Community Design

Words fail us.

A recent exchange on Twitter, started by this tweet from Andy McMillan, brought attention to the use of self-deprecating terms by designers that may contribute to an overall lack of respect for – or awareness of – the discipline of web design. Andy also questioned what the responsibility of the design community should be in overcoming misconceptions.

I believe our industry dialogue has shortcomings that go beyond self insulting slang. How we choose to discuss our work amongst ourselves and how we communicate outwardly is directly linked to the fundamental credibility of our industry. And yet modern design discourse cannot manage to get much past “cool!” or “awesome!”.

Reading a blog post by a practitioner of say, the legal industry which began “Being a solicitor totally kicks butt!!” might reasonably lead you to think that something so crass reflects badly on the writer and, if it was a widely read site or journal, on the profession itself. But a recent design-related blog post I came across began precisely that way (substitute “designer” for “solicitor”). Names withheld to protect the innocent.

Our deficiency in apposite language is not always so overt. We have all seen design agency homepages that proudly pronounce something along the lines of: “We design cool web stuff for awesome clients”. Reading this you simply have to wonder – who is the target audience Vocabulary in the design world has become a series of memes. Phrases like “We’re passionate about creating awesome online experiences” suggest everything and nothing.

Try Googling the phrase “We’re passionate about design” and look at the number of results returned, or let me do it for you. Apologies if you find yourself in there. I don’t doubt for a second that each of those companies and individuals truly believe in what they are saying. However, if they also believed that making this statement created some kind of differentiator in the marketplace, they were clearly and painfully wrong.

Professional design bodies around the world, such as the very vibrant GDC in Canada or AIGA in the US, work extremely hard to bring credibility to the design profession by lobbying business and industry on the benefits of design supplied by accredited, licensed professionals. We rail against the idea of organisations producing substandard design work in-house, or roll our eyes when we hear that the boss’s nephew produced the company’s website because he had a copy of Dreamweaver.

And yet too many designers and design agencies insist on prioritising credibility with their peers over professional communication by adopting a witless “aren’t we cool?” approach to how they discuss and present their work. Do we really believe that clients are attracted to us by lambasting them with how “cool” or “awesome” we are?

The arrival of The Manual may represent a watershed, and the publication has very clearly set out its stall in terms of what it hopes to achieve. Similarly, New Adventures in Web Design has fired up debate of a nature that simply had not existed before. We should applaud these earnest efforts to usher in a new era of industry communication and hope they bear fruit. Further to that, the rest of us should make a contribution and start introducing maturity to the – at times – adolescent lexicon of design discourse, be it in our industry publications, on our blogs… even on Twitter. Or is that asking too much?

When we can communicate as accomplished and eloquent professionals, between ourselves as well as beyond our industry, then perhaps the boss’s nephew won’t get so much work.

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