Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Future of the Web - And Why We Need to Equip The DIY Designer Now

Recently, I've started delving into CSS Grid, Flexbox, and the future of design on the web. Mostly in part to the amazing material of Jen Simmons, who I saw present at the recent Web Design Day conference.

As a web designer, the emergence of these tools (for lack of a better word) excites me. Why? Well, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of making the same 'ole responsive layout! Hero graphics, three buttons in a row, content centered down the page, etc.

In fact, when I created the Savvy Side Projects website not too long ago, my original desire was to mirror a publication. I wanted a multi-column layout, stunning typography, etc. For inspiration, I got on Pinterest and pinned all these really cool, awesome magazine layouts. But then, when I went to create the site using our good 'ole friend Bootstrap ('cause #habits), I ended up boxing myself in and creating something far from what my imagination originally wanted.

Of course, having immersed myself in Jen Simmons' material since, I realize I could have achieved a fair portion of that concept using some of the techniques she touches on. (And someday I will probably go back and redo the site accordingly.) But what excites me is this -

The scope of the web design is changing.

At long last, we can start utilizing graphic design techniques that have been used for ages in print! We can be more creative, and we can built truly unique sites for our employers and clients.

Awesome, no?

But at the same time, as someone who's in touch with the needs of the DIY Designer, I've also had this thought:

Holy crap! We'd better start equipping these people now!

'Cause here's the deal. Right now, today, there's a segment of solo entrepreneurs and business owners out there who are already super frustrated. They can't afford to hire a designer starting out; they recognize good design; they know it's important to their business; and they're intimidated and frustrated because they're trying to create good design themselves.

Sure, they can use a Squarespace template for their website. But, as we all know, there's more to creating a well-designed, user-friendly site than simply picking a template. (Case in point, my friend Linda.) Also, as the design possibilities evolve, so will undoubtedly the templates - thereby making things even more complicated and frustrating.

I mean, think about it for a moment. These DIY Designers are struggling to mirror the sites we currently have out there. Ones that we see as being very similar. Also, they aren't experts in whitespace, typography, symmetry, color theory, content strategy, and all the other design knowledge we use on a daily basis.

As far as equipping the DIY Designer goes, we're already woefully behind. 
And this matters not just to them, but to our industry as well. As I've mentioned before, this target market is fertile soil for educating the public - and future employers and clients - about what design really is (i.e. principles, careful decisions, etc.). This will become even more critical in the next few years as design possibilities increase on the web. It's challenging enough now, when we're creating "limited" layouts, to explain our design choices to clients and fight subjectivity.

But when we're really honing in on using symmetry, and tight typography, and all kinds of shapes? When we're carefully crafting an artsy or edgy magazine-type layout? Or when a client can bring in any magazine layout and go, "Can you change the homepage to this?"

Can you imagine those meetings then?

That's something the print world hasn't had to deal with. Sure, I'm sure some teams have meetings with stakeholders and clients. But if you're the small team of talented people at a magazine like Vogue, for example, you just do what you do. You decide what's a go and what's not.

But what if we could start counter-balancing that scenario now by equipping DIY Designers with design knowledge, know-how, and understanding? Because some - if not most - will eventually hire a professional designer or team. What if they approached meetings with a respect for design (even if they don't deeply understand all of its facets like we do)? What if they were a deterrent to scope creep rather than a cause of it?

It's kind of a nice thought, huh?

Sure, nothing is going to radically change overnight. But something needs to change. And the sooner we start implementing that change, the sooner it will start bearing some fruit. And making a positive impact. And snowballing in ways we probably can't predict.

Entrepreneurship isn't going away anytime soon. The same with marketing on the web.

The fact is, DIY Designers are here to stay, so let's make sure they aren't left behind - or out in the cold.