posted by Matt Ward on Feb 23, 2010.
In this post, I want to take the time to look at what I think is the most important site that a designer can work on. It may sound a little odd, but from this single premise, I hope to spark a discussion that will help nurture the maturation and evolution of you, the designer. Have a read and join in on the conversation!
I position the title of this particular article as a question, in part, to diffuse any impression of this being a completely authoritative dissertation on your career as a designer. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, I would like to suggest something about the course of that career, and your growth as a designer – regardless of whether you are a budding novice or a seasoned veteran.
Basically, I am going to answer the title question by suggesting that the most important site that you can ever design is the one you’re working on right now. Or, if you don’t have a project in the works (not even tweaks on your own site?), then it would have to be the very last site you worked on.
What? How can I possibly make such a broad, blanket statement? I can’t – at least not definitively. However, the statement lends itself well as the starting point for an interesting discussion, as long as we understand that such a discussion is based on a specific presupposition about the perceived value of a particular website. Let’s start there, and build up the rationale point-by-point.
It’s About Experience
The first thing that I want to establish here is context. We’re talking about importance entirely in the context of you, the designer. It has nothing to do with your clients or the importance of their websites in any social, economical, theological or political context.
The website that you design for the local non-profit organization committed to improving literacy in your community or to helping to eradicate poverty in Africa is clearly important in a social context. It may well be the most important site that you ever design from that social perspective. I’m certainly not going to dispute that.
On the other hand, the e-commerce site that you build for a major online retailer could be the most important site you ever design from an economical context. The same can also be said of other projects, in still other areas. All of this functions as a great reminder that perspective is rooted deeply in its particular context.
That being said, the context for what we will be discussing is experience. More specifically, we’re talking about your experience as a web designer.
The Sum of the Parts
Have you ever noticed how, as you progress through life, decisions seem to become increasingly important? As a baby your biggest decision might be chewing on the blue block or the red block. Later, choices grow into what cartoon to watch or whether to play baseball (or whatever sport you like) or maybe ride your bike. By the time you reach high school, you’re making choices about friends and clothes and classes. Later, in adulthood, you may decide who you marry, what kind of house to buy, whether to have children and so on.
I believe that a similar (though not perfectly so) path exists for a web designer (or any other designer for that matter). When I started building websites as a teenager, my choices amounted to setting the background and the colour of the text. Font choices came later, then structures. Eventually, I saw the light and abandoned tag heavy HTML-only layouts in favour of CSS.
At each stage of this evolution, the choices that I make become more significant. This is not to say that the choices are difficult, though. In many cases, these choices were actually very simple. For example, adopting CSS was the only logical step forward for me. Each choice was, however, more mature than the one that came before, and was part of an ongoing process of growing and learning and evolving as a designer.
I suppose that what I am really driving at here is that we are the sum of our parts. Every time we add a new experience, that sum expands. We grow and (hopefully) mature. It’s simple experiential mathematics.
Okay, so maybe you’re following me here. Maybe you’re even agreeing that growing as a designer is (at least partially) a matter of maturing and learning from experience. Maybe you found yourself nodding at the suggestion that we are all the sum of our parts. But how does that make the website that you are currently working on the most important site for you as a designer?
Part of the answer stems from the fact that you’ve never had more experience that you do right now. The current moment is the always the greatest sum of your parts, and that means that the site you are designing right now is also the only site to which you can apply all of that experience. As such, the current site has the most theoretical potential of anything you’ve ever designed before.
I’d say that makes it pretty important.
And so does the fact that the here and now is the only time that really matters to your growth.
All of the sites that you’ve designed in the past may be great (okay, maybe not all of them). They belong in your portfolio, as examples of what you can and have done for clients in the past. But you can’t learn from them anymore – not unless you go back and tweak or modify them again, in which case that site suddenly becomes the site that you are currently working on and is no longer just something out of the past.
The same is also true of the sites you are going to design, most of which you currently know nothing about. Of course, you may have a few opportunities on the horizon. They may be fresh and exciting, shining with the promise of greater things to come. But right now you can’t reach them, much less learn anything from them.
So, what’s done is done. What will be, will be. Neither are as important as what you’re doing right now.
Now is the moment in which we grow.
Now is the time in which we learn.
We need to embrace the now with everything we are, because now is really all that we have.
Melodramatic enough for you? It certainly is for me. Do you see what I’m getting at, though? The only chance we really have to learn anything is right here in the present. So, if you want to grow and mature as a designer, you’re going to have to do it now, whenever now happens to be. To my way of thinking, then, that also means that the site you are working now is the only site that matters (for your own growth), because it’s the only site that gives you that opportunity to learn and mature.
So far, this has been pretty esoteric and philosophical. I’d like to say I’m sorry, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Sometimes I like the esoteric and philosophical. Still, if you’ve come this far, let me leave you with a few practical steps that you can take to help you make the most out of your current website design.
- Ground it in Reality – I know that all this talk about now can be a little confusing, so try not to let distract you when you design. Design philosophy or theory can be useful for shaping the way you approach a design, but it should never impede or distract you from that design.
- Keep Notes – Keep a notebook or binder to take notes as you design. These should not be project specific notes, but rather more general things that you learn as you go. Jot down interesting CSS solutions, obscure HTML entities or the name of that new jQuery plugin that you just came across. But don’t just write notes. Consult them too. Go back through them from time to time and refresh your memory.
- Be Exclusive – It’s not always be possible to have only one active design project at a given moment, but it can be hugely beneficial if you can manage it. This kind of exclusivity can help keep you focused, without having to try to juggle multiple sets of code, which can start to get muddled in your brain. It affords you the opportunity to really press in and learn from the current site.
- Block Your Time – If you can’t be exclusive, then at least block your time. Give yourself a few hours to work on the code for one site. Follow that up with a logical break (maybe answer emails, browsing through your RSS feed or hanging out on Twitter) before moving on to the code for another site. This way you can still concentrate on a single project for a given period of time, rather than having all kinds of different code swimming through your head simultaneously
- Give It Your All – This might be easier if you are working exclusively, but you are more likely to see solid results and learn more if you throw yourself into a design with all the enthusiasm that you can muster. Investing yourself in the design provides a better opportunity to learn and to grow in the work you are doing!
So there you have it. I want to reiterate that this article is more of a starting point for stimulating conversation rather than a definitive guide to live by. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions to these ideas. Do you agree, disagree, or just think that I’m totally off my rocker?Post A Comment
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