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Understanding the Value of Constructive Discussion in the Design Community

Constructive and engaging discussion is crucial in reinvigorating the heartbeat of any community. The design community in particular has often been lauded for its highly discursive and interactive nature; several design websites have now taken the concerted effort to tailor their content in ways which encourage debate and discussion, ingredients which are absolutely vital in stimulating collaboration and learning. The earnest now lies on readers to actively participate in these "online dialogues," with passion and purposefulness.

In this article, I explore the possible ways in which we, as members (and readers) of the design fraternity, can make a significant contribution towards improving the quality of online discussion on design.

Even "Lists" Deserve More than Two-Worded Comments Link


The "list" has been a time-honored tradition for many design resources websites. Compilations of nifty web applications, roundups of promising tutorials and showcases of well designed websites, are some of the many ‘lists’ on offer. The disappointing aspect of ‘lists’ for me however, does not lie in their content but in the quality of comments these posts attract.

More often than not, most readers seem contented to leave brief ‘thank you’ messages without taking the time to provide their own valued opinions on the subject matter at hand. If there is a particular item on the list that catches your attention, then take a stand and express your own opinions.

For example, if a site showcases a list of useful web applications for freelancers, then it would be more constructive if readers wrote about their own experiences with these applications or introduced alternative web apps that were not included in the post. While, “thank you” messages are definitely important, it is of my opinion that readers should take the added initiative to engage with the content rather than simply acknowledge the effort taken to compile these lists.

When Retweeting an Article, Make Sure You’ve Read what was Originally Posted Link


About a week ago, a colleague of mine (who also happens to be a designer) made a startling confession. He admitted that most of the articles he retweets are usually posts which he has never read. The RT function of Twitter, for him at least, was a tool to garner more followers and increase the likelihood of return-favors from other members in the industry. While there is absolutely nothing glaringly wrong with his interpretation of social media networking, it does beg the question if social platforms like Twitter are being utilized
to its fullest potential, in terms of information sharing and collaboration. I am however certain that my work mate falls into a minority category of Twitter users.

This point might seem like a no-brainer but it would be a generally good practice to read or browse through a particular article first before re-posting it on your twitter feed or on any other platform. Apart from this being beneficial to you in terms of knowledge gain, it would also position you in a better stead to engage actively in any ongoing discussion about the article/topic in question. The RT functionality is a perfect way to spread awareness of good online content but it is also imperative that we use it to keep ourselves abreast of the latest opinions and news in circulation.

Shed that Inferiority Complex – Ask Questions Link


I have realized, from my conversations with fellow designers, that a considerable number of readers are often hesitant to post a comment on a topic outside their scope of knowledge in fear of coming across as "ignorant." As the aphorism goes,

"It is better to not know and learn than not know at all."

If the topic covered is not exactly within your area of expertise (if for example you are unfamiliar with the latest potentialities of CSS3) and you’ve found it hard to follow certain aspects of the discussion, don the hat of modesty, be bold, and ask questions! The learning process is a two-way street. The more you ask the higher chance you would emerge as an all-rounded and hence ‘complete’ designer. I’ve found that engaging in open discussion is one of the most productive ways to learn.

Be Analytical in your Comments Link

Yes Man

When commenting on an article, look at it from an analytical perspective. Rather than accept the arguments made at face value, think about them in a way that opens up new questions and raises other possible frontiers for discussion. An article on minimalism for example can perhaps provoke ideas on the historicity of minimalist philosophy and how it applies to design in the contemporary era. Never be discouraged to veer into other related areas of discussion. As designers and creative individuals, it is important that we see how various design/aesthetic
elements are interconnected. Such an approach will
enable us to obtain a thorough grasp of the field.

A "Disclaimer" Link

In this article, I’ve stated a few ways in which readers can contribute more effectively to ongoing discussion. It is important to note however that there are occasions (however rare they might be) when a reader might not have anything additional/constructive to say. Under such circumstances, it would be completely understandable if he/she adopts a neutral/non-committal stand. The bottom line is: community discussion and commenting should never be a ‘chore’ but an intellectually enriching experience.

What are your pointers towards sustaining a thriving and engaging design community? Link

Note:Stock photos courtesy of Pixmac1.

Footnotes Link

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Josh is an academic researcher, specializing in online media and visual design culture. He is currently doing a PhD on youth engagement with new media.

  1. 1

    I think RT (Retweet) for Twitter is becoming trend for most people, we can’t dictate some people doing this to gained more followers and their tweets. It is the reality that most people browse the web and don’t have time reading even it is the relevant one including Terms & Agreement, Policy, etc.

    The responsibility and task of every web designers and developers to enhance and improve their pages to adapt on every needs and wants of client or their visitors I think, is the essential part on success of a working web site. Even sometimes, there’s always a debate being developer or designer is better, the issue here is the end results of the project one is building. I believe, web should not have rules it must depend on the needs of the client and usability and functionality.

    We should thank if anyone leaves a comment or not whether its short or long, a sentence or a paragraph, the point here is if someone posted a blog and somebody is visiting your site and if there’s a chance he/she leave a message, then it works. If anyone wants a bunch of discussion or reply’s, I think it’s time to add a Forum on your site.

    • 2

      I agree with Anthony with this one. A forum is not necessary in my opinion, and that’s why I installed threaded comments on this blog. (It took me a while to figure it out but it was worth it.)

      Also, I don’t think that Josh was saying that he wasn’t thankful for one or two word comments on the blog. I think what he was trying to explain is that it would be nice to hear your point of view or your own spin on the article.

      Personally, when I started blogging, all the comments were great. I loved every comment that I received. Those “thanks” and “I like this post” comments were motivating. But after a while, that just gets tiring. It almost seems like you see the same people leave the same comments without ever really taking the time to add value to their comments. It almost becomes a ritual to some people to just right “thanks” after each post. As a writer/blogger, that can get discouraging after a while, when you have put out your heart on a post, only to get no comments, or vague comments.

      Anyway, thank you for taking some of your time and giving us your take on this subject. :D

      • 3

        Wonderfully said Jad! There is so much of good design content on the Internet that does not receive the quality responses it should be attracting – either because the site in question is starting out or most people haven’t visited it before. Usually when I chance upon websites like these I usually leave a long comment and sometimes I even send an email to the author showing my appreciation.

  2. 4

    Thanks for the post. I’ve often wondered (and in my mind questioned) whether some of the high-volume RTers– who are otherwise very nice, genuine, engaging individuals– actually HAVE the time to read every post that they’ve RT’ed. I’ve always erred both on the side of quality vs. quantity, and prefer to be able to “vouch” for the material I RT.

    Thanks again, and have a nice new Year’s.

    • 5

      I completely agree with you Rafael. There are so many people who are just retweeting everything without reading that they lose their credibility and their retweets simply don’t mean anything anymore.

      I personally follow some people on Twitter who don’t post that often, but I guarantee you, every time they post a link to an article, I always click through because I know that it won’t be a waste of my time.

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  4. 8

    Very good article and very useful indeed! I love what you said about the Retweet buttons, that are very popular, they make it incredibly easy to retweet articles (guilty), but I have seen many blog post with a ton of retweets and and little or no comments. Self promotion in the realm of blogging and social media is getting easier, but we need to support those great articles we are retweeting with our comments, it is actually very encouraging for the authors. :)

    • 9

      You’ve said it beautifully! There is nothing more satisfying for an author than an engaging comment that provides an independent perspective.

      • 10

        There is nothing more satisfying for an author than an engaging comment that provides an independent perspective.

        Bingo! If for any other reason, we should leave meaningful comments because of that. If we found the post useful, it’s always good to show our appreciation in a thoughtful, descriptive way.

  5. 11

    The Retweet part of this post reminded me of when I had just started my blog. A well known blogger retweeted one of my posts and I was pumped, after all he had over 5000 followers. I was shocked when I looked at my site stats and didn’t see much of a bump from that tweet and the retweets of it. I stopped retweeting after that, unless a link or some content is really really good I don’t share it. I want people to see my face and thing “GREAT content” not just content.

    • 12

      I totally agree with what you’ve stated. The RT button has to be utilised with discretion. Or if you’re going to Re-Tweet an article then at least have a quick browse through of the content…or if you really can’t afford that, then just do a check to make sure it’s not a dead link!…haha.

    • 13

      Thanks for leaving a comment Brad. I’m a big fan of your illustrations. Hopefully, you can do one for Design Informer in the future. :)

      It’s very funny how nowadays, lots of people use the RT feature of Twitter as a way to gain followers instead of a way to share valuable content. It’s a proven fact that when you retweet someone’s article and @mention them, then half the time, they will follow you back. It’s not wrong, but I think that the RT function is better served to share great content.

  6. 14

    Thanks for all the great comments.

    I think I might have to clarify my position here.

    Short comments are perfectly fine in circumstances where the reader might not have the time to post a detailed comment or in cases where the post in question does not requisite much of a discussion. However, I have noticed (rather sadly) that the general discursive quality of comments posted within the design community has always been at a minimal. Websites like Design Informer and Drawar however seem to be the exception, with most readers willing to really engage with the material posted.

    • 15

      Thanks for clarifying Josh. I agree that there will be times where we can’t leave a detailed comment and there are other times where we can’t really add anything because of the nature of the post. In these case, I do believe that a “Thank you” can suffice. But all of our comments shouldn’t just consist of that.

  7. 16

    Hi Anthony! Nice to see you participating in this discussion! Always enjoyed your insights.

    I do agree that a good comment does wonders in injecting an article with a sense of discursive vibrancy. It adds another dimension to the website’s content.

    A linkback in the comments system (or link-love) should be seen as an incentive but not the main rationale behind visitor comments.

    Great response!

  8. 17

    You really do bring up some great points Michelle.

    After I finish reading an article, I usually head down to the comments and read them. When I see a comment that adds to the discussion where the comment author honestly states his views and opinions, then I usually click through and check out his/her website. I’m always interested in those who show interest.

    “A comment and opinion can be just as strong and lasting as the actual blog post itself.”

    That’s a very true statement. When a post gets popular, it may get visited for days, months, and even the years to come. If your comment is clever, smart, or it adds to the discussion, more than likely, it will be something that people will read as well and it will definitely give you some credibility and some exposure as well. Thank you for giving us your input Michelle. It’s very much appreciated by myself and I’m sure that Josh appreciates it as well.

  9. 18

    Hi Mike. Thanks for the response. Yup, I agree, sometimes readers just want to leave a quick note of thanks. That is completely fine by all means. But even in such circumstances, a brief reference to a point brought up in the article would add so much more substance to the comment. The best comments are sometimes the ones that are succinct.

  10. 19

    I can realize a “Josh” post from a mile away. :)

    He definitely does have a unique writing style that perfectly conveys the matter at hand.

    “Opinions and suggestions are a driving force to produce better content and articles.”

    Well said, Rich. I’m always looking for constructive comments that will make me better as a blogger and designer. Also, about asking a question at the end of posts, if you will notice, I try to do that at the end of every post. The sad thing is some people don’t even read the post so they wouldn’t even notice it. :)

  11. 20

    Haha cheers for the compliment. Didn’t know I had a trademark writing style. lol

    You have made an excellent point. There is no community without discussion. Posts which conclude with open ended questions are really a fantastic way to urge reader responses. At the end of the day, it’s all about taking an independent stand and being bold enough to state it publically. :)

  12. 21

    I love the sense of humor Mike. I agree with you. I have done the same as well, but I do try to make it a point to leave a valuable comment when I have the time.

    What I can suggest is save the article, and then when you have time, leave a constructive comment. I usually do that to posts that I enjoyed but didn’t feel like leaving a comment at that particular time.

    • 22

      Thanks for stopping by again Sü.

      Yes, that method works perfectly for me. It’s something that I have been doing for quite some time now and I will keep doing it until I find a better method :)

      Also, about the Twitter thing, I agree. I tend to tweet too much as well. It definitely can get addicting. ;)

  13. 23

    You’re welcome. :D

  14. 24

    I have to admit, I don’t read ALL of the articles that I retweet. However, I’m glad I read this one. When I first started using Twitter I saw the RT function as a way to spread info. Typically, I scan the article then RT it, but I have to find the title and opener really enganging in order for me to read all of it and then supply a meaningful comment.

    I’m glad Josh is popping up everywhere. It can be hard to get out there as a web designer. Good for you! ^_^

    • 25

      Just to add:

      It’s about time there was a blog post on this. I often find annoyance with irrelavant comments among the comments! Hopefully, this prompts more in the design community to actually read blogs/articles and offer meaningful opinions.

      • 26

        Thanks for the kind words Danielle. (I love the design of your website by the way!)

        It can be hard to read every article that one re-tweets. A quick browse through to check if there is good content will suffice, for those without the time to actually indulge in a full reading of the article. It is true that the title and opening paragraph of an article is crucially important in attracting reader attention. To facilitate this, I often try to summarise the whole article in the first two paragraphs to give readers an overview of what they will be reading. It also allows readers then to RT the article without having read it fully.

      • 27

        Danielle, thank you for sharing your thoughts about the subject matter.

        I’m guilty of not reading every article that I retweet as well, especially list posts. :(

        by the way, I’m really glad that Josh wrote on this topic. It’s a definite eye-opener for the readers and bloggers of the design community. Hopefully, we can all analyze the way we respond to the content that we read and re-tweet.

        Also, I look forward to seeing the launch of your site. Send me an email or an “@” reply when it’s ready. I’ll make sure to read and retweet it. :D

      • 28

        Thanks guys! I’m hoping to have a .com soon instead of that I’m working on having a site that shows my talents in web design much more than what I have up now. Josh’s site and this one have been really helpful to me in terms of learning more about web design and the design community as a whole. Thanks for all the help! :)

        I plan on summarizing my articles and blog posts within the first two paragraphs as well. Smart idea.

  15. 29

    This was a great, thought provoking article and I liked it so much that I RTed it right after reading it…. and that’s all I did. I took an excellent article that was about discussion and I retweeted it without even a comment (thanks to Tweetie 2 following the Twitter RT to the T). So, why did I do it? Because it was easy.

    Thankfully, @designinformer called me out on that. Ok, there is one final reason and that is that I was in the drive-thru at Taco Bell, about 4 deep while I read it, but that’s a whole different issue that I need to deal with.

    Seeing a list of “45+ Incredible jQuery Plugins” and saying thank you is quick and easy. Diving into one of the 45 and coming up with interesting commentary about it takes time and investment. So, I took the easy way out on dinner and my investment in the community tonight.

    I used to “quick glance” RT all the time. I clicked the link and if it looked like I “would” read it, I RTed it. That and my original moniker are probably the reasons that I gained so many followers in a short time with no real popular work. However, it wasn’t real and I realized that I shouldn’t send off stuff unless I really took the time to read it and make sure it isn’t mostly comprised of duplicate content and has real value. That is why I retweeted this article tonight. Is that enough, though?

    So, my question is: Where do you draw the line?

    Of course, ideally we would all access articles when we have ample time to read, reread and chime in on content. But, what if we don’t? Is it hypocritical to share it without participating? If we all keep doing it, do we keep adding to the mess?

    Or, is it vital to share the information first and try to make the effort to go back and chime in like I am doing now?

    • 30

      Thanks for the very insightful response.

      I do agree that The RT functionality provides an easy avenue to “show your appreciation or interest” in a particular article.

      There is nothing wrong with not leaving a comment. After all, writing is an activity that is usually done at the spur of the moment- it is that split-second moment of inspiration which gears you to write a comment that is heart-felt and thoughtful.

      Certain posts however do not really require a reader’s response; it might acknowledge a facet of design (or any topic for that matter) that is noteworthy but not thought-provoking. Under such circumstances, it is obviously understandable if readers hesitate to leave a comment.

      So to answer your question, commenting is dependent on ones subjective interpretation of the topic at hand and of course their own personal circumstances (e.g. if a reader is at work, then he/she may not be able to leave a comment).

      Thanks again for the comment!

      • 31

        Thank you for the reply as well!

        I know I kind of took it off the path and into a RT conversation, but I knew you wouldn’t mind. RTs are the “nice post” comment equivalent on Twitter, so it seemed viable.

        I really enjoy articles like this and I think there is great room for improvement in the way that we share and communicate with online content. This was another eye-opening article for me, as I am continually trying to improve my “social networking” and the way that I contribute to the community.

      • 32

        Hey Dan, thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment.

        I’m glad I asked for your opinion. You have brought up some interesting and thought-provoking statements to the discussion.

        “I was in the drive-thru at Taco Bell, about 4 deep while I read it, but that’s a whole different issue that I need to deal with.”

        That really cracked me up. Reading a blog post while at the drive-thru? Wow!

        Anyway, I’m thrilled that this post has been an eye-opener for you because it has had the same effect on me as well. BTW, keep up the fantastic job that you have been doing with FUEL! :)

  16. 33

    HI Lam.

    Yes I can certainly relate to your conundrum. Sometimes, a reader may not have an opinion, or may prefer to adopt a non-committal stand. However, I guess the bottom line is, if we really put our minds to it, most of us here would be able to garner a half-decent comment that at least extends beyond one or two words of praise.

    It is true that reader comments are hard to come by, especially on the Internet when most people are looking for a quick browsing experience, rather than a full read.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

    • 34

      “if we really put our minds to it, most of us here would be able to garner a half-decent comment that at least extends beyond one or two words of praise.”

      Excellent statement Josh!

  17. 35

    Thanks for the response Tomas.

    Yes, it’s definitely a good practice to re-tweet articles which you have enjoyed. Re-tweeting a select group of articles written by friends and popular bloggers is a good way to enhance the quality of your RT’s and comments.

    However the opposite is also true. I often find myself re-tweeting articles from lesser known blogs. These are “rare finds” which I feel deserve more attention from the community.

    • 36

      I’m the same way Josh. I try to retweet articles that I found useful, but at the same time, I try to retweet these “hidden gems,” which are posts that don’t get a lot of exposure, but are wonderfully written and offer great insight and thoughts.

      Now that I have over 1,000 followers, it’s a good way for me to give back to those small blogs by retweeting their hard work. ;)

  18. 37

    Great post! very useful!


  19. 40

    Great article, Josh.

    There is the other side of the coin. Bloggers and authors are often in a position to encourage discussions by replying to readers’ comments and questions, but in many cases they miss that opportunity. Ideally, each comment should have a reply. Even if readers leave short comments such as “great article”, a simple “thank you all for commenting” should be enough.

    • 41

      Thanks for the compliment Janko.

      I completely agree with the notion that bloggers must interact with their readers/commenters.

      It is important to establish a solid relationship with your readers if you want a loyal readership base. So yes, good discussion definitely stems from authors and bloggers, who must first set the example.

    • 42

      Thanks Janko. I absolutely try my best to respond to every comment on Design Informer. It’s hard and time-consuming but I do believe that it’s worth it.

      I guess with bigger blogs like Web Designer Depot and Smashing Magazine, it can be really hard to do so. I had a blog post on Smashing Magazine that has 190 commments to date and it has been very hard to keep up with all the comments. :)

      Anyway, I completely agree with you. I think the reason why we get so many comments here at Design Informer is because we really encourage discussions by replying to readers’ comments and questions.

      Thanks for commenting Janko and I love your tutorials on your blog. Looking forward to your posts in 2010.

      • 43

        Josh, Jad, you give a good example of how discussions can be encouraged. I was looking through your older posts and I am amazed with the quality (and quantity as well) of responses on Design informer.

        But I agree that in case of blogs like SmashingMagazine it would be impossible to answer each comment.

        Have a nice holidays!

  20. 44

    Hey everyone, Josh just wrote a thought-provoking article on his blog that complements this post.

    Here is the direct link.

    A “Bystander’s Perspective” on the Design Community

    Here’s a short excerpt from the article:

    “Contained in these notes, are specific observations and idiosyncrasies of the design community together with proposed ways in which we as its loyal members, can further enhance its status as an effervescent and creative hub. Today, I’ve decided to share some of them publicly on this space.”

    It’s definitely a good follow-up read after this article. Please leave a comment on his blog as well and contribute to the discussion. It’s good for the community. :D


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