My BlogAbout MePortfolioTemplatesArticlesWeb StoreMessage Board (Forums)Guestbook

Recommended Stuff

Browse archives

September 2012  
Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Search this site with Google

Can web designers truly make a difference?

Submitted by Jakob on 4 May, 2006 - 19:47.My Blog | Politics & Society | Web Design

As living beings, we are born, we grow up, live and die. During that period of time many of us would like to produce something that outlives us, and almost everyone wants to impact others such as family, friends and lovers. Some of us think the world is unfair and wish to do something about it, but can you do that, regardless of your profession? I believe you can and I'll tell you why, from my point of view as a web designer.

When I was choosing to go to college I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, I wanted to do something related to the Internet, because I loved this new medium. By that time I had been running websites since 1997 and made several friends through message boards, Usenet and email. I was amazed by the opportunities, but also a child of my age. In Sweden during the late 90's information technology was touted as the technology of the future, and it would change everything, forever. I don't think that was an entirely incorrect prediction, or dream, but things didn't really change the way people expected.

When it was time to make a pick I decided to move 900 km and study Media Technology, a field that encompasses programming, web design and video production and recording. I studied it for three years but during that time I grew to realize that it wasn't what I wanted to do. The college where I studied had a very practical approach, the education was more akin to engineering than journalism. Engineering was something I didn't want to do, for various reasons, but the primary reason was that I wanted more influence, over what I did professionally and how I could make something meaningful and useful out of it. You can learn a trade, you can learn it well, and you can find a job, do the same things over and over again, you can take pride in a job well done and for some people that's enough. I felt I wanted to contribute more, do more than just producing commercials, build websites to promote products or services. I wanted to do something that had a real impact and didn't just feed on, and add to, the superficial MTV society we see today.

The last thing I wanted to do was to add even more surface to this already glossy, sequin-sprinkled champagne-intoxicated faux reality

Turn on the TV, well turn on MTV or any entertainment channel, what do you see? A world obsessed with celebrities, some of them totally unskilled, people whose dogs have more character and more signs of a personality than they do. These people are worshipped by the entertainment networks, their lives permantly recorded on camera tape, shown as being gods in the realm of mortals. The kids watching get a sense of these people being important, well in a way they are, they have been successful but it stops people from seeing the really important things in life, in the world. The uncomfortable not so glamorous facts of the state of the world. The last thing I wanted to do was to add even more surface to this already glossy, sequin-sprinkled champagne-intoxicated faux reality. Luckily there are artists who share a similar view, Sarah McLachlan and U2's Bono being two of them. So I didn't want to help launch another site about some artist or some online superstore selling accessories and "necessities" for the people who already have enough.

Some people choose careers such as doctors, detectives or firefighters. The last two put their lives on line for others, it's part of their duty. I respect that tremendously and I also understand the sense of accomplishment of being able to do that, despite the less positive stuff you see in your work. But can't everyone do the same, contribute in a similar fashion, actively do something about the problems of the world depite having desk jobs? I think they can, and I'll explain why because it was what I wanted to.

To make a difference in the real world, the one where kids starve, where people die from diseases such as malaria that can indeed be cured but for which pharmaceutical companies design no new drugs because the potential profits aren't high enough to warrant research. It's a very disturbing reality, earth 2006, and very few people seem concerned. This is the reality I saw, I realized helping new products sell, and building the selling facade, or the framework to further consumption of all kinds of goods, wasn't what I wanted to do.

And with a career choice as someone who, according to most people, "makes websites pretty", can you actually do something about the things you think are important? Well if you, like me, want to try and make the world a better place, and believe we have real issues to take care of, issues that concern the environment, education, fresh water, food, basic freedoms would you believe yourself being able to do that when all you do is "make websites pretty"? I mean not just privately, we can all donate and volunteer, but professionally, using your skills to further other goals.

I believe the answer is yes. But it's not as simple as I originally thought, doing good means many different things and happens on many levels at the very same time. What I eventually also realized was that I wanted to work with people, not just with machines. While we all have colleagues, I wanted to work with something that involved the human being and actually made some sense, taught us something about ourselves, our place and role in the world. This was why I decided to study Cognitive Science.

You can, even when you're designing a site about the new teen star, do it with humanitarian values.

Eventually I learnt about usability, about adapting technology to the needs of its users, a set of methods, many rationally thought-out practices and principles that evolved around something I had been sort of aware of, but never really able to deal with constructively before. Understanding the user will help you help the user, and relieve the user of frustration and annoyance, that lead to stress which has a negative impact on the user's life quality. You can, even when you're designing a site about the new teen star, do it with humanitarian values. This is no small thing.

As a web designer, a freelancer, you can choose your work and you can even choose only to help those that help. A few days ago I browsed the website of floatleft, a web development business focusing on helping NGOs (non-government organizations) build and improve their web presence, charging no more than necessary for their work. Kudos to them! Not only did their portfolio impress, the idea inspired me and I thought "wow, some people who have made something meaningful out of what can be a meaningless job", and they float to the left, just like I do.

So as a web designer you can make a difference, at many different levels. With a keen interest in the needs of the end users you can improve their lives, and by choosing your clients you can decide who benefits from your talents. The job of creating great design on the web doesn't have to be about adding surface to something already superfical and as meaningful as publishing a book "written" by your dog. It all depends on your attitude towards your work, and what you want to achieve, and being willing to make an effort to make a difference in the world to help spread a message you believe in and care about. But most importantly, care about something!

Now you can also post links to stuff here directly on digg, technorati et c. Just click the links below.

Be also sure to catch the RSS feed!

Trackback URL for this post:

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.


  • Web and e-mail addresses are automatically converted into links.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Verify comment authorship
Captcha Image: you will need to recognize the text in it.
Please type in the letters/numbers that are shown in the image above.