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Dear Web Design Community, Where Have You Gone?

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

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

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

Where Did The Community Spirit Go? Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Time to Contribute Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need to Curate Valuable, Meaningful Resources Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community-Wide Discussions and Polls Link

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

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

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

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

So What Exactly Should We Be Discussing? Link

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

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

Our Professional Vocabulary Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Design and Coding Practices Link

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

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

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

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

Our Professional Ethics Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning From The Past Link

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

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

Websites like Design Is History30, Smart History and Graphics Atlas31 are all excellent resources on the history of graphic design, visual communication and the evolution of design processes. We can learn a lot about our craft by exploring them thoroughly.

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

We could use this technique in our designs to keep readers in the grip of our content just a little longer. Instead of letting users not have to think, we could do the opposite and engage as well as intrigue them (a good example would be of the Ben the Bodyguard32 website).

Ben The Bodyguard34 keeps you on the site longer than you expect.

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

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

In Conclusion Link

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

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

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

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

Footnotes Link

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

  1. 1

    I completely agree. This business has grown so much, thanks to many talented people who were willing to share and had time to dedicate. Why isn’t it happening anymore?

    • 2

      I’m inclined to agree with James here. More and more we see the same set of people speak at conferences. They give their opinions, and everyone is taking it as the written truth. Too easy is it to jump on the bandwagon (the flash hate is perpetuated probably by the people who were extolling the virtues of flash sites 15 years ago, “user experience” is the new “art director”, job titles we gave ourselves to boost salaries in a flourishing industry), and it seems there’s a new band wagon every 3 or 4 weeks in these inner circles.

      The communities died off because they’re no longer open communities. Dribble is a prime example of this. An industry led invite only community that promotes congratulation over critical discussion. And the message boards or communities that are still publicly open often have the same “who the f are you?” attitude for voicing an opinion or not being an original member.

      I don’t often comment on blog posts because I too find it easier to close the window on something I disagree with than engage the author. I don’t get too much time outside of commuting, work. and raising a family to contribute a great deal. But what incentive are we seeing to contribute? To be shouted down by the mass followers of the loudest voices? To be told “you’re doing it wrong” without follow up or suggestion of which direction to take? I’d rather not waste my time when I could be using that to make something or learn something new.

      If the communities were made more open, friendlier places to contribute, maybe more would participate.

      Above all else, people need to stop taking everything they read for granted and retweeting it. Think for yourself. Study. Form a valid, informed opinion. Question or challenge the industry leaders. Comment thoughtfully. In doing so we can somewhat attempt to revive the community.

  2. 3

    Great read! We definitely should take words like this to heart. No one is saying we all need to work the same way, but to realize we don’t work in a bubble.

  3. 4

    Adam Beizsley-Pycroft

    March 21, 2011 4:23 am

    Could it be that over the last few years the Web Design / Development / UX Community (call it what you will) has moved into a more professional space and due to the perception of the economy etc people believe that there are less jobs available (not necessarily the case in an ever expanding field) and don’t want to help “the competition”? I’d also suggest that due to budget constraints and the demand for our services many people have much less time on their hands. For example, I work as a self employed consultant during the day and over the last week and a half I’ve also clocked up 42 hours of work for other clients out of hours.

    I’m self taught but probably couldn’t have got here if it wasn’t for the great community resources available over the years. I’d argue that Stack Exchange is a great place to have these discussions although people usually start them to respond to a specific problem rather than with the intention of generating debate and advancing the wider philosophy.

    • 5

      Vitaly Friedman

      March 22, 2011 2:37 am

      I am not sure that this is the case, Adam. Indeed, the community has matured a lot, but I don’t think that most of us see each other as competitors. The Web is growing and flourishing and I think that there is place for each of us; the more experienced we become, the better. But to become more experienced, it’s not enough to do our regular work — this is where the exchange of ideas could help a lot.

      Thank you for your comment. I’d love to hear the opinion of other readers to your comment, too!

      • 6

        I agree that most of us are not competing. Anyone who works as a web designer with that spirit is destined for failure no matter how smart they are.

        Something I haven’t heard said that I think deserves saying is this.
        I come from the country that invented the white line in the middle of the road, so I’m going to draw a line, take it or leave it.

        Where we are helping someone to obtain the knowledge needed to accomplish a goal, we should not hold back, and create incentive for others to share opinions as well. When we have developed a product (fully fledged), we should be selling it.
        We are not a bunch of volunteers, we are professionals. To be a professional is to make a living from what we do. We should always share knowledge, but never products (unless it functions as a marketing initiative). As an example, anyone who designs Firefox is not a professional. They are volunteers. They make good code for Firefox and bad money from Firefox.

        And one other thing which needs to be said from a financial perspective: IE is a highly technical hurdle riddled with bad programming that forces designers to spend hours on workarounds rather kicking ass. Microsoft is hugely responsible for a great deal of despondency among us. Our time is worth less as a by-product of their “launch it now and fix it later” attitude. So, fix it now and launch it later.

        Thank you…:)

  4. 7

    Interesting thoughts Vitaly. I agree that in some respects the community isn’t necessarily what it was a few years back but that’s not to say it’s gone altogether.

    Having been much more active on Twitter in the last 12 months or so than I’ve ever been, one thing I’ve noticed is that the same names keep cropping up time and again and their word is being taken more as gospel than ever because they speak at the same conferences.

    The web industry is in danger of turning into a self perpetuating circle-jerk than ever because of the size and fervour attached to the “following” of many of the designers mentioned.

    The Method & Craft site you listed above is a great example. It’s got only 9 articles at this time and while they’re interesting and well written, it’s hard to believe it would get the exposure if the people involved were lesser names in the industry.

  5. 8

    David Bushell

    March 21, 2011 4:37 am

    Very thoughtful post Vitaly, you’ve really done well in discussing the issues from all view points. Overall the web design & dev community is a very progressive and healthy one.

    With all the growth in recent years it’s easy to feel lost as an individual. I think your idea of dedicating time to the community is the perfect attitude. Put our community into context with others, we’re a remarkably positive and collective bunch :)

    I don’t mind the ambiguity and lack of vocabulary. I think this is more a result of pioneering ideas that get everyone into a buzz of excitement and learning. I’d take this any day, even if it comes with confusion over terminology.

    • 9

      Vitaly Friedman

      March 22, 2011 2:46 am

      David, I often have this feeling of being lost, too. There are so many things we could do, and there is often so little time to actually do it properly. The truth is that it’s not really a matter of having time, but rather a matter of finding time to contribute. We can always set some specific time frame for doing things that we want to do, and subtract time from other activities that are actually not that important to us.

      And yes, we are a remarkably positive and collective bunch, yet we are also a busy bunch. For a long time, I have experienced problems with finding a proper balance between my personal life and my professional life. In the end, it was just a matter of personal discipline and filtering activities that set me in the “idle mode”. I think that everybody can find time to do anything. It’s just you really need to want to do it.

  6. 10

    Rodney Echols

    March 21, 2011 5:14 am

    Very strong contribution here, Vitaly. I agree we need more voices that are adding valuable content to the social media conversations. Very commonly Social Media users are concentrating on their own personal takeaways (ROI, Traffic and such), but in the end the value of this media is the offering that your content gives the reader. I find a lot of valuable resources packed in this post. I am definitely going to RT, Share on Facebook & do whatever spreading I can. I encourage other readers to do so too. Its important to be an active listener when you read something like this.

    Active listening = comment, share with friends, build on the ideas learned
    Typcial listeners = read but stay silent, don’t want to stand out

  7. 11

    I’m inclined to agree with James here. More and more we see the same set of people speak at conferences. They give their opinions, and everyone is taking it as the written truth. Too easy is it to jump on the bandwagon (the flash hate is perpetuated probably by the people who were extolling the virtues of flash sites 15 years ago, “user experience” is the new “art director”, job titles we gave ourselves to boost salaries in a flourishing industry), and it seems there’s a new band wagon every 3 or 4 weeks in these inner circles.

    The communities died off because they’re no longer open communities. Dribble is a prime example of this. An industry led invite only community that promotes congratulation over critical discussion. And the message boards or communities that are still publicly open often have the same “who the f are you?” attitude for voicing an opinion or not being an original member.

    I don’t often comment on blog posts because I too find it easier to close the window on something I disagree with than engage the author. I don’t get too much time outside of commuting, work. and raising a family to contribute a great deal. But what incentive are we seeing to contribute? To be shouted down by the mass followers of the loudest voices? To be told “you’re doing it wrong” without follow up or suggestion of which direction to take? I’d rather not waste my time when I could be using that to make something or learn something new.

    If the communities were made more open, friendlier places to contribute, maybe more would participate.

    Above all else, people need to stop taking everything they read for granted and retweeting it. Think for yourself. Study. Form a valid, informed opinion. Question or challenge the industry leaders. Comment thoughtfully. In doing so we can somewhat attempt to revive the community.

    • 12

      i think i want to form a community with ben…..and for the record, eff dribbbbbbble.

  8. 13

    You’re right that there’s not much room for debate these days. A recent example has been the community’s blind adherence to web typography guidelines. Not sure why margin-bottom = line-height has become a “rule,” but very few people seem to be questioning it.

    But that’s just one example.

    It often pays to use ideas by people who have done some legwork, and who may be smarter or more experienced than you (that whole “why reinvent the wheel” thing). But you should never sacrifice your willingness to be creative or to question a design or development “prescription.” When a task is not about inventing the wheel, you can’t ride on the coattails of the community leaders. You have your own contributions to make, and a leader without that very community is nothing. So join it!

  9. 14

    Christopher Murphy

    March 21, 2011 5:47 am

    It’s hard to disagree with your sentiment that you often, “find it extremely difficult to find meaningful debates.” Yes, there are debates taking place, but at times they appear to be the same old voices… There’s also – undeniably – a lack of depth across the range of discussions that are taking place.

    Perhaps one reason for this lies with the manner in which a great deal of discussion appears to have moved from the in depth medium of carefully crafted and well thought through articles (published both on personal sites and, equally importantly, on well-established channels like A List Apart, Smashing Magazine and elsewhere) to the more ephemeral world of Twitter.

    Chris Shiflett highlighted this issue just last week with a call to arms, titled ‘Ideas of March’, encouraging everyone to write more and to think things through in a deeper and more rigorous manner. It was a call to arms that, encouragingly, was taken up by many, many writers including Drew McLellan, Jon Tan, ourselves and a whole host of other individuals. A quick search of the #ideasofmarch hashtag will turn up a wealth of discussion.

    As far as finding the time to contribute goes, you hit the nail on the head. Perhaps we’re a victim of our own success. Our community has grown substantially and there’s now so much to read that it can feel at times like we’re swimming against a tide of opinions. When faced with the diversity of content on offer, adding to it through carefully considered comments can prove a challenge.

    Perhaps the answer to the question lies in the fact that contributing in a thoughtful and engaging manner is difficult. Dashing off a tweet significantly increases the volume of discussion, however, it doesn’t necessarily increase the quality of discussion. To contribute in depth, to add value, takes time and – sadly – that time isn’t always forthcoming.

    Writing is difficult, it takes practice and – sadly, in my experience as an educator – isn’t something that’s held in high regard. All too often younger designers (whether in education or self taught) are focused on quick hits, seeking the shortest possible route to fame and celebrity. It’s a shame, as these very same young designers have a huge amount of enthusiasm and potential that they could offer in a meaningful way to our wider community.

    Perhaps it’s this hurry that goes to the heart of the problem: the hurry to acquire celebrity; the hurry to rush off a comment; the hurry to consume everything and, in so doing, give very little back to the community.

    Let’s be optimistic though. We work in a very connected industry and there’s all to play for. Perhaps we should encourage everyone to slow down just a little, put a little more thought and effort into the community, write in a little more depth and, above all, share their experiences for the benefit of all. If everyone were to dedicate ten to fifteen minutes a day, as you suggest, to give something back to the community, just think what we might achieve.

    • 15

      Vitaly Friedman

      March 22, 2011 2:57 am

      I think that you raise very valid points, Christopher. But maybe even because many designers are focused on quick hits, seeking the shortest possible route to fame and celebrity, other designers could benefit from doing the opposite: writing, discussing, participating, creating, engaging. They could establish themselves as professionals, gain reputation, leave a remarkable mark in the community. Right now, right here there is an opportunity to become an expert in your field, but it’s impossible to become well-known or well-respected if you don’t actively do something.

      Besides, it’s not always about writing; I do agree that some of us might be not so thrilled about writing and might experiencing difficulties with leaving a meaningful reply. But one could contribute in a number of ways: valuable tools and useful services could be just as helpful.

      And yes, I agree that we could all benefit for slowing down just a bit. Leaving things, removing the unnecessary, being more disciplined or just aware of the things that we do and the time that we spare. I strongly believe that we, as a fertile, creative community, can achieve many things by doing just that.

  10. 16

    Janice Schwarz

    March 21, 2011 5:57 am

    Funny, I’ve been having thoughts in a similar vein since last Friday.

    I saw a blog post last week, at a high traffic design/dev site, where someone was reminiscing IE7’s release and commenting how shocked he was at the time that he’d have to test in 2 versions of IE.

    But I remember making sites that needed to be viewed in IE3, IE4, IE5 and IE5.5 and Netscape, plus there were users still on Windows 3 and 3.5 and just about everyone was on dialup.

    And at that moment, it dawned on me: I’ve been doing this professionally for 11 years. Why haven’t I been contributing to the community more? Why aren’t I even writing in a blog of my own about web design and development? Why haven’t I been commenting more often?

    After 11 years, I still think of myself as that wide-eyed newbie of a decade ago. I think in part because I’ve reached that place in my career where I know enough to know what I don’t know, and what I likely won’t ever know. Add to that juggling a family, a job, and freelance work and like many, it’s tough to find the time. I don’t even get to use Twitter much anymore now that I’m back in a 9 to 5 job (scheduling tweets just isn’t the same as having a conversation).

    I joined StackOverflow just last Friday. (I know, “only just now?”) And tried to participate in more blog discussions. But maybe more posts like this reminding everyone, “hey, we know you’re out there…why aren’t you talking to us?” may draw out more like me.

    • 17

      I totally agree with you. I think very often that i´m not good enough to share my experience in some fields and that someone should write an article, comment or an answer who is better skilled than me. But i do this also professionally over 10 years now and i should have enough experience to start some discussions or help somebody with a problem, but maybe i´m afraid to say something wrong :-)

  11. 18

    We, as web designers and developers, exceedingly need to fight back the isolationst feelings associated with comp-comp interaction. Us, of all people, should certainly take note when news outlets like NPR and CNN are regularly discussing how people seem to be losing their ability in communicating with other human beings.

    This article is a great read and hits so many good points. It’s incredibly vindicating to know there are others out there who feel the same as we do. Let’s get excited and social people!!

  12. 19

    In depth discussions are hard to come across and that is a great shame. I, like you seemed to, very much enjoyed the recent discussion in the community surrounding the hashbang URL design pattern. It was great to see a whole raft of people discussing their views on the matter and link to various other views even if they were opposing views. I have only been fully immersed in the community for a year and this was the first time I’d seen a debate with this level of detail. It was great to see and it was extremely beneficial. I want to see more of it.

    You raise another issue about the amount of time people have to participate. I thing this is a key issue. Everybody is so busy with their work and trying to keep on top of all the advancements and new techniques that they are all suffering from information fatigue. When they do find time to read and do research there is just so much stuff out there that it is hard to know where to go each time and where the quality, must reads are. It’s difficult.

    Excellent and easy to use tools and mechanisms for curation are what are needed to help with this. Some are or might be available now, if that is the case we need to share these with everyone. A social tool is only as useful as the number of people that use it.

  13. 20

    It’s great to see a post on the state of the web design community, issues that you see, and constructive ways to make it better. It’s a healthy approach to issues in the community around us. There was a post on another large design publication last week maligning a particular facet of the community that didn’t offer much in the way of proposed solutions or ways to improve the issue.

    As someone who hasn’t been in the design industry professionally for very long, but has been working with it for quite some time (academically), the web community has lots of resources that have provided helpful to get a foot in the door, but once you reach that intermediate level, you’re right: there’s a lot of “on your own” work that has to be done.

    Two things I took from getting my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing is the importance of peer feedback and the revision process: any piece of work isn’t going to be perfect the first time out, and no one is going to be more valuable in guiding your work in a strong direction than experienced people who have solved similar issues in the past. It would be great to see a site like dribbble institute a rookie-to-pro feedback program.

  14. 21

    Adam Jenkins

    March 21, 2011 6:55 am

    I’m not going to lie about what I read, only about the first quarter of your article (and none of the above comments) before I got peeved….has commenting been down year-over-year on smashing magazine or something? I could not DISAGREE more with your sentiment (at least in your first few paragraphs; except for the part about less experienced individuals getting more involved in mentoring)…..take a quick look over at to find out what a real community looks like (instead of an “I post, you read and comment and boost my ad revenue” situation).

    Smashing Magazine, I enjoy(ed) most of your posts and I check your blog daily to see what goodies you have in store for me today…..but wtf with the bellyaching here? I don’t get it at all.

    I haven’t been in this game very long, maybe only the past 6 or 7 years, but I’ve never seen more people involved in the web community with countless conferences on this or that, our strifes being spoken in the mainstream media (from CNN over the past year I’ve ready about browser wars with IE9, MS and HTML5/standards support, etc).

    And with the countless of opensource person projects coming out on (and off) of github like Modernizr, LESS, SASS, etc how can you dare say we’ve lost the community feel???

    Perhaps I am jumping through the hoop you held up for me to jump through by commenting on this blog entry, but I can tell you after this article, without any word from the author, I will most likely not be commenting on any more smashing articles because I will not be visiting this site to read them.

    • 22

      @Adam Jenkins

      I’m with you for the most part…

      I’m a cynic, especially when it comes to how special designers and artists think they are. We are a dime a dozen, just like any accountant is. We just use a different side of the brain. That being said, we do have unique skill sets, but we should be humble about those sets because we are unique just like everyone other designer.

      I think the web is just becoming more mature, where we don’t need all the yap about stuff; it’s already out there! Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for innovations, but web is starting to stabilize, become standard…not a new found technology, but an evolving one.

      Bottom line: There ain’t much to say other than blah blah blah…

  15. 23

    I disagree somewhat. I think that the community you have described is too large and too cumbersome to manage and communicate in a single place. Thus the things you are looking for a now more spread across different places and mediums (e.g. forums, mailing lists). Without spending the time looking for them, usually through a vested interest, one doesn’t tend to find them. Especially if there is a sign-up process.

    These silo-esque hives are all each of comparative size to the good old days, carry out the same level of debate and discussion as you describe, and then spill their results out into the wider community. Where they are more readily accepted.

    “…Smashing Magazine delivers useful and innovative information to Web designers and developers. Our aim is to inform our readers about the latest trends and techniques in Web development… ” It is your job to find these silos, participate and bring the interesting bits here.

  16. 24

    There are many in-depth conversations, but since there are many more individuals starting conversations you have to filter through them and find the good ones.

    While there is a decline at times there are also times where I have trouble finding the time to read all of them. You have obviously listed some in your post and following the right people helps as well.

  17. 25

    Vitaly – thank you for this post. You have clearly done a ton of reasearch which further backs the points made in this post. I have, on many many occassions felt the same sentiments.

    I have learned just about everything I know about web design and development from the internet, and of late that pool seems to be stagnating somewhat. I am eternally grateful there are people like Jeff Way out there.

    I think one of the big problems at the moment are sites that simply respost methods and tutorials (sometimes the author is credited, other times not). These sites, regretfully, appear to be growing in number. When I search for how to do something in WordPress (for examples sake) a multitude of sites come up all with the identical content! I have NO problem with someone reposting something that helped them solve that problem they have been dealing with, my issue comes in with people just reposting articles and tuts to get their own site rankings up.

    As many people here have already pointed out discussion is now moving to Twitter, which is great in its own rights don’t get me wrong, but Twitter’s 140 character limit is in itself limiting these dicussions. I have noticed a trend emerging which also worries me, and that is certain (they shall remain nameless for fairness sake) VERY well known tutorial and dicussion sites using Twitter more to promote their own commerical products and forgetting they started using the service to ask for feedback and ideas from followers. I would be naive to think this was not for a good reason, as they have every right to advertise their products, but the balance is definitely shifting away getting constructive feedback or suggestions from their followers – and this worries me.

    Anyway – enough of my ramble. Thanks again for the article, it is definitely something I will need to re-read a few times to absord everything.

  18. 26

    There are just so many more people. It was an interesting read, but at the end of the day you hit the nail on the head when you say “the number of the less experienced active contributors has increased”.

    In the early days, EVERYONE would have been a “less experienced contributor”. Everything was new, and the number of languages used online was fewer (think pre-CSS). The sheer number of people involved was less, and mailing lists were a common way for people with similar interests to come together in discussion.

    This is no longer the case. You complain that people aren’t using twitter for discussion, but I quickly realised that’s just not going to happen when people routinely follow thousands of people. I only follow about 100, but gave up on the idea of having meaningful discussions well before I followed even half as many. Just one robot in the stream can send out so many tweets the real people get overshadowed – yes I have blocked some before, but often they tweet useful stuff that I want to read. And sometimes a “real person” comes on the same user account and tweets something more personal. I know robots are a bad topic, but they aren’t going to go away any time soon … even following NO robots, you can’t expect to follow 7000 people and have discussions that aren’t constantly interrupted by hundreds of tweets.

    I expect the solution is to either create a small list for yourself or to use the hash tags you describe, something like that. Specific hash tags could be a good idea. BUT on the other hand I am (ironically) short of sympathy since I discovered the hash-tag that would be the name of my town is being squatted by some online interview thing. No wonder nobody tweets about what’s going on here! :(

  19. 27

    Good post, Vitaly. I agree with a lot of this. I actually like the trend in which design blogs are having commentary/discussions on twitter, and showing that, instead of having real comments. It seems like a lot of that discussion is going that way anyway. That said, it definitely leaves a hole of real debate. I like Dribbble for it’s design feedback, but it’s not the place for theoretical debate. There are so many tutorials out there, but yes, not a lot on the big picture, how to really set up a project, or how to approach it with a good plan in mind. I’m hoping to start writing some of that myself, and to see more of it from other design/devs as well :)

  20. 28

    Michel Bozgounov

    March 21, 2011 8:10 am

    Everyone has a perspective and experience to share. Without more perspectives, we’ll become limited in our growth.

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

    Perhaps we could all dedicate 10 to 15 minutes of our time to the community every day. We could (and should) make this a firm personal commitment and encourage each other to take part. […] For starters, we could start raising awareness of our commitments by using the hash tag #wdcommunity.

    Excellent, thought-provoking article! (And these are the citations that I was most impressed with, see the three quotes.)

    Thank you for taking the time to write it — I really enjoyed it! :-)

    PS But, my coffee became cold while I was reading it — I should re-heat the kettle next time I read an article like this one! ;-)


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