Stagnation is fine for some jobs—when I was a dishwasher at The Earth Kitchen vegetarian restaurant, I enjoyed shutting off my brain and focusing on the rhythmic scrubbing of burnt pans, the slosh and swirl of peas and carrots in a soapy drain—but professionals, particularly web professionals, are either learning and growing or, like the love between Annie Hall and Alvy Singer, becoming a dead shark. If you’ve stopped learning on the job, it’s past time to look around.
THERE’S GREAT reading for people who make websites in Issue No. 421 of A List Apart:
by Justin Dauer
Forget Air Hockey, Zen Gardens, and sleep pods: a true “dream” company invests in its people—fostering a workplace that supports dialogue, collaboration, and professional development. From onboarding new hires to ongoing engagement, Justin Dauer shares starting points for a healthy office dynamic and confident, happy employees. ☛
by Meg Dickey-Kurdziolek
Every product has a personality—is yours by design? Meg Dickey-Kurdziolek shows you how Weather Underground solved its personality problems by creating a design persona, and teaches you collaborative methods for starting a personality adjustment in your company. ☛
KHOI VINH IS my guest in Episode № 128 of The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”).
Khoi is a web and graphic designer, blogger, and former design director for The New York Times, where he worked from January 2006 until July 2010. Prior to that, Khoi co-founded and was design director for Behavior, a New York digital design studio. He is the author of How They Got There: Interviews With Digital Designers About Their Careers (coming in 2015) and Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design (New Riders, 2010), and was a leading proponent of bringing grid-based graphic design principles to web design in the mid-2000s. In 2011, Fast Company named him one of “The 50 Most Influential Designers in America.”
☛ Listen to Episode № 128 of The Big Web Show.
Sponsored by DreamHost.
IN EPISODE № 127 of The Big Web Show, Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering and I discuss the goals and workings of Center Centre, a new school Jared cofounded with Dr Leslie Jensen Inman to create the next generation of industry-ready UX designers. Topics include “teaching students to learn,” what schools can and can’t do, working with partner companies, “Project Insanity,” and designing a program to make students industry-ready.
WEBSITES & URLS MENTIONED
UNEXAMINED PRIVILEGE is the real source of cruelty in Facebook’s “Your Year in Review”—a feature conceived and designed by a group to whom nothing terrible has happened yet. A brilliant upper-middle-class student at an elite university conceived Facebook, and college students, as everyone knows, were its founding user group. The company hires recent graduates of expensive and exclusive design programs and pays them several times the going rate to brainstorm and execute exciting new features.
I’m not saying that these brilliant young designers are heartless, or that individuals among them haven’t personally experienced tragedy—that would be mathematically impossible. I have taught some of these designers, and worked with others. Those I’ve known are wonderful people who want to make a difference in the world. And in theory (and sometimes in practice) a platform like Facebook lets them do that.1
But when you put together teams of largely homogenous people of the same class and background, and pay them a lot of money, and when most of those people are under 30, it stands to reason that when someone in the room says, “Let’s do ‘your year in review, and front-load it with visuals,’” most folks in the room will imagine photos of skiing trips, parties, and awards shows—not photos of dead spouses, parents, and children.
So it comes back to this. When we talk about the need for diversity in tech, we’re not doing it because we like quota systems. Diverse backgrounds produce differing points of view. And those differences are needed if we are to put the flowering of internet genius to use actually helping humanity with its many terrifying and seemingly intractable problems.
If we keep throwing only young, mostly white, mostly upper middle class people at the engine that makes our digital world go, we’ll keep getting camera and reminder and hookup apps—things that make an already privileged life even smoother—and we’ll keep producing features that sound like a good idea to everyone in the room, until they unexpectedly stab someone in the heart.
1 Of course, not all my former students and employees work at Facebook; most don’t. But those who have gone there had other, equally lucrative options; they took the job to make Facebook, and maybe the world, a little better.
MIKE MONTEIRO is a man on a mission. He wants to improve design by fixing the core of it, which is the relationship between designer and client. Too many of us fear our clients—the people whose money keeps our lights on, and who hire us to solve business problems they can’t solve for themselves. And too many clients are even more frustrated and puzzled by their designers than the designers are by the clients.
It’s the designer’s job to fix this, which is why Mike first wrote Design Is A Job, and spent two years taking the message into conference halls and meeting rooms from New Zealand to New York.
I wish every designer could read this book. I can’t tell you how many friends of mine—many of whom I consider far better designers than I am—struggle every day with terrible anxieties over how a client will react to their work. And the problem isn’t limited to web and interaction designers. Anybody who designs anything burns cycles in fear and acrimony. I too waste hours worrying about the client’s reaction—but a dip into Mike’s first book relaxes me like a warm milk bath, and reminds me that collaboration and persuasion are the essence of my craft and well within my power to execute.
If the designer’s side of things were the only part of the problem Mike had addressed, it would be enough. But there is more:
- Next Mike will help clients understand what they should expect from a designer and learn how to hire one they can work with. How he will do that is still a secret—although folks attending An Event Apart San Francisco this week will get a clue.
- Design education is the third leg of the chair, and once he has spread his message to clients, Mike intends to fix that or die trying. As Mike sees it (and I agree) too many design programs turn out students who can defend their work in an academic critique session among their peers, but have no idea how to talk to clients and no comprehension of their problems. We are creating a generation of skilled and talented but only semi-employable designers—designers who, unless they have the luck to learn what their expensive education didn’t teach them, will have miserably frustrating careers and turn out sub-par work that doesn’t solve their clients’ problems.
We web and interaction designers are always seeking to understand our user, and to solve the user’s problems with empathy and compassion. Perhaps we should start with the user who hires us.
There’s Always More
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AVI FLOMBAUM, dean of The Flatiron School, is my guest in Big Web Show Episode No. 89. A 28-year-old Rubyist, Skillsharer, storyteller and entrepreneur, Avi founded Designer Pages and NYC on Rails before creating The Flatiron School—a 12 week, full-time program designed to turn you into a web developer.
Listen to Episode No. 89 of The Big Web Show.
URLS, URLS, URLS
IN EPISODE No. 77 of The Big Web Show, I interview returning guest Sarah Parmenter about designing an app for the homeless; the challenges of multi-device design; teaching HTML and CSS to young people; designing a complex reader app; the ideal number of employees for a small design studio; Brooklyn vs. small-town UK; and more.
The Big Web Show features special guests on topics like web publishing, art direction, content strategy, typography, web technology, and more. It’s everything web that matters.
Sarah Parmenter Photo by Pete Karl II.