The Rich-Poor Gap of Web Design

January 09, 2007

Posted in Web Industry.

The Rich-Poor Gap. It’s a common topic for many economists and journalists, noting that the economic distance between the rich and poor is growing wider. There are plenty of arguments around this idea, including the notion of the middle class also growing.

I think the same is happening for the web industry. I don’t mean to pick on anyone in particular, but the industry is crowded and it’s quite obvious to me that there are major gaps between the top tier and the bottom tier.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The top tier isn’t limited to the robber barons anymore. Big agencies don’t have a monopoly on talent or clients. Small agencies, independent designers, and internal groups are competing with—or even surpassing—the big design agencies. I’m not talking about finances. I’m talking talent. Check out CSSMania or WebCreme to see hundreds of examples.

The poor, with regard to web design, are those stuck in the web of 1997. The tables-based layouts. The tired, ineffective design elements. Recycled templates that didn’t work then and don’t work now. I’ve been reading Jennifer Kymin’s for quite some time, and it’s a poignant reminder to me that the industry isn’t unanimous in its love for web standards or great design. Many of her articles (and the comments that follow) chronicle her fight to defend standards and newer technologies. Yet many of her readers reject these.

Unfortunately, many companies and individuals find it unnecessary to develop their skills. Through complacency or fear, many developers and designers are unwilling to take the next steps to improvement. Companies won’t invest in their employees’ development.

Climbing the Ladder

Unlike economics, it’s not that hard to climb the ladder. It’s not about creating wealth from wealth. Instead, it’s about learning and growing. New coding techniques and creative growth are hard work, but it’s often an internal factor. Every coder or designer I know finds value in working with other talented coders and designers. Talent begets talent. We grow from being challenged.

If you find yourself anywhere but the top (and even then, don’t settle!) there are a few things I suggest. If you’re planning to become top talent, try these:

1. Work with the most talented people you can find. You learn more from being second-best than you do from being the best. This might mean contributing to an open-source project, joining a user group, or taking a new job among more skilled workers.

2. Read. A lot. Read the books, read the blogs, and read the tutorials. If others are willing to teach and you are willing to learn, well… you do the math.

3. Do it. Don’t wait until later to try out the new techniques or methods. Start implementing and doing it. If you don’t have a project to do it on, create one.

4. Teach. If you can teach it, you’ll know it even better. Presenting to a user group, for instance, forces you to understand the material at a more thorough level. And if you can teach someone else to understand it, you have to really know your stuff.