Just A Few More Than Two Sentences

This post is a follow-on to a brief but really very spot-on comment Frank Chimero made in regards to making sense of being a contemporary designer:

Now is the time to come clean: Github is confusing, Git is confusinger, pretty much everything in a modern web stack no longer makes sense to me, and no one explains it well, because they assume I know some fundamental piece of information that everyone takes for granted and no one documented, almost as if it were a secret that spread around to most everyone some time in 2012, yet I some how missed, because—you know—life was happening to me, so I’ve given up on trying to understand, even the parts where I try to comprehend what everyone else is working on that warrants that kind of complexity, and now I fear that this makes me irrelevant, so I nestle close to my story that my value is my “ideas” and capability to “make sense of things,” even though I can’t make sense of any of the above—but really, maybe I’m doing okay, since it’s all too much to know. Let the kids have it.

It’s really such a simple statement, for all its run-on-edness. I appreciate Frank’s bravery in admitting—in public, in front of the trolls and potential clients—to being finite, exhaustable, intimidated and imperfect. His confession is that of actual, bonafied humanity.

When we talk about design output, there is certainly no shortage of material celebrating “digital empathy” and “engagement” through “storytelling.” “User-centric” design is to be “content first,” loaded with the “emotional cues” of “benefits” and “responsive to the user, not their device.” Designers are well-used to doing that half of the job while also supporting ROI, CRM and all the other acronyms that justify our existences to the C-Suite.

At the opposite pole, what I suppose could be considered ‘design input’, is what all is ‘expected’ in order to ‘deserve’ the right to create output at the professional level. However hired for our skill in baking “accessibility” and “experience” into “disruptive solutions,” designers are nonetheless held to a Hunger Games-style gautlet of technical one-up-manship. Remaining relevant is the constant spectre. Across all our infinite social media personas, designers feel somehow obligated to put on a costume of total mastery, lest we be found out for not being the ‘versatile solution for print and web’ we’re expected to be.

It’s this dichotomy that Frank is addressing here, and that I nod along with. Not to speak for him too much, but the situation goes way beyond the perfectly normal tendency for technology to evolve, so that one day CSS is replaced by SASS (or is it SCSS, or is it LESS?) or whathaveyou. Thankfully, his piece isn’t the whimpering of a defeated relic, although it easily could have been (god knows there’s plenty of that around). What’s at play here instead is an entirely different kind of shift. His is not an answer, but a point of contact and discussion: of what’s next when not only the media, but the tools, then the whole of visual design, begins to revert to the abstraction of the command line. How many of us, in addition to being top-shelf visual communicators—and has “life happen to them”—can live in a constant state of, not incremental, but constant, complete and total regeneration? Many of us can (and are eager to) do it at 25, maybe even 45. What about at 58?

In this mode, there seems to be a real otherness dividing user from maker. The maker has to perfect her human qualities to form meaningful messages while taking on the most extreme of mechanical attributes to communicate them. The consumer, in contrast, is actively encouraged to do and know less, and expect more, making both aspects of making incrementally harder.

In the end, his post stands out, if not for its vulnerability, then especially in its rarity. The idea of fallibility seems to have become lost among the digital natives and pioneers designing for the web. There is a certain, subtle call to caution in the post: one for the future of sustainable design (and not in the receycled paper sense).