There are more websites talking about Web design and development than ever before. Large players such as Sitepoint, A List Apart and WebMonkey are still around, while it seems every month a new website pops up to help carry us further toward our goal of making the Web a better place. But we cannot be complacent. To improve both personally and as a community, we have to put everything under the microscope.
Anyone can claim to be a professional Web designer; it is just the nature of the business, and it is both a blessing and a curse that you do not have to go to school or get a certificate to make money from Web design and development. New people entering the field look towards the online community to guide them, but there are too many websites that offer cookie cutter tutorials or “How-To’s” on website creation; you can easily read about the how, but are hard-pressed to find the why.
You will consequently find many people claiming that they can build a website?and some of their websites might even be attractive?but they are not functional, and do not meet the goals of the client’s business. It is hard, however, to blame the creators of these websites if they have never learned to do any better.
Basic Web tutorials (like lists) bring in the traffic, so it is also hard to fault websites for pumping them out. And once you have an understanding of Web design theory, these tutorials can certainly enhance your skills or help you solve a specific problem. However, if we continue to let this type of content dominate, there will be fewer and fewer “professionals” that understand the reasoning or theory behind their design choices and decisions. Instead of true Web designers, we are creating paint-by-numbers professionals; this in turn hurts us all.
Suppose you are new to Web design. You visit a Web design gallery and see a number of great designs you assume that people like, because they are in the gallery. Since you want to create designs that people like, you copy one of the designs you saw.
The “copycat” mentality in the community is ironic because we are supposed to be a community of creative people, yet some of us are unwilling to try new things and to explore our own methods. People believe that copying something that is already successful will breed more success; however, what works for someone else may not work for you.
The “good artists copy, great artists steal” quote may be valid, but you are not just an artist; you are also a problem solver, and cannot assume that every problem requires the same solution. What happens when you come across a problem you have not encountered before? How is all of the copying you have done in the past, going to help you come up with a solution? If we stop innovating, where does that leave the future of our community? As technology and society continue to move, evolve and improve, so must the Web design community.
Twitter helps Web professionals find, and communicate, with other professionals, but some people tend to get caught up exclusively in self-promotion. While it would be foolish not to promote your own work, how does it help anyone else if you use social media only for this purpose?
Back in the late 90’s it was hard to find good content; you had to go to a specific website hoping they had a relevant link, do a search, or randomly come across an appropriate website via email. Today we can easily find content through a number of different websites and mediums, yet it is still difficult if not impossible to find the quality content you crave.
You can do your part to help by sharing all of the great stuff you come across online. Do not assume that just because you have seen it, others have as well; the more valuable stuff you share with others, the more valuable you will appear to them. If you want to stroke your ego that way, then go for it!
The top professionals in Web design get the best jobs and are paid to speak at conferences, while a ton of other people can only wish they reach that level some day. In a perfect world, everyone at the top would find a way to give something back to the people at the bottom. But we do not live in a perfect world, and we are definitely not part of a perfect community. Many of the top designers today used to have design blogs where they shared all of their experiences, and everyone benefited from being able to read about them. As time progressed, many of them stopped writing to focus on their careers and no new mentors came along to replace them.
Within the past year, however, I have seen an influx of new designers who are writing more frequently about their knowledge and experiences. Not all of them are well known, but as a community we do not need the insights of the popular figures?we need the insights of the knowledgeable and experienced.
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