Web Design Community

by Jin, 04-09-10 // 11 comments

Francisco Inchauste aka Finch on the state of the web design community:

This “how to” approach is reflected in the design resources we find today. Soon after a certain style or effect becomes popular, tutorials and other tools to create it become available. But the element that was missing from my “how to” books is the same element that is missing from these tutorials, lists, and galleries: “why.


A good web designer needs to know both theory and execution. If you only know “how” then you’re a pixel pusher or coder, and if you only know “why” then you’re just a design pundit. This is true for other professions as well. The problem with the design community today is that there are far more tutorials and showcase sites than original, well thought-out and researched sites.

Actually I think it’s unfair for me to say there are less “why” sites than “how” sites. The perception that the design community is filled with tutorial and showcase sites is because they’re more popular. They are the sites that spread quickly within social media and give new designers instant gratification. If those sites are new designers’ main sources for inspiration, then they’re bound to conform to trends and eyecandy without understanding the fundamental design principles. I have nothing against these sites(unless they only post lists). I think they’re necessary and helpful.

There are plenty of great designers that offer thought provoking original content on their blogs. The problem is they are not into self-promotion, or simply don’t know how. They write for the love of the craft so traffic and exposure mean very little to them. I’m always thrilled to discover their sites. But finding this type of site is a bit difficult. In today’s world, if you don’t self promote, then you don’t exist in the public eye.

“Community” is what we choose to expose ourselves to and participate in. It’s different for everyone. My own design community is comprised of carefully chosen RSS feeds and a group of diverse and interesting designers I follow on Twitter. Some of them provide tutorials and showcases, while others focus on theory. Some do both. Finding the balance is the key. This is the only decent advice I can give if you’re looking for good reads. I’d love to see popular fluff sites start writing original content, and good writers start promoting themselves. But that kind of wishful thinking is beyond our control. People do what they do for monetary and personal reasons. We however, can determine the signal to noise ratio by choosing what to read, or not.

Start reading Finch today. I plan to share some of my favorite design blogs(many are lesser known) with you in the near future, one at a time. I’ll be sure to tell you “why” they are worthy of your time.


also feel free to contact me on twitter or via email
Nathan Bowers 04-09-10

I favor the why.

The why is strategic, the driving force. You can always hire someone to do the how.

I think the community has moved to Twitter, and it’s not so much on blogs anymore. Meanwhile the biggest design blogs are more about ad impressions and link bait than quality. I miss the old days of ALA and blogs by solo designers.

Nathan Bowers 04-09-10

PS, love the art direction on this post. Subtle, pleasing.

Jin 04-09-10

@Nathan, thanks. I find reading the philosophical side of design writing more stimulating. I read the Hows as needed.

I find myself talking to other designers more on Twitter these days. The medium is so open and accessible. It’s good for quick conversations to get the message across and information sharing. But I don’t think it replaces blogs. They both are good for different type of content.

Aaron Irizarry 04-09-10

Right on my friend, this issue has been something that is on my mind for quite some time. I think you have addressed it very well.

I tend not to like list posts, which originally were probably a good idea, as we have a chance to exposed to new designers as their designs get featured. Tutorials can be very helpful, especially for those who are trying to build their skill-set. As with anything that get mass reproduced it can lose it’s value and gets pretty diluted.

I think at this point we need to continue to curate good content ourselves(or at least strive to), and point towards others who do the same.

Again great input, and nice art direction on the post.

~Aaron I

Brian Cray 04-09-10

Well said as always. And you’re right that the majority of people writing original content don’t self-promote as much in the same channels as the big blogs. Though I’d say the people with quality tend to have a more engaged audience. =)

Bobby Borszich 04-09-10

Because I come from the programming/coding side of web site development I often struggle with the design side. But the more I follow people like you and others that explain the “Why” I get closer to the style of craft I desire. The how is usually the easiest for me to figure out … when to use that hammer is far more important to me.

Well written and perfectly timed in this era of high noise!

Aaron Halford 04-09-10

You are yourself in your writing, and I think that’s something that all of us – novices like myself to professionals and so forth – need to focus more on.

Insightful, individual thoughts are rarely noise makers.

Tuhin Kumar 04-09-10

I think Jin nails the root of the problem here. Like I mentioned in one of my tweets earlier today, if you are good at only explaining design you are a better blogger or a designer. Jin of course refers the more correct term “design pundits”.
It would be good to stop trying to be a pundit or a teacher and try being a designer. Link contents we like, blogs we love and mention them, of course with the explanations.
If I could, with all this noise about design community, I would rather stop reading all design blogs and disconnect from Twitter and simply design, design and design till I loved and wanted to.

Jin 04-09-10

@Aaron, thanks. I have great respect for designers such as yourself not caving in to trends, just cranking out your own thoughts on design. Keep up the good work.

@Brian, I definitely prefer quality vs quantity when it comes to my readers. I’ve always enjoyed being in a smaller and intimate group than in a bigger pool of acquaintances(this is true both online and IRL). To me it’s far more valuable to have a dozen great comments, than to have thousands of page views.

@Bobby, Do you think this phenomenon I described applies to programming blogs as well? The few programming blogs I do read from time to time all seem to focus on How to code. Atwood and Spolsky are the Whys among programming blogs that I know of.

@Aaron H, when you write for the joy of it, things just flow naturally. I don’t think we even have to be good writers. Of course, that’s the advantage of personal blogs over commercial design blogs. When there’s no pressure, it makes writing a lot easier.

@Tuhin, I feel the same way sometimes. I remember long ago, before I started reading and writing blogs I spent most of my free time actually designing and creating. I do feel overly inspired at times these days. But writing about design is a good thing though, especially when you’re trying to teach. Only through teaching you’ll find if you truly understand the subject matter or not. And during the process, you learn something new too. The reason I still blog is to enhance my writing skills. To me, it’s another skill set that’s great to have as a designer.

Nathan Bowers 04-09-10

I’ve written about “how vs. why” too.

I think it’s a swinging pendulum. The Why is too deep for novice, so we start at the How, learning tools, essentially learning the madness without the method.

As we learn the How we come to grasp the Why, and the How becomes less satisfying because How’s incompleteness becomes painfully obvious. However, the more we grasp the Why the better we get at the How.

All that said, I have a strong preference for the Why over How in software and web design, and I believe that the sooner you can get out of coding or pushing the pixels the better.

The reason I think so is that the tools for building and using software and websites are usually terrible.

Wrestling with text editors, and CSS, and crap Adobe software, and browser inconsistencies have all taken their toll on my psyche.

Steven Clark 04-09-10

Too true… Bill Buxton’s explanation of a T Body employee kind of works close to this too. Not only should you be an expert in your silo of design (how and why) but you should become a theoretical (not necessarily practical) expert in the related fields in your organisation.

This is the only way you can really have a conversation between people (silos)… so the programmer understands some design theory and can suddenly understand the designer… the same with the manager and the accessibility expert… and the designer needs to know a bit about business cases, accessibility and programming.

I think a combination of understanding the how and why as a designer makes up that vertical part of that T Body…

Oh I gotta admit I’m so (vomit) over 6 or 7 years of looking at those perpetual eye candy sites.