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The decline of design

About a week ago, I wrote about the craft of web development

I’m coming to realize that a lot of my dissatisfaction with the state of the web is that I view web development as a craft, but as a profession we’re in the late-stage industrial age.

In response, I had a handful of folks point me to this fantastic article by Thomas M. Semmler on Craft vs. Industry.

It’s full of quotable bits, and you should go read the whole thing, but a few parts really jumped out at me.

For instance, here, Thomas talks about design shifting from user-focused to org-focused…

The larger premise of design has degraded over the years, in my opinion. As it got more embraced into the industrial process, it did so by devaluing the perspective of the people for whom the discipline used to design and replacing it with the perspective of companies. This is the price that design continues to pay for its seat at the capitalist table. In my opinion, the cost is too high to be worth it…

UX Design used to stand for “User Experience”, but in order to get our seat at the table, we had to degrade it so much that it has long since shifted its meaning to “User Exploitation”, as Mark Hurst writes. The practice of UX, removed so far from its subject that it now considers the company itself the subject of their work, is now being used for bad-faith manipulation to increase capitalist numbers.

And here, he discusses the decline of quality in what we’re building and a disinterest in craftsmanship from the people doing the building…

This coincides with the fact that we are now broadly regarding websites as software, but we’re not calling them websites. We’re calling them “Apps”. And it makes sense—we have entirely normalized the practice of having our websites controlled by JavaScript from server to client because JavaScript is mature now and thus appealing to traditional programmers, who used to shun it fiercely…

This change in the demographics of those who write code has made it easier to hire for these positions. A website entirely rendered in JavaScript can be worked on by someone with a University Degree, in which they are rarely taught about the special relationship between HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but are instead told that CSS and HTML are not real programming languages.

But this really gets to the thrust of it for me!

I consider this a conflict between two identities: the craftsperson and the factory worker. The craftsperson wants to do what honors the values of the craft, but the factory worker needs to do what will keep them employed or employable.

Thomas goes far deeper than I did in exploring the compromises you make a professional when pressed between these conflicting wants, and how you might reach a happy place anyways.

Go read the whole thing here. And if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.