In which I refuse to do what I’m told at work, to make the web a better place for everyone.

Taking Responsibility — Confessions of a Web Designer

940 words about industry — 22:47 · 11th Feb 2013

Today I was asked to put blinking text into a website. Today I had to make a choice. Live with the consequences of knowing that I’ve contributed to making the internet a worse place or refuse.

I refused. But this isn’t just a story about just that. It’s also the story of a boy waking up to his path.

I suppose to some, this might sound like I’m being over dramatic and like I’m making a big deal about something as insignificant as blinking text but I respectfully disagree. It is a big deal and it’s one that should have been dealt with over a decade ago — Jakob Nielsen wrote about it back in 19961 — yet it somehow still haunts Web Designers today. It’s a symptom of a disease we continue to perpetuate on a daily basis. I have never met a Designer who didn’t at some point complain about what idiots clients can be sometimes. We all have a good laugh, one Designer to another, at some moronic request. But then we give in to their moronic request. Does this sound familiar?

Actually it sounds very familiar because you know what? I’ve already been angry about this before, back when I wrote “Fuck You, Pay Me!”. And it shouldn’t need to be restated. But I suppose it does need to be restated.

You know what I think? It’s your own fucking fault. It’s all of our faults. Every time a client has a request that we think is moronic and should deprive them of their rights to even use the internet we are the ones to be blamed. Because no, we can’t expect them to know all these things. And we sure as hell don’t get to complain when we have made no effort to educate clients. It’s time we start taking responsibility, we are after all the guardians of a very exciting medium. A medium that by the way was never meant to be fixed at 960 pixels or any other arbitrary width. So yeah, there’s another thing we have been doing wrong all along.

Remember yesterday when I talked about the rebranding/revising of my own portfolio website and our NHL community The web has always been and will always be about the content. Don’t kid yourself with your Responsive Designs. Granted, I appreciate that you are able to let go of your past ways to relearn things but you’re just exchanging one bad way for another. You’re just pandering to the current trend, which happens to be Responsive Design at the moment, and taking that mindset further is the Mobile First approach. If you’re designing Mobile First you’re just as bad as your past generation Desktop Only -self was. Your still thinking about the design when you should be thinking about the content. And that content isn’t going to live on piece of paper. A piece of paper is a static constant with edges. A website is not.

So that’s why both website projects are taking so long. I’m sitting down, writing and making content so that I can design them according to the content that inevitable will be there anyway. I suppose you could say that sometimes the egg does indeed come before the chicken.2

Painting depicting the Storming of the Bastille, July 14th, 1789.
It’s still a nice painting.

How exciting isn’t our medium? Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are being used to overthrow dictators and we’re barely getting started. To think we have the honour of being guardians of a medium that can already do this and it’s still being defined. I think it’s time we start owning up to this honour. I won’t lie to you, yes, there’s going to be hardships along the way. Every revolution starts with the chopping of a few heads… actually, scratch that one. The Republic that followed the French Revolution wasn’t better than the Monarchy it replaced so that would be a bad example of the point I’m trying to make. Let’s skip the metaphor.

It wont be easy to start doing things the right way now, 22-ish years too late. A lot of people are going to be angry that we suddenly refuse to do things we were seemingly fine with yesterday. Even your colleagues aren’t going to be very supportive either because well… you just might make their jobs harder, especially if they haven’t made the choice to refuse bad design. And whilst I’m — personally at least — sorry for making your jobs more difficult it can’t be changed. I can’t and won’t live with knowing that I’m making the internet a worse place.

That is why, today when asked to put blinking text in a website I refused. Next time it might be a request to disable right clicking. And I’m going to refuse to do that too. Because I’m waking up.3

If we ever expect to be taken seriously as a profession then we need to start by taking it seriously ourselves.

  1. Whilst I don’t always agree with Jakob Nielsen — in fact I slightly disagree with point 6 — but having actually worked with people with cognitive disabilities and photosensitive epilepsy I feel strongly about making websites as accessible as possible. That means no to blinking and flashing texts. 

  2. The content is the egg in this metaphor in case that wasn’t already clear. 

  3. The original article that contributed to but more importantly, sped up my awakening. This Is All There Is by Aral Balkan. 

You’ve just read Taking Responsibility — Confessions of a Web Designer.

In which, 8 years ago, I wrote 940 words about industry and I covered topics, such as: web design, and accessibility.