The web design case and the importance of centralized, field specific, communities #

April 9 2010

This is a draft, and the claims may not be verified or sourced. This and the next post on the topic will be assembled together and later verified.

There is an ongoing discussion about the current state of web design and the decline of its community, like the articles from SmashingMagazine[1]. Here I’m going to (i) compare the web design community with other successful ones, (ii) try to define it, and (iii) try to find the problems, and propose solutions.

A community can be defined as a group of interacting people sharing and helping each other trough common interests and goals (may not be limited to this definition). Critical problems found, include: there is not a central community for any specific field of design, mentoring is not possible because of the lack of a centralized community (CC), resulting in a lack of focusing the driving force. All the successful community examples provided below share one important component, that is part of the definition itself: the goal. It seems that only the common interests are not a sufficient drive for a community, instead strict definitions of the goals or missions are necessary to reduce the dispersion and to allow growth.

Defining Successful Community

By successful communities we’re not referring to those who have a big established user base, but to stable ones. Examples of successful online communities are many programming (like open source projects), entrepreneurship, and free content (e.g. Wikipedia) communities.

A community is successful (SC) under these provisional laws:

  1. The community serves a purpose
  1. It’s easy for new comers to insert themselves in, directly in a specific domain, and they’re often mentored by more experienced members of the same domain
  1. Member and interest differentiation does not make the overall SC unstable, by failing one of the laws
  2. Community is domain, or goal driven {obsolete per law n.1}

Common Interests

Common interests in programming communities include technical-engineering problems and solutions, such as algorithms or best-practices, release of new or enhanced technology. Common interests in free content, such as educational or encyclopedic content, include per topic writing, and the learning process itself while editing or reading. Trough common interests of web design communities we find: graphic design topics (digital and print); typography topics; artistic illustrations; 3D compositing; user interface, information architecture, and user experience topics; strategic design (e.g. brand defining and strategic company identity); also an hybrid form of developer and design for weblog themes.

Differentiation in interests can be vital for the community itself because it makes it possible for members to explore new paths, and is also very effective in the selection and evolving of communities. The only problem here is for new members. (this and the central community will be treated in detail in the following article on the topic).

Confrontation

{This part studies differences between the web design communities versus the successful ones.}

In table 1 I have ported the names of the online communities (SC ones), in table 2 the web design communities (WDCs), and the goals or missions for each of them.

Community Name Type/Interests Goal Mission Central Community
Wikipedia Reading, Learning, Writing Free multilingual encyclopedia Yes, Wikipedia itself
Python (and almost every programming language) Programming language, new technology Promote, help members trough technical-engineering problems, and improve the technology Yes, (e.g. Python Community)

Also 3rd party communities like StackOverflow

HackerNews (small SC) Everything regarding entrepreneurship (development, design, business). Mutated from hackers only content. Guide, help, the (mostly) entrepreneur members of the community. Yes, itself

(Table 1) Successful Online Communities Goals.

Website Name

Community

Interests

Goals

Part of Central Community (specific field)
OpenDesignCommunity* No Collection of CMS themes -
Designity* No Collection of templates -
TalkFreelance* Yes Freelance, Design, Development, server or hosting management, SEO Help members No
WebDevForums* Yes Freelance, Design, Development, server or hosting management, SEO Help members No
SitePoint* Yes / Tutorial based Freelance, Design, Development, SEO Help members, tutorial based articles No
Ask E.T. forum

Edward Tufte

Yes Everything regarding design Design reviews No

(Table 2) Online Web Design Communities with Goals.*Could not find actual communities, Google search results as listed for “web design communities” or “web design community”.

WDCs have way more different interests than (e.g.) programming communities, but still lack the driving force to be of any benefit to new members.

As we can see, one major problem with web design, it’s that there is not a central community where members can help each other, identify, and improve the field itself. Another one is in the misleading definition of Web Design itself. Web Design it’s just a collective common name resembling various specialized fields applied to the web, including: corporate identity, graphic/visual design, typography, interaction design, user interface design, and information architecture.

Problems identified, solutions, and conclusion

The lack of a centralized community makes it impossible for field experts to connect with each other via a central hub, where everyone can join, resulting in fragmentary blog posts spread across the Web. The new comers don’t know who the experts are, or at least can’t connect with them easily. This causes bad mentoring, or even none of it.

One solution could actually be the creation of centralized communities per specialized fields. But I’m reluctant of something like forums (e.g. traditional ones like phpbb).

Any feedback is appreciated. Is there any existing solution of other fields that can be ported to solve these problems?

Footnotes:

  1. Kari Patila, The Sad State Of The Web Design Community, Smashing Magazine
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