1
  48. 2857

    Part of what has made me a bit wary of joining in too much with the community is basically because the kinds of websites I make aren’t the kind that the community would look twice at – not that they’re bad at all, just that it’s e-commerce where being “edgy and daring” is a very dangerous thing to do. I just re-launched one of my sites and all I got from some of the web designers I know was “It’s not very edgy” or “it’s a bit traditional”.

    Basically, the site is very good at what it does, makes people feel safe when buying and makes a ton of money, but all it gets is ridicule from the web community because it doesn’t “break any rules”. It just became clear over time that the kinds of sites which win design awards and get featured in “top 10 prettiest sites” type countdowns aren’t the ones that actually work. I’ve tried multivariate and A/B tests on some of my sites to incorporate what could be considered “edgy and daring content” and the result was that sales bombed!

    It’s therefore a bit difficult for me to engage with a community who seem to be so far from reality when it comes to actually maintaining gainful employment in the web industry. Just adding the caviat though that this is clearly not *all* of the community :) I have met many like minded developers over the years and you’re lovely.

    4
    • 2908

      Really pleased now I’ve read some more comments that it’s not just me that thinks this :)

      0
    • 2959

      Scott Richardson

      March 24, 2011 1:19 am

      Well said Mike. If I could add, that whenever I have tried to be more edgy/arty/out of the box, my clients haven’t liked it as much as being more ‘standard’.

      0
      • 3010

        i have a story from my University days, decades ago, that speaks to this. I was the designer of most of the posters for concerts and events. I was quite ‘edgy’, doing things like triangular and 3d posters, but mostly I made simple effective pieces of marketing.

        Someone decided to get a poster made by one of the best fine artists on campus. The poster was so beautiful that it was consistently stolen, and so artistic that it was unreadable. In frustration the events chairman came to me for a solution. What we did was to paste a very plain helvetica sticker diagonal over the pretty posters we put up to make them readable and not worth stealing. We also sold the original artistic poster to those who wanted them.

        The artist was initially appalled at what we had done, until he found out that he was getting a cut of the sales.

        So by all means, do edgy work when you get a chance, like on your hobby site, but as a professionl you are paid to sell your client’s product. If it’s insurance or banking edgy is probably not what they want.

        0
    • 3061

      Crystal Odenkirk

      March 28, 2011 9:33 am

      Maybe what we need, Mikey, is a community for those of us with corporate clients and employers who are more interested in pleasing our clients, making it work for their users, and getting it through committee, than with being the most bleeding edge designer ever. I mean, I like new, cutting edge design as much as anyone but at this point I spend my day dealing with legacy code and making sure nothing’s broken in ie 6 and 7 because that’s what my users are using, both internal and external. It would be great if there was a place for folks like us to congregate and commiserate and help each other.

      Maybe instead of opining that we need such a thing, I should just start one myself…

      0
  49. 3112

    There is something painfully contradictory about writing, “We way too easily consume and accept ideas, designs, concepts out there, sometimes without even questioning their validity and correctness.”

    All the while, most of these comments are just nods of agreement.

    Personally, I think you make some good points, but I disagree strongly with the general sentiment of your article.

    The design community, both web and traditional, debates and makes efforts to band together – almost to an annoying degree.

    Weapons of Mass Creation, Design Chat (#dcth) every Thursday, Creative Mornings, Design Chat with Ryan McGovern, and the bajillion debate panels at SXSWi are just a few of the discussions I’m aware of and I’m sure there’s more.

    From localized meet-up groups to lively debates on Twitter surrounding people like @angrypaulrand… the discussion is there.

    Right now, I’m part of AIGA Chicago’s Mentor Group (another instance!), and I’m really shocked by people’s lack of awareness that there are solid and very real efforts within our community to dialogue and connect.

    Honestly, if you’re not already spending 30 minutes to an hour trying to connect with the industry, you’re going to fail to the wayside like all those complacent traditional designers who are struggling to learn web right now just to feed themselves.

    Our industry and careers require us all to stay on top of what we do and what others are doing. It’s about relevancy – find it.

    If the idea of networking and building a community from it is novel… all I can say is wow.

    As another poster said, I could come back and check the comments for your replies to continue this as a conversation, but I probably won’t.

    An inherent flaw of trying to start a community via a threaded forum that isn’t built for continuous conversation.

    2
    • 3163

      Vitaly Friedman

      March 24, 2011 7:34 am

      I respect your opinion, Sharlene, but I am afraid that those discussions have become invisible. Maybe there is too much noise or maybe it’s just that most discussions take place offline, or maybe I am not following the right people — I do not know; but in my discussions with my colleagues, readers and designers I had the same feeling that people feel disconnected from the large community. I am afraid that many designers do not participate in discussions any more, and that’s too bad. But again, I am talking from my personal experience. I am very happy to hear that it’s different for you!

      2
  50. 3214

    Just read through your list of designers who produce awesome web work. Correct me if I am wrong, but are there any women on your list?

    0

↑ Back to top