Dream on

April 7, 2014

This morning I was mentioned in a brief Twitter conversation, and because Jeffrey is the best, I feel obliged to reply.

I encourage you to read the mentioned post by Elliot Jay Stocks. In it Elliot asks the question, Why have today’s designers stopped dreaming? Between the article and the tweets, there are two topics I’d like to comment on.


First, Brendan blames—among other unnamed things—frameworks. Consider my interest piqued.

While Elliot directs his post towards the craftsmen—those swinging the tools—Brendan throws the tools themselves under the bus. He’s not alone in that line of thinking. Lots of folks hate on today’s frameworks, design tools, and the like. Usually that dislike comes out of personal preference or limited experience. That doesn’t invalidate anyone else’s use of those tools though, and we’ll all do well to remember that.

Let’s consider another “framework” for a moment—iOS. Is the most important operating system of the last decade to blame for a stagnation in app design and creativity? Some might say so, but have you seen the amazing apps that are being built on iOS? They’re fucking astounding!

Are frameworks the same as a mobile operating system? No, but they serve a familiar role—abstraction of common aesthetics, behaviors, and components with a focus on documentation. As absurd as it might sound, it’s hard not to see at least some similarity between the two.

Are these frameworks and other tools impervious to criticism? Definitely not. (Have you seen the number of issues against Bootstrap? It’s over 13,000!) However, it’s important to acknowledge that amazing things can be done with just about any tool if you have the right mindset.

Bottom line, the tools aren’t (completely) to blame.

Web workers

Second, from the article:

The web right now is a beautiful place. Web design has matured as an industry and the technology now enables us to create whatever we might dream of in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. But it’s clear that laziness amongst designers has never been more rife.

Thousands and thousands of cookie-cutter sites litter the internet, each one drawing just a little too much influence from the last. The blame is not to be laid at the feet of sites that provide actual website templates, but at the feet of professional designers who are churning out ‘bespoke’ sites that might as well be templates.

I dare say what we’re witnessing, and what Elliot and Brendan are referring to, is not laziness. The web design and development community is in a completely different place from when we got started.

We’ve been doing this stuff for 10, 15, or more years now. Those lazy designers you’re seeing? They’re lawyers, stay-at-home dads, bored teenagers, interior decorators, anthropology majors, teachers, and more. And they all just learned HTML and CSS last Tuesday afternoon while we were all eating our burritos and playing video games at work. (Hi, that’s me in case you didn’t realize.)

Today’s web is filled with millions of people who don’t make websites professionally. They make them simply because they want to and the tools are in place so that they can. That’s fucking awesome!

This doesn’t account for everyone though. Are some designers lazy? Yup, and at times I’m definitely one of them. The site Elliot described? It might as well be any number of the example templates that come with Bootstrap. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

Right or wrong

Elliot and Brendan aren’t wrong. There are lazy designers and developers out there, and tools and trends can make it easier for folks to be lazy. At times, I’m one of those lazy designers. Does that make any of us right or wrong? I don’t think so. Can all of us do better? Most assuredly.

Using design trends helps people. We find out what looks good doesn’t always feel good. We find out that some tools don’t always work for every job. We find out that performance and documentation are more important than your own visual preferences. Design trends, frameworks, and the like are, among other things, learning tools. Let’s keep that in mind.

Sing with me

Everything I do in my work at GitHub and on Bootstrap is dedicated to folks who want to make awesome stuff on the Internet. My dream is to help awesome people do awesome shit. Nothing else gets me more stoked out of my mind than that. I get goosebumps thinking about how much the web has changed and how we can continue to shape it just by writing code and sharing our experiences.

Designers didn’t stop dreaming. We just have millions of people dreaming dreams different than our own. Let’s encourage and foster that by enabling these people, and ourselves, to do more—and to do better. And of course, to dream on.