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?
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.
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.
inding Time to Contribute
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.