What would you rather do: spend hours slaving over a well-thought out article with the risk that nobody will give it a second glance, or spend an hour compiling websites for a list that will guarantee you links? I would like to think that everyone would choose the former, but something causes the majority to pick the latter: online ads.
Online ads have been around forever, but they were mostly reserved for bigger websites. You needed a large amount of traffic to even get noticed by an ad network, so many of the websites in the community did not feature ads. When more ad networks started to spring up and website owners realized they could sell their own ads, money became a huge factor in the type of content you were seeing.
As is the case with most forms of advertisement in any medium, the more eyeballs you can guarantee, the more money you will receive. List posts are a great way to get traffic, and it is hard to fault anyone for wanting to make a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars a month?if they can do so, just by spending an hour or two a day writing a quick list.
What happened, however, is that when the majority of websites started to take this money-minded approach, websites that focused on quality, fresh content began to be harder to find. Most links simply pointed back to a list; when a new design website popped up, you were almost guaranteed to encounter even more lists. Lists spawned more lists, in a list epidemic that started to spiral out of control.
Thankfully, things are starting to change. Lists still get the large majority of traffic, but more and more people are finding increasing satisfaction in posting discussions about design on their own terms; lists will always have their place in the community, but they are not meant to control the way the community behaves.
Within any creative community as well, there are bound to be egos. Creative people are by nature a fragile bunch, so if there is any chance they can get a pat on the back, they are going to go for it. I do like to have a little backrub from time-to-time, but to grow as a professional you also need to hear some raw feedback about your work that you might not like.
People often worry about the backlash they might receive for providing criticism of another person’s work. I think if the work deserves praise, it should be rewarded with praise; but being too quick to praise, or offering only praise, doesn’t help anyone out. There are also people who see their peers get glowing reviews and feel they deserve the same thing?then are disappointed when this does not happen. The community is filled with people who are not used to constructive criticism, and who do not understand the value in it or how to handle it. If you offer constructive criticism and it is not well received, simply move on to someone else who will appreciate it.
Because we are more connected than before, we may think that the only things people talk about are the more popular designers and developers. You can easily receive a deluge of messages on Twitter about one person, if you tend to follow all of the same people on Twitter as others in the community. Some folks develop a mentality that these people must feel they are better than the rest of us, when in reality, these individuals are just doing what we do: they tweet, or post about a project they have finished. It is not their fault that they may have more followers than others, or that these followers share with others.
For example, Vitaly Friedman, editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine, is a man I almost wish I could despise. He owns one of the most popular blogs on the Web, has a ton of followers on Twitter, and gets to interact with a ton of people all over the world. However, I cannot despise him because after having talked to him on a number of occasions, I have found him to be as down to earth as they get.
Not everyone is like Mr. Friedman though. There are those who feel they are great simply because of the praise we throw at them, or the awards that they win. Their egos often outshine the great work being done by others in the community. For example, how often have you seen a design in a gallery and wondered if the person was actually making the design for a client, or just making it so they can have people praise them? This has been known to happen.
Instead, we should get a chance to read about the thoughts behind the design and the process the designer went through in creating it. How many more people could learn from how an experienced designer goes from pencil and paper to Adobe Illustrator, when creating an icon? How many more people would benefit by understanding the logic behind the wording used on a button? We have more showcases springing up, when there should be more classrooms; everyone should be a teacher, instead of pretending to be a street performer.
Go out there and share your work, and if you can, share your experiences. You will still get the praise you might be searching for, but you will also be helping others in ways that you could not imagine. In turn, one day, your efforts will come back to help you. To stay alive, this is a process that our community desperately needs.
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