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The Sad State Of The Web Design Community


Editor’s Note Link

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

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

— Vitaly Friedman, Editor in Chief of Smashing Magazine

Opinion Column Link

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Crunch Link

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

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

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

What Are You Talking About? Link

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

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

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

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

Finally, here’s the link to the discussion, as promised. Aside from Smashing Magazine, this discussion is currently taking place on Drawar and Finch.


Footnotes Link

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

  1. 1

    What are the odds?

    I was thinking about this kind of crap lately myself and wrote a post call Or how I stoppedd worrying and started being creative again

    This blogging and sharing/promoting stuff kind off killed our creativity, I’m afraid.

    By the way, the same goes also for blogging in general and not only for design community…

    • 2

      That’s interesting – “This blogging and sharing/promoting stuff kind off killed our creativity”. I suppose a lot of designers’ solutions have in actual fact just resulted from a search of what others are doing.
      But is this anything new? It certainly isn’t restricted to web design:

      • 3

        The whole “hold your poster in front of you for your portfolio” thing comes to mind…

  2. 4

    Vitaly Friedman (Smashing Magazine)

    April 8, 2010 1:25 pm

    Kari, thank you very much for your opinion. I can see where you are coming from, but I am afraid I can’t agree with your view of things. You see, we indeed have an influx of useless lists floating around on the Web, and Smashing Magazine is probably the main website to blame for all of these “round-up” websites. But despite this influx, one can still find a number of truly remarkable websites that support and engage the community on a regular basis. This is where in-depth design articles are published. This is where discussions can take place. This is where the good old spirit of the design community still lives.

    It may have become more difficult to find those websites, but they are there: Drawar, Webdesigner Depot, ThinkVitamin, MIX Online, Design Informer, of course also ALA and AIGA, and hopefully Smashing Magazine, too. These are all websites where a lot of time and resources have been invested into high-quality, relevant design-related articles. Many of these articles are top-notch, written by professionals, and well prepared and well written. They are helpful and relevant. They create and support discussions in the community. They are not lists, but rather refined and carefully crafted articles. In my opinion, it’s just wrong to ignore them and say that all articles out there are just not good enough and that there is no place to learn “proper” design principles.

    Also, I’d like to stress my confidence that most design blogs are open to design-related discussions and are always glad to support ideas or provide a platform where ideas can be shared, discussed and developed. Smashing Magazine is certainly one of these websites. And best of all is that communicating is incredibly easy; for instance, you could just get in touch with us and we would be happy to support you, either by publishing your question or opinion on Smashing Magazine or by tweeting your article. The possibilities exist; we, the community, just need to use them.

    Just for the record, we do believe that lists have their place, because they can be very helpful in certain situations, and as I see it Smashing Magazine and many other websites are trying to counter this image of one-dimensional articles with more thoughtful and though-provoking pieces.

    • 5

      Loved the article and the reply, while not a designer my self I’m a programmer I can fully see where both are coming from. I love the smashing magazine articles as for a design newbie they remind me to think about how a site should look and feel for the end user.

    • 6

      I’ll agree with Vitaly here. While there are many useless articles out there, I think any good designer (that being one with a true interest in design) knows which is crap and which is quality. As Vitaly has stated, the true and great design sites (Smashing being one of them) out there post quality content for us all to enjoy and learn from. Some of those are even listicles that are helping to promote excellent design techniques in the most powerful software.

      • 7

        Kari and Vitaly both make good points, but I definitely see what Kari is saying. It’s what is good and bad about the internet. We now have more access to information than ever before, but that’s not always a good thing. Some people claim to be professionals, and although they might be, what works for them might not work for many other people. Some people write articles about topics that they think they have a firm grasp on, when in reality, they are far off base.

        When researching anything, I very often find conflicting opinions by several different people who claim to be professionals. In the last few months I have researched how to properly form a strong resume. I have found articles that say to never make it longer than 1 page and at the same time, I have found articles that say there are many times when your resume should be 2 or 3 pages. Some articles stress functional resumes and some stress chronological resumes. Some articles say that a person applying for a job in a design/marketing related company, the resume should show your design talent, but other articles say that the resume itself shouldn’t distract from your actual experience. Basically, most of the information that you can find on any topic is going to be completely wrong for most people in most situations.

        This makes it very difficult to find useful, trustworthy information. All of these “professionals” contradicting each other or flat out copying each other makes it hard to know what is good information. It leads to much of the confusion I have when trying to come up with fresh ideas on how to design different websites.

        This has forced the design community to boil down to a select few professionals. The only problem is these professionals are the most creative people in the business and could care less about the “trends”. They set the trends. And at the same time, many more other “professionals” spend their days picking apart their designs and talking about what is wrong with them. So when those trend setters actually give advice on designing, everyone else that is stuck in their concept of good design tear them apart. Which in turn causes more designers to not be innovative because innovative ideas seem so abstract that they seem stupid, and the majority of the design community has the “group think” disease and will not dare break from the pack.

        The “innovation” and “creativity” of the design community as a whole has been dead for awhile. I’m no different, the websites I design don’t break from most modern design rules, but it is hard to break those rules and feel like you have given your clients their money’s worth. To be a good designer, to be truly creative while creating functional designs, you have to ignore what every other “professional” has to say. If you went to college for design, the best thing you can do is forget most of what you learned about design principles. If you have a problem with conformity, get over it. The lack of conformity is the new conformity. You have to get away from all of that thinking and embrace whatever you create. If what you do create isn’t advancing your career, maybe you should choose a different career. But true innovation is forgetting about every principle you have ever learned. It is creating something despite other “professionals” telling you how it is wrong or would never work. It is taking risks, taking the risk that what you create will not be accepted or will not be useful. Learn from Microsoft, Apple, HTC, Google, etc about how they ignored what everyone else said. Don’t learn from what they have created, learn WHY they created despite all of the negativity. Don’t learn from how they have done what they did, learn from the courage and guts it took to do something completely different without even considering what has or hasn’t been done before.

        I’m sure by now that I have lost the attention of most people because this comment has been too long so I will end it now with one last statement before I lose everyone’s attention.

        To be truly innovative and creative, you have to set the trends, not follow them. It would help you a lot to never read another article about current or future trends. It would help even more to ignore what people think or say, because no one will immediately understand or embrace an idea that has never been tried before. Just try to understand people in general, and learn how to give them what they want without them knowing that they want it. No one thought that they would want a PC until they had it. No one thought they wanted to be able to get food without leaving their car until they could. No one thought they wanted a camera in their cell phone until they had it. All of those ideas were hated by most people at the mere suggestion, but all of those ideas are now taken for granted as being an important part of our lives, and some are now even a necessity to most people.

  3. 8

    Jordan Moore

    April 8, 2010 1:40 pm

    I completely agree with your point about Listicles. It’s promoting the factory-line mentality which we strive to avoid in web design for our own sanity. These disposable articles only spawn disposable comments like “Nice article” “Great thanks!” “First!” each useless comment as useful as the article itself.

    Ahem… rant over.

  4. 9

    tl;dr – Eagerly awaiting the “Top 32 articles on design community collapse”-list in my Twitter. All written by people who aren’t actually at the top of the game or even earning a living doing anywhere close to it.

    e.g. business as usual.

    E: “Please retweet this!”

    • 10

      Kari Pätilä

      April 8, 2010 1:53 pm

      This is an important point to make. It’s probably good to note that this is the only article on the subject I’m going to publish. It’s back to the forums for me, helping out when I can.

      • 11

        it’s funny, i’ve already noticed new posts on how the design community is failing/how designers need to get back to basics etc. since i read your original article a few days ago.

        sad lemmings.

        part of it is the nature of the beast that is the internet and how we strive to create and disseminate “relevant” information 24/7. part of it is laziness and unoriginality.

        • 12

          Heather, I’m going to agree and disagree with you. I feel like I’ve “seen the writing on the wall” for a little while now, more and more I’ve read articles or had conversations that are leaning toward getting back to unique, thoughtful blog posts.

          I feel that you (and probably other people too) are starting to see this spreading through communities because yes, we are lemmings. An idea sprouts up in a few places and spreads like a virus. This conversation showing up on Smashing Mag, means its growing, it’s being discussed, and now it’s on the bigger guys websites. It’s just the sociology of the web.

      • 13

        I think you have made some good points. Most people here seem to agree with the massive list post argument. I’d just like to note though that I only found out about this site and all its great resources by googling for HTML and CSS help. I got a list of all the bet tutorials. What a start I thought, I had all the things I needed in one place. It helped me a lot. But I can see for seasoned designers they might be useless, well all you have to do is not read them. Its not like the author had to make a choice between writing that amazing never seen before article about how to create a HTML site that brakes new ground or a list article. What I am trying to say is that the authors who write the lists are not impeding the other authors. Those authors just dont write enough great design articles. I’m not sure why they dont? There is clearly an audience for it. Maybe they are to busy actually working in the industry, and the tutorial and article side of the industry is to niche for them?

        My big worry is the quality of the commenting. I remember when people would make code corrections, answer other peoples questions and really contribute to the conversation. This seems to be happening less and less. I do realise that there are some cases where it happens and that this article is an example of that, but it is very rare. Everyone seems to expect all the information for free and they take it and give nothing, or very little back to the community.

        The comment section is a big deal in building community and a better web, imho.

  5. 14

    we can’t all be great. or original. or designers.

    30 years ago a great photography was something you had to work for years in a row.

    today any bloke with a couple of hundred bucks in his wallet and a broadband connection can make that photography.

    we need to accept this.

    there will always be great photographers …

    the difference is that from now on there will also be bloke’s with a couple of hundred bucks in their wallets and a broadband connection.

    same goes for design.

    i’m not a designer. i’m just a guy that can use photoshop. maybe some other guy is a designer.

    people will learn to distinguish us and from a single group of people, 2 very different groups will eventually emerge.

    • 15

      It’s not so much about “hundred buck photographers” having a great photo or two as it’s about Martin Parr imposters posting simple and meaningless articles on the rule of thirds that everyone else elates.

      • 16

        Eh, I don’t have a problem with blogs writing their own articles about something that, to you, is obvious or second-hand knowledge. I say this because…

        1.) I’d be willing to bet there is a large group of “designers” here who have no idea what rule-of-thirds means

        2.) Just because Smashing Magazine is a great resource doesn’t mean it should be the only resource available… not every designer in the world comes here. Also, how do you know a lot of these small bloggers are impostors? Not everyone comes to Smashing Magazine. They may read something in a book and feel like writing an article about it.

        • 17

          I didn’t mean to imply that simple guides aren’t useful, needed or a good source for budding designers. Martin Parr is an enormous talent, albeit unconventional, in photography – and I’d be sad to see him write about something basic.

          So what I’m implying may be that some of the tutorialized masters maybe aren’t, and not that supposed simpler tutorials or knowledge isn’t wanted or required.

  6. 18

    Luke Reimer

    April 8, 2010 1:44 pm

    Interesting piece – it’s neat to see some in-depth opinion from members of the community!

    I agree with much of what you’re saying in terms of the amount and classification of types of blog posts (e.g. on the scale of in-depth educational to your “listicles”). But, I think these all have a place and a time, each applying to different designers with their unique needs and experience.

    What I think the community could use is some more differentiation between these types of blog posts… The listicles seem to be all mixed in with the golden nuggets within these blog web sites and throughout all of them.

    In my perfect world all of these “30+” and “150 useful…” lists would be automatically consolidated into one place and categorized according to their subject matter so that when I need them I can find them easily. Instead it seems that they’re a) quite scattered across web sites, tweets, comments, etc. and b) uncategorized as a whole.

    Anyway, if the community truly is going downhill, let’s figure out how to turn that around and take on the responsibility to change things for the better.

  7. 19

    Niels Matthijs

    April 8, 2010 1:52 pm

    This reminds me of an post I wrote back in 2008.

    Web 2.0 was never all that social in the first place. The social aspect was mostly create by software and interfaces. Data harvesting mangling your data with others and coming up with statistics. Typical “human” community stuff like interaction became harder to accomplish. We now talk through comments, Twitter and other useless means that don’t encourage thoughtful posts.

    Web 2.0 never helped meaningful discussion, but it killed them. Those old forums became “old and boring”, but nothing was able to replace them. The result is Twitter, an 150- character list of short messages and non-readable links. We follow 500 other people, but hardly now them, nor do we actually talk to them.

    The old article, for reference:

    • 20

      Kari Pätilä

      April 8, 2010 2:16 pm

      Late 2008 wasn’t a good time for forums. As for that 2.0 stuff, I never could make any sense of it as a design trend. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to find a natural style of my own — trying to learn something I had no interested in learning.

  8. 21

    I think a web design “elite” is a good thing; as you say, a lot of the famous names deserve recognition and it’s useful to know where to go to see innovation and good practice, and to have someone to look up to.

    What does annoy me is when one of the elite farts and it gets retweeted around the world. Or when you see the same sites referred to again and again, whatever the topic. This is lazy. We should be pointing to and analysing examples of web design outside of the bubble as well.

    BTW I couldn’t agree more about (

  9. 23

    I’m just fed up with trends and lists of. The bigs “Hello I’m” blocks on homepages just don’t interest me. Trends reporting as we know it is killing the creativity we shoul’d be talking about. I don’t speak english everyday and it’s hard for me to develop but just want to say how this title “The Sad State Of The Web Design Community”, makes me stop all, because that’s just my feeling today

  10. 24

    Are Designers the Enemy of Design? –

    “Designers suck because they are arrogant. The blogs and websites are full of designers shouting how awful it is that now, thanks to Macs, Web 2.0, even YouTube, EVERYONE is a designer.”

    read article for more!

    IMHO…good designers are real cocky and they are very selective as to who they want to work with…even if the client is willing to listen to them. as soon as one of their designs land on these retweets of top 10 design lists, their prices & ego go through the roof…25k-50k/design??? given proper specs, 1 main UI & 8 inner page UIs should take 1 week max working at 8hrs-10hrs/day & breaking that into HTML should take another week…that’s 80-100 man hours…which translates to approx. $250-$600/hr…are you f***** serious? Designer egos need to be managed more appropriately! The end!

    • 25

      I agree and I’m a designer, but I wish I could acquire a little bit of that cockiness. I worked for a long time with designers like that and I’m a genuinely humble and grateful person. Being in an environment with those egos destroyed my self esteem and I’m still trying to get it back when it comes to web design.

      In any case, I just wanted to say there are quite a few really good designers that don’t call themselves “rock stars” or “gurus” of anything with a price tag to match. Just solid decent designers trying to accommodate their clients trendy requests and still be original.

      I think it’s pretty tough.

    • 26

      I think that’s a pretty ballsy / arrogant statement to make in that article. That’s pretty much like saying if you’re going to criticize anything, and you’re a designer, than you’re automatically arrogant. How about designers have a high expectation of design and functionality? I know I do. And how about there are way too many bad designs out there, because of YouTube, etc… The problem isn’t the profession. The problem is the individual, and what how they’ve matured as an individual. Last I checked, you don’t have to be cocky or arrogant to be good. Some of the best designers I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting are super humble.

      Personally, I don’t think cockiness or arrogance has any place in any community. I think if you’re good at what you do, you don’t need to boast, and you certainly don’t need to cop an attitude about it. People who cop attitudes in any field are compensating for something they don’t have. In the creative field, that’s generally talent.

      As far as how long it takes to design a website, and what rate is appropriate is determined heavily on overhead, etc… If a client is paying $250 – $600/hr for a website design / development, I’d imagine the site would go up in a week, and that a handful of people would be working on it. I’d also imagine that site to be developed with little to no mistakes. All I’m saying is, people get what they pay for, and sometimes more.

    • 27

      Picasso was sitting at a table outside a Paris cafe. A woman came up to him and asked him to draw something for her on a napkin. He complied, doodling as only he could.

      After he quickly finished he requested the French equivalent of $5,000. Agast the woman said — “but it only took you 2 minutes!”

      Smiling, the great man replied — “no Madam, it took me my whole life.”

    • 28

      Alison Barrett

      April 19, 2010 9:23 am

      I think the high price is less about ego and more about good business. Clients who do not understand the “get what they pay for” way of thinking are harming the financial health of the web design community. More accurately, designers offering $500 turnkey websites are the ones doing the harm. It seems that many clients have come to expect to pay the bare minimum for your time instead of considering the real value of their website. How much extra revenue will they get from having a quality website? Shouldn’t that be more influential on what the website will cost?

      As a result of the current mindset, the designers who aren’t willing to create a website for an absurdly low amount of money look arrogant in the eyes of the potential client. This isn’t to say there aren’t arrogant designers out there—I’ve met plenty—but a lot of designers are just trying to make a living creating quality websites for the right price. In my experience, the $500-site designers are usually the arrogant ones.

      • 29

        Alison, 500$ is lot of money in a lot of countries where the designers are no less competitive than the ones who live in a country where $500 are reserved for their kids’ Wii and XBoxes. A designer living in India, or Pakistan or Indonesia can create an equally good website (a whole freaking business card website, not just design) in that $500 budget. So your statements about those designers doesn’t hold onto itself in this kind of freelancing world.

  11. 30

    The problem with the “lists” is not the content itself. The items presented in the lists are not bad. Most of them are great. But the lists are way too long. I’ve always hated lists that had too many items. Just for once, I’d like to see someone post an article called “5 Useful jQuery plugins” and then give a good detailed explanation of each one, showing pros and cons, and how they can be used effectively. That’s quality content — but it still caters to the people that like to “scan” lists instead of reading.

    It’s wrong to say that lists should disappear, because they won’t, and they shouldn’t. The long, shallow lists are what should disappear.

    • 31

      This is exactly my opinion on the subject. Like everything in life, lists are good only when done in moderation. Lists are important. I don’t normally read them when I see them posted to my RSS-feed (although I might start if people started explaining why the items are listed, as you suggested). If I’m ever stuck during a project, or can’t remember the name of “that one plugin,” I can easily search google and find a list that has what I’m looking for.

      Also, if you’re spending the time to write up a list-post, make sure the items in your list haven’t been posted in 1000 other list-posts already. If it has, people have already seen it, and you’re not adding anything to the community.

  12. 32

    GREAT ARTICLE! I definitely agree with a lot of what you said. And if it’s not too ballsy, I’d like to add design in general. This is definitely a start to resolving the problem(s).
    There is an elephant in the room that everyone seems to be ignoring.

    There are some relevant points that you brought up that I completely agree with, one being that people generally flock to the high numbers, and not always what’s relevant. Unfortunately that’s not anything new. It’s very common in any industry. In fact, it’s more psychological than anything. People want to be where they’ll get the most attention.

    What’s really sad is that a lot of the prestigious design schools that are supposed to teach this stuff, aren’t teaching it as well as they should be. Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t say a lot, but the bunch that I’m familiar with are doing a poor job. So in turn, everyone looks to design blogs & forums for their answers, and like you stated, they don’t always walk away with the best information (if at all).

    On the flip side, I completely see where Vitaly Friedman is coming from. I personally appreciate Smashing Magazine a great deal. I definitely wouldn’t attribute Smashing Magazine as a part of the problem. In fact, I think they’re part of the solution. Granted, I’m not the biggest fan of lists (or “listicles”), but I also read with my eyes, and not with my ego. So if I read something that I don’t connect with, I make a note about the author, and try to remember what I didn’t like about it so as to avoid similar junk in the future.

    One major thing that I’d have to disagree with you on is the community. I think you give the community too much credit. From my experience, people don’t read (at least not for very long). I know from experience, because I’m one of those people. This is the ADD generation (and no, that’s not an excuse). We’re all super busy, trying to keep up with our social networking, our day jobs, our personal lives, etc…

    In fact, I think it’s a miracle that I’m even writing this long of a comment with all that I still have to finish today. With that said, I think I’ve shared more than my two cents. Thanks again for this article. Really appreciate it. :)

  13. 33

    Hi Kari, I have to disagree that the community is dying. Sure, there are a lot of listicles – and regurgitation of listicles – but there are still lots of informative articles out there.

    I have been formally studying web design yet most of my education has come from online sources. Sites like Nettuts, csstricks, Web Designer Wall have helped me immensely.

    However, I do think the industry is damaging itself by making a few $ advertising cheaper PSD to HTML services and the like on their own sites. I just don’t get that.

  14. 34

    Rob Loukotka

    April 8, 2010 2:11 pm

    This post seems unnecessarily negative and bitter. The web is growing exponentially, worldwide access to broadband internet is growing exponentially, as is knowledge of our world and our craft. It seems almost insane to wish yourself back 10 years ago, to a fledgling internet void of quality design or innovative development.

    The reason there are so many ‘Listicles’, or posts lacking real content, is because the interest in our community is GROWING. Real designers, real developers, people who spend their lives perfecting the web… we’re still here. But the amount of newcomers and students is growing. A lot of people simply don’t have the knowledge to write a newspaper quality post, and they’re just seeking traffic. A list will get them traffic. And they’re getting traffic, again, because the community is growing.

    There are plenty of amazingly talented professionals, and you wont see them retweeting “10 Cool Websites With Cats on Them”. They generally provide valuable information, and if you visit their blogs, you’d see they’re often the people creating the great original content that ends up in those lists (You know, actual web design lists, not things with cats).

    It’s fine if you don’t like what you see being posted everywhere, but I wouldn’t take it as a sign that our community is imploding.

    This all falls in line with talks of spec sites, or design competitions. Yes, lists don’t provide much value, in the same way that spec sites are generally worthless. But you can’t say this huge wave of amateur designers (and amateur posts) will ruin our profession.

    Just ignore it. People will write those posts, and they’ll get retweeted by people who eat that crap up. But those of us looking to make a living on this, and those of who care about our work and want to improve the web as a whole, we won’t read them. We have our own blogs, our friends, and our own quality things to tweet.

    The community is fine, I meet more new and amazing designers every day. We should all be happy that so many people are interested in what we do, and that they’re copying our websites and putting them into silly lists. We’re still only at the very beginning of what’s possible with the web, and I’m far more excited about the NEXT 10 years than I am about the past 10.

    • 35

      This is just a short way of appreciating your optimistic view of the web design community which had been described here as ‘collapsing’, actually. The main article sounds a bit descriminating to the newbies and more like saying “Hey, step-out were full!”. Isn’t it the purpose of this wide web, commUNITY?…..

    • 36

      Well said. I would definitely agree with the “ignore them and they will go away” sentiment. There are just so many blogs that are written because they ‘can’ be, not because they ‘should’ be, and likely from a desperate desire for celebrity or recognition. (Similar to why so many people will work in the record/modelling/film industry for free — or crowdsource.) That type of motivation isnt sustainable in the absence of attention or pay-off. Hopefully within a few years the herd collectively figures out who the real contributors are and stick with them. You can help keep the good ones around by buying their books, e-books and fonts, attending their seminars etc. The others will figure it out.

  15. 37

    JanMichael Guzman

    April 8, 2010 2:12 pm

    I am not entirely sure into what demo I fall into for this argument. I don’t consider myself a “master” but I’m certainly no novice. I’ve been a professional for the past 6 years and I have been inside the community in some form for the last decade. I agree with the poster that quality and insightful content is hard to come by, but in my opinion it has always been that way.

    I have a feeling the reason “quality” seems to be a scarcer commodity is more to do with the influx of these listicles more than the decline of properly thought out presentations. The rising tide of lesser content is simply inching out the better stuff. I liken it to house party with good conversation at the beginning of the night and as the evening progresses the music gets louder and the alcohol starts flowing.

    There are also more demands on the average designer theses days than I can recall there being just a few years ago, and that in turn leaves less opportunities for people to truly immerse themselves into a community in a constructive manner.

    I agree with Vitaly Friedman, there are great sites out there with excellent content and had I not stopped to read the comments I would have listed the exact ones he did. Perhaps with a changing landscape we need to reevaluate how we consume this media, rather than pronouncing it dead.

  16. 38

    JanMichael Guzman

    April 8, 2010 2:14 pm

    As a side note I would also suggest BoagWorld’s podcast. I think they are over their 200th episode.

  17. 39

    Dylan Parry

    April 8, 2010 2:16 pm

    I can’t agree more with many of the points you made, especially the ones about “Listicles”. I get so annoyed by the shear number of these articles appearing in my RSS reader each day—dozens or content-less collections of unqualified screenshots of sites sharing a theme, or using a particular technique, or even just sites falling into a category. Anywhere other than in a blog, this would be considered to be incredibly poor journalism.

    Smashing Magazine is probably one of the biggest offenders in that respect. There is the occasional article that is original and creative, but there are many more than are written by folks who are certainly in no position to be writing articles on a subject they don’t really have any experience in, or merely list three-dozen screenshots without any qualifying comments.

    I don’t see how hard it can be to write a line or two about each image, and also limit the number of images to five or six at most so the reader doesn’t get bored before reaching the end of it.

    Anyhow, I’m ranting now, so I’ll stop. (Been riled enough by the Digital Economy Bill today, so been taking out my anger on anything that doesn’t argue back!)

    • 40

      Anonymous Howard

      April 8, 2010 2:28 pm

      Unfollow those RSS feeds. Vote with your readership—I know I have.

      • 41

        That’s a good idea, really. I’m just a little lazy and will mark the item as read without reading it, then move on to the next. I probably should start unfollowing them though—I certainly do that when a post is just the first paragraph with a “read more” link.

  18. 42

    Anonymous Howard

    April 8, 2010 2:20 pm

    It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question to me: are these list sites created because they’re what the community wants? Or are they what the community wants simply because it’s the majority of what’s out there?

    I believe the former is more true. These sites are popular, no way around that.

  19. 43

    I’m loving the discussion that I’m witnessing from around the community – I’m just starting out – but I’ve been a noble student, listening for a year straight now, devouring as many articles as I can read in a day. It really seems to be heating up this week and I’m hoping that it’s inspiring people to get involved, even for the first time – I know it has for me.

    Most of all, it’s shown me who the passionate ones are. Through tweets and blog posts, I’m seeing the human and the hungry sides of people.

    First let me say this: the web design community isn’t collapsing. It’s changing. If the older generation is missing something it once had, or if we’re actually in a rut, then the focus should be on creating something that gives the users what they want. This is what our entire business is. How many articles have you read about the client not knowing what they want and that we do? Now we’re our own client and we can’t put our finger on a solution. But we seem hungry and that’s our saving grace.

  20. 44

    I find it very hard to share your views, and instead find myself wondering what kind of community you traverse. While I agree with your notion of ‘listicles’ and do often find myself begging the screen for justification of selection, a small critique of each in order to inform. The one glaring omission I find in your article.. the community you speak of, is implied as only digital. Just because we work in a digital medium does not limit our ‘community’ to one. High quality schools and universities seemingly open up by the day, a stable of books and publications by old and new, events including AEA, Future of Web design, even the more specific areas such as the jQuery conference and many more.

    Assuming the focus of your opinion piece was solely web based communities then I would simply argue that you need to dig deeper. There are a considerable amount of thought provoking well written articles out there, and many more tutorials. With information so freely available, and design software even easier to source we are now faced with marketers, developers, friends little cousins all claiming to be web designers. This isn’t necessarily a problem it’s just the market is now simply over saturated, but the cream will rise to the top.. if you know where to look. It’s not a lack of high-quality online content, that’s out there, it always has been now however it’s just a little harder to find.

  21. 45

    I must say that i really enjoyed reading your column. No, not because i think it’s funny the fact that the web design community is a mess…

    I enjoyed because, in the last 2 months or so, i kept asking to my brother

    ” Is just me, or there the majority of the design blogs are just writing the same stuff all over again but with different words? I just can’t see anything new and interesting anymore! ”

    Something i notice too is that when a new article is posted ( the original copy )… i don’t know why, it’s seems it looses relevance …

    Then there are those articles that you read read read and in the end you ask yourself … what the hell was this amount of text for? There was nothing objective in it ! ”

    So, yes, i think we reach a point where we are not only “running in circles” … it’s more like a Swirl with Twister blend … were the “depression” keeps pushing everything down.

    I don’t have a blog, write articles or anything. I can’t say i did much for the community in that aspect. I’m not even from a country that as English as native language.

    What i see, is pretty much Cocoons of elite “masters” that love relationships between them but, nothing really positive comes out of it for the community. And this happens in the US, England, Poland, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal … everywhere.

    So, the human nature ( there are exceptions ) is always the main factor that limits the evolution and many times, the main factor of the de-volution. If you know how to do x,y or z and you learned 75% of your skills with other designers that were kind enough to teach you techniques … you think :

    “why the heck am i going to teach a dog to bite… if afterward he can bite me?!” – i hope you understand what i mean here…

    Ok, just my 2 cents and i’m sorry for the sluggish English i might use and the grammar errors :)
    Best regards from Portugal,

  22. 46

    Jeremy Carlson

    April 8, 2010 3:16 pm

    I read the “Smashing Magazine killed the community..” article months ago. Many of us read and discussed it then…in what Nov-Dec? And here we go again rehashing the same topic? Doesn’t that seem a bit ironic to anyone?

    And what exactly does this mean: “The problem is that there seems no way to promote good design” and “discuss basic principles of Web development and design”. I seriously have no idea what these vague statements are trying to make me do.

    Promote good design? What does that mean? Give recognition to people who designed some great looking sites or something else, like following web standards?

    Discuss basic principles of web development? What does that mean, like “When designing a website, it is good practice to use a stylesheet instead of using inline styles. Comment your javascript so that others working on the project know what exactly you are doing.” If that is what you are talking about, then I’m glad this community you crave, that has mysteriously disappeared, is dead and gone.

    I go to web development blogs to read tutorials, see how people dealt with problems they came across when writing some javascript, NOT to take a seat with a cup of coffee and discuss the proper use of the color red when designing a medical site.

    This article and the others that came before it, ramble on about the demise of “the community” in such vague terms, as to confuse the hell out of all of us.

    If you want a deep discussion, you HAVE to give a more clear idea of what it is you think is lost. That quote in itlalics the author posted is dead on. I am NOT a newb, and even us vets have no idea what the point of your rant is.

    • 47

      Jeremy’s comment is very appropriate, because it does seem tiring that everyone seems to be writing about this topic nowadays. I wrote this post pretty much as a joke (albeit with an obvious underlying message). But at this point, we need to start being a little more specific about what we want to accomplish, rather than dragging this whole argument along with no end in sight.

  23. 50

    I strongly disagree here, the community is healthier than ever, the industry is probably one of the easiest to get into in regards to the IT world. There are tons and tons of great resources, most of which Google does a great job in returning as results above the junk sites. Although there are some “rock star” personalities (one which promotes people to wear a certain colored beanie) they probably earn and deserve the status. This industry has it’s problems, like any other, but we are a young industry and all a part of something insanely cool. Be thankful your not working in the oil fields you crybaby.

  24. 51

    Ian Storm Taylor

    April 8, 2010 3:18 pm

    I completely agree. List posts have gotten completely out of hand… Sure they can be useful sometimes, but most often they are pointless. They are made because their titles are bait for the masses.

    I am glad to see this kind of post on Smashing Magazine, because a lot of the time, I equate you guys with the masses of unneeded posts. Not all of the time, occasionally one of your posts is useful, but more often than not (like the teapot or whatever icons you released just recently) they are pure filler. This has actually caused me to remove you from my must read group in my RSS feed. So at least I can be glad to see these kinds of posts and know that you are trying to shed some of that reputation.

    I agree with the Anon who said to vote with your subscription. Unfollow RSS feeds that are full of useless lists… and don’t visit their sites.

  25. 52

    the community is dead, because there is no such community anymore like back then and eventually have its very own renaissance in a few months/years, when we learn that technology can’t replace creativity/originality and knowledge is more valuable than copying mindless. Content is as usual King. Back then a “real” designer laughed at “Kais Power Tools”, because it was cheap sensationalism. Today the “cheap sensationalism” is common practice. Sad but true for now.

  26. 53

    I actually entirely agree, and have sort of been just as annoyed with how things are throughout the community. It is more than ever expanding and progressing rapidly into it’s “death” as you refer to it as.

    And I am fully aware of the entire post, and the discussion which followed in the comments, after ironically enough, finding it via the link on the humorous, yet worthless post on WDD “How to kill the design Community” –

    Not sure if that was a post written to mock your post on drawar (kinda got that feeling) but if it was, im glad it was posted just so i was able to find the drawar post, which i had agreed more with, and therefore re-opening my eyes to see that the WDD post was just the thing you’re talking about.

    Its become a world where we just go through the motions, easier to get stuck in a routine, where you just click and bookmark, share, then take a screenshot of it and link the image to it in a new post, and repeat, until you have created a list. which in turn perpetuates the cycle creating more shit like this by others, opening more doors to hell in a basket. lol

    ok kinda got on a ramble there, don’t know if i even made sense to myself, but i wont self-edit, cuz THATs how i felt it should be said. k by yea, im with you, just maybe not as hardcore.

    I do still find value in list posts, but they must be kept to a very small minimum amount. too many exist, makes me completely useless, and leads to people becoming extremely lazy. so yea, a listectsicle lol here and there, 1 a month, is ok. i try to write real quality, or at least helpful, posts to help others learn something, or get something more than a bunch of links to bookmark and share, then post but never actually look at.

  27. 54

    What a stupid article. Wrong on all counts too.

    • 55

      Im curious to know what you think is wrong, and how you were able to just come such a set opinion so fast and can’t elaborate further.

      Kinda close-minded response if you ask me.

  28. 56

    Joe Barstow

    April 8, 2010 3:52 pm

    I’ve been waiting a looong time for an article like this to come out. Controversial, sure, but has some validity. Before we shoot down these ideas, we should at least consider the extremes of the issue. I can appreciate the boldness and attempt to get a rise out of me, but I’ve never been one to lose faith ;)

    oh and Change. is a constant.

  29. 57

    I agree that there is a certain amount of elitism is going on in the web design world. Twitter is a perfect example of something that should exist to help each other out. There is still a lot I have to learn, but it would be great if questions I posted on Twitter would be answered. On the other hand, I’d gladly help others out.

    Unfortunately, that activity doesn’t occur. The only people who can post questions and actually get answers are the elite designers. They are followed by thousands and will get answers instantly. Guess what happens when someone lower on the food chain asks a question? No one answers because no one is following them.

    I think you have a good point regarding Forums. Social Media seems to promote this sort of elitism whereas forums are probably a better tool so that anyone can get help/advice from anyone.

  30. 58

    the list post is popular for a reason.
    it is not popular because it is rubbish but because it help designer a lot.
    for example, you may say if we want to look for inspiration go to design gallery
    but for me I find list of collection of web design in blog post help
    me better compare to web design gallery.

    before this i do make web design blog, sometime i compile a list of photoshop brush, custom shape and so on like and one of my reader
    in his blog, he say the same thing that you say here..
    and I say why? I do research, I open many blog and website to look
    for it, and then I compiled in one post..

    so what is wrong with that? nothing, and it never bring down the community –
    don’t be pessimistic.

  31. 59

    Douglas Bonneville

    April 8, 2010 4:31 pm

    I have been saying the design community was due for some implosions for months, and made the same points many are making now:

    The article was written January 15th, right before the recent uptick in this topic.

    It highlights all the major issues that have caused SM it’s recent slight stumble (hopefully from which it fully recovers into a tweaked direction / mission) as well as the demise (in one way or another) of some prominent independent bloggers.

    From the article: “This tranformation from exciting blogger to something less design-worthy will be a phenomenon for several major design blogs this year. Blogs that move in this direction are becoming like…magazines. Or worse, they become little more than ad platforms that serve up lackluster content and along with an ad for an e-book or some affiliate link to a WordPress theme disguised as commentary.”

  32. 60

    Rizqi Djamaluddin

    April 8, 2010 4:55 pm

    I agree with Kari. A few things bother me:

    – Yes, lists. They’re great, sure, but when there are more lists than articles, it becomes a problem. They also have a tendency to pollute search results, where searching gives lists before the real article.

    – Posting what’s “hot” and not what’s useful, usually to attract attention and give the impression of “cutting-edge”.

    – Lack of beginner-level tutorials to get people up to speed. Mainly this. In the old days there were lots of popular beginner and medium-level forums and tutorial sites with active discussions. Many are dead now.

    – Many people arrive in the industry with design as a money-maker than a passion. It pollutes the net with their “as long as it works” sites and often imitate other designs.

    It’s controversial, sure. But I do agree that the community has degraded from what it once was.

  33. 61

    OK everyone, it has degraded, and list posts are bad.

    We all agree. Things could be better.

    Now what? Lets fix it. How?

    • 62

      Vitaly Friedman (Smashing Magazine)

      April 8, 2010 11:28 pm

      Paul, actually I think the design community has been working on a “fix” for months now. If you ask me, I see more and more design blogs turning to more in-depth content, and we are trying to do our part on that, too. The truth is that we do need more design discussions in the community and the community has realized it and creates more thought-provoking content now. That’s my opinion.

      • 63


        April 12, 2010 8:54 am

        An interesting opinion on how the community has reacted to this is offered in this article on Softpedia. I quite share his opinion. Real and talented designers are trying to isolate themselves from open community sites like Drawar, CSS Globe or Smashing Magazine.

    • 64

      I’ve been working on a “fix” for almost 5 years. And finally, after lots of planning and what not, I’ve actually got something in the works. Change takes time. Especially change on such a wide scale. But there is so much desire, so much of a need for change in our industry. It will happen. There are a few of us who’ve banded together to make something and do something to cause change. If you think about it, it’s an exciting time. :) So much as far as possibilities for the future.


    • 65

      First step I see is for designers to step back after reading yet another “You gotta have a blog”-“You gotta Tweet”-“You gotta …” post and ask themselves if they have anything worth actually saying. Not everyone does.

      Maybe rather than everyone starting their own, it might be good practice to pitch some story/post ideas to established blogs to see if anyone even cares what they have to say before building another pulpit in the desert. I know “unpaid contributor” doesnt have the sex appeal that “editor in chief” does but if the entire exercise is based on ego and overblown titles that’s probably a red flag that you shouldnt be posting.

      Frank Chimero, Thinking For A Living, SEOBook and Kitsune Noir have it figured out. They obviously cant post in quantity like some sites are accustomed to but make up for it in quality posts that actually add value and get read.

  34. 66

    Spencer Lavery

    April 8, 2010 5:02 pm

    This article seems more of a weak attempt at shouting “I’ve been here longer than you!” than actually addressing the problems mentioned.

    That said, you’re committing the exact same mistakes you’re complaining about. You’re being short-sighted.

    The real movers in this industry aren’t part of the ‘web design community’ at all, they take their inspiration from other mediums and trial and error. If you asked any of the top agency designers which showcase sites they visit they will answer “What’s a showcase site?”.

    Smashing Magazine, and ‘the web design community’ provide an invaluable resource for people learning how to do standard, one-size-fits-all web design, which is precisely what 99% of clients are looking for. The lesser experienced designers will always milk a trend until it’s frustrating, but rarely would any of their clients notice. Helvetica isn’t as widespread as it is because it’s genuinely that versatile. Designers copy. Innovators innovate. Innovators don’t need a community.

  35. 67

    Alberto Beloni

    April 8, 2010 5:07 pm

    The “community” is going well, can’t say the same about the quality of the work made by this “designers”.

    Lists posts are great for who wants to keep the same style / quality of work that have been done by 90% of this so called “community” and, don’t want to innovate, grew, or take risks.

    I’m not one of these, i do want to create new things, i want to create a design that can suits my clients needs and be innovative at the same time. To be like this is what make me ignore this kind of posts / articles showcasing lists and lists of stuff that have been made tons of time.

    I’m not saying that i don’t look for inspiration, i do look for things that can be improved and adapted to my needs.

  36. 68

    * Not an experienced designer, heavy on the development side of things, but I am learning. *

    You guys are hitting the tip of the iceberg with posts like these. Wait till somebody goes to a web design gallery and actually counts the number of Web Designer / Web Design Company sites compared to every other field.

    Though judging by the comments it would appear these complaints are “business as usual”, I’m surprised people are surprised. I’ve been dying to see *real* websites by *real web designers* that AREN’T their homepage, or the homepage of their company.

    A little detail into their work would be nice. Squared Eye does it well.

  37. 69

    The irony of an anti-listicle post being posted on Smashing Magazine is classic. Well done.

    • 70

      Vitaly Friedman (Smashing Magazine)

      April 8, 2010 11:31 pm

      It’s unbelievable. I am sorry, but I just don’t get why people keep associating Smashing Magazine with listicles. Please just go through our categories: we do not publish that many lists any more, for almost a year now!

      • 71

        The people that say / claim that simply do not grasp this web site, nor the business they’re in. It’s the same argument as with Old vs New media. Or people thinking that web 2.0 is ajax.

        A collection of articles where a bunch of them are a collection of case studies, consensus of popularity or recommendations of ‘do things right’, does not mean it’s one of those typical sites where they make a quick top10 list without any investigation, put adsense around it and spam it on digg ..

        SM is its own media, stands in its own place on the web. Otherwise I wouldn’t even be on this, or even bother to read the comments.

        It’s always hard to please everybody in your audience, but it’s even harder if they don’t understand what they have in front of them.

        I find it hard to explain what I really mean here, sorry for that, but I do not see SM as a list-stickle site.

        • 72

          Alison Barrett

          April 19, 2010 9:33 am

          Floris, I agree with you on this one. The lists that I’ve seen on SM have not only been packed with truly useful resources, but always have explanation and insight into why those items are on that list. To me, a “listicle” is just what you describe at the end of your second paragraph. Listicles have little to no value. SM lists have lots of value.

      • 73

        I think it’s probably because at one point you were publishing them by the dozen—People find it hard to disassociate things once they’ve been linked in the deep recesses of the mind. I still associate this site with listicles, even though what you say is true and you haven’t been publishing so many pure listicles lately.

        I do however feel that many articles here tend to end with a general “showcase” bit, which is like taking a listicle and stuffing a couple of paragraphs at the start to somehow try and qualify the article. This is just as bad as a listicle in my view.

  38. 79

    There were some interesting topics on that forum, i’ll miss it

  39. 80

    The argument that good design doesn’t rise to the top is very valid. It touches on the way internet democracy works. Digg, etc – the anonymous vote up/down. Voting is so easy, commenting is so easy, no one has to buy in very much to do so. Drawar has talked about this in the reasoning why he forces you to sign in with facebook/twitter, etc. The buy-in forces higher quality comments he argues (paraphrased).

    The same works for promoting great design. There doesn’t seem to be a good system for promoting design by it’s quality rather than by the maker. Perhaps this is the path, to a better community – the way most people argue they want it is that work gets promoted based solely on its merit. I agree – how can we solve this problem in the digit/anonymous age we currently live in?

  40. 81

    Ryan Glover

    April 8, 2010 5:54 pm


    I think I can understand where you’re coming from and the point that you’re trying to convey. True, there is an overwhelming amount of content that we could all do without, but it’s almost the responsibility of the designer to know the difference between what’s “good” and “bad.” That being said, for those new to design, without a bit of guidance it can be hard to tell the good from the bad. I’m not entirely sure the community is to blame as much as a few bad eggs.

    In regard to the rock star position, I feel as though it’s good for this to exist, though could use some tweaking. With a website like Dribbble, it may seem like an elitist network, but it’s more so a dynamic museum of the best artists. Think of it this way, nobody goes to the Guggenheim to see shitty art, do they?

    On that note, though, I would like to see a mash-up of Dribble and some form of education. So, the best of the best are teaching everyone. This could be in the form of weekly tutorials, screencasts, you name it. But yes, it would be nice if the rock star class filtered down some of their knowledge and feedback to improve design as a whole. At the moment, I can only think of a handful that do (Elliot Jay Stocks, The Carsonified Crew, Tim Van Damme, Chris Coyier (via CSS Tricks) and a few others whose names have escaped me).

    This article really got me thinking and I’m glad it’s out there. Hope everyone is paying attention and spreading it around.

    Nice work man, keep it up.


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