It must be a small world after all. Walking through a neighborhood, that I neither live in or work in, in a city of eight million people, I somehow manage to, seemingly randomly, bump into someone I know, nearly every time. If I were to come across this acquaintance in the neighborhood where he lived, I would think nothing of it, but usually this is not the case. Occasionally, this someone is not even a resident of any of the five boroughs of the city. How is it that I can walk through a city so populous with a constant ebb and flow of outsiders, and unwittingly bump into someone I know. Maybe it truly is a small world after all.
It must be a small world after all. Every day I am in communication, over the phone, text message, email, Facebook, Twitter???you name it???with someone that is in a different city, county, state, country, continent, but somehow not a different planet. I guess it is a small world, but in a huge, sparse universe.
Before the Web, and all these social apps, there was a time when you dictated the number for your phone to dial by diligently typing in every digit, rather than asking your smart phone what to do next. During the time when your parents???or maybe grandparents???were your age, were they in near constant communication with someone living in another country? The answer to that probably depended on whether they were one of the few to have a friend from grade school through high school, or a more likely reason for knowing someone abroad was participation in the service.
Today, I am posting this article that will likely be read by people from all around the globe. I might collect more Twitter followers, and I will likely learn about new happenings in the web development community from those whom I follow. I will write at least one email to someone not residing in the same country as I do, and I will compose, and reply to, several more e-mails to people I will not talk to in person for at least a month, if ever. The odds of me commenting on or liking a photo or post of someone I have not seen since my tenth high school reunion is not improbable, either. It must be that technology and the Web has shrunk the world, brought us closer together? but has it really?
Many of us participate in a communication graph encompassing a large geographical region, but has this made us any more worldly?
This past year, I spent a decent amount of time traveling to places I had never been to. My travel was mostly to web development conferences. The developers were excited to meet more people in the community; the conversations were informative, and sometimes became a heated debate. It was difficult to be disinterested. How could anyone electing to attend a web development conference not be excited to participate in a lecture, discussion, or a debate about web development?
The world is not as small as it seems. The Web has just made it easier to create small, niche communities, based on shared interests that cover a large global expanse, as opposed to the past where small, niche communities often times were more or less dictated by geography. Participating in a community spread thin across the globe, but tightly knit by its passion surrounding common interests can create a false sense of worldliness. Within such a group, the world is as small and narrow as the role the common interest plays in the world population.
I am not suggesting that the Web is insignificant. Most would say that the majority of the world?s population is impacted in some way by the Web. The common interests and shared topics of the web development community, as an example, tend to be far more specific. Is it rarely about the significance of the web? Usually, discussions about which technology to use, which practices to follow, which programming language to use, or something else that is more personal, teach individual members day-to-day. Beyond that, I am talking more generally about all types of self-selecting groups. I am warning against being lulled by the false sense of reality that self-selection bias can breed.
Still using the web development community as an example, the truth is that most people (also known by the dehumanizing term: user) do not care what language your web site is implemented in, which database you used, whether or not you host the site from the cloud or your own bare metal. Most people do not care if you use continuous deployment or how good your test coverage is. Read this last bit to someone who is not a web developer, and you are more likely to discover that he doesn?t even know what these things are. Some of you reading this may think, ?we should teach everyone.? That?s not my point.
My point is that everyone???no matter who they are???needs to actively put themselves in an uncomfortable position every now and then. It is comforting to surround yourself with people just like you. Next time you are at the company party, rather than spending most of the time talking just your co-workers, take the opportunity to listen to your co-workers? party guests. It is a great opportunity to ask them about their professions; find out what their interests are. It is an opportunity to be educated, a chance to view the world through the eyes of someone unlike you. Now this is just a starting point because these party guests obviously have something in common with your co-workers who likely have something in common with you, but you can use this as a start.
Another good start is to change the topic in your common interest group, every now and then, to something off-topic. While I was traveling this past year, conference to conference, I decided to ask most people that I met, ?What did you learn in history class?? It did not matter whether the person grew up in Poland and now resided in Great Britain, or if the person simply lived in the south as opposed to my north-east roots. The question was enough to remove the person from the normal biased answers to the ever reworded common questions. It was also an opportunity for me to glean some notion of how a person?s view point of the world might be different from the view point I was raised with.
All of this ties into common things we all eventually tackle during our web development experience, like learning that internationalization is more than handling different character sets and translating verbatim to another language. That it is more about a quest for localization, realizing that different cultures exist. Sometimes it is even recognizing that the dividing lines could be education, occupation, or some other basis besides culture. It?s also like recognizing not to trivialize the world through Big Data. When attempting to find the commonality amongst your user base, remember that those are also individuals. Do not take for granted the opportunity to actually sit down with someone, listen to them, observe them, just because you have data.
For me the goal of all this is to encourage you to get a little uncomfortable, break out of whatever small worlds you have joined, and see the world as vast, huge, uncertain, and as ever-unlimited as a wide-eyed child does. Otherwise, your endeavors to take the world by storm with your web development will be as limited as your outlook.
As a designer, I have nothing against the anti-spec movement . Created in response to speculative work (i.e., work commissioned with the possibility of payment but no guarantee) and crowd-sourcing (e.g., design contests which reward only one winner), the anti-spec community has been protecting designers? right to be paid for the work that they do.
However, the movement has been going too far???expanding to cover every kind of design contest and groups where design and art are created for fun, not just profit. Anti-spec is detrimental to community and social good projects, and it hurts more designers and artists than it saves by going too far.
Anti-spec is hurting pro bono design At Brooklyn Beta 2011 , Todd Park of the US Department of Health and Human Services spoke passionately about the need for designers to work for the public good , to spend their free time building and experimenting on current public issues. He called for designers to take the massive amount of health data released by the government and use it to build public solutions, and he specifically mentioned that, yes, the government could pay one individual or studio a massive amount of money to find one solution, but that the most amount of innovation and creativity comes from the community.
Recently, The Designer Fund and the White House presented the Health Design Challenge dedicated to redesigning the electronic medical record. On the TechCrunch coverage , The Designer Fund co-director says, ?There are so many meaningful problems in the world. Healthcare, clean energy, environmental issues, city design. We feel like we?d be able to make a much bigger dent in these problems if designers went at them.? Of course, there were anti-spec responses such as this:
The Designer Fund and the White House could pay a consulting firm to create a solution for the electronic medical record, but like Todd Park mentioned, the greatest amount of innovation and creatively comes from a massive amount of designers working together???more innovative, cost-effective, and interesting solutions will always come from a community project such as this rather than one paid consulting firm.
Anti-spec is hurting open source, design collaboration, and education Being a designer jumping into development, I would have been completely lost if it wasn?t for sites like Stack Overflow , where people can post problems they?re having with development and get answers and help for free. The free advice and help from Stack Overflow made it easy to jump into development. So many people are looking to jump into design, but huge communities for design help like Stack Overflow are lacking??? Stack Overflow for design isn?t big enough and Dribbble exists more for sharing small details. Large communities don?t exist due to the stigma against asking for design help for free.
For developers, open source development has lead to innovation on the Internet and online products. I was able to build my startup using a programming language called Python and a framework called Django , both of which are available online for free, even though they represent thousands of hours of work. The developers worked for free, in their spare time, to build something to help others. It?s worth noting that it would be odd to have anything but free programming frameworks and plugins???developers in the open source community embrace working for free in order to build free resources for the benefit of others.
What if designers were more open with their free time? What if we embraced opening up to others, embracing community? A huge issue in the open source community is the lack of design help???poor UX and UI design on open source projects which hinders adoption and understanding by non-developers. Designers should work with developers to further promote and aid adoption of great open source projects, which, in turn, helps nearly everything we use on the Internet today.
Anti-spec is hurting community Moleskine , the popular retailer of artist notebooks and sketch pads, decided to hold a design contest for their online blog, the Moleskinerie . The Moleskinerie is dedicated to sharing art and stories around the Moleskine brand, so it probably seemed natural to use their current community to help design the logo for the Moleskinerie. The anti-spec work comments poured in :
?I am shocked and dismayed that Moleskine is running an unethical contest like this. You are expecting thousands of artists to work for free.?
?Like a lot of professional creatives, I am very disappointed by the fact that Moleskine actually helps devalue our profession and potentially tries to get rid of a lucrative part of its user demographic, instead of making a fist against crowd-sourcing or any initiative involving speculative work for that matter. I'm quite sure that I'm not the only one who won't buy Moleskine products anymore.?
Moleskine had already built a community through design and was just further developing that community by having the headline piece of the community (the logo) built by the community. Moleskine wasn?t redesigning their brand or any piece of their company that is distinctly for-profit. We shouldn?t discourage designers using their talents for fun to help and build upon something they love.
The anti-spec movement needs to embrace pro bono pursuits The anti-spec movement can be productive, since bad spec work still exists???there are still employers making potential employees work for free with the possibility of a job (bad), and there are still companies running spec contests for logos and branding (very bad???I?m looking at you, 99Designs and Crowdspring ).
However, we should never discourage designers and artists from using their art and design skills for fun and public good. These pursuits don?t deny designers jobs, nor do they lower our wages. As designers, we should contribute to open source projects, donate our skills to important public projects such as the Health Design Challenge, and embrace art for fun???not just profit.