What's with the attitude?

Paul Boag

We face many challenges as designers and developers – IE6, the fast pace or change, meeting the needs of disabled users. However, I am coming to believe that our biggest challenge is our own attitude.

This post started off as a bit of fun. It was going to be another spoof, this time in the form of a top 10 list of harsh truths. However, as I began writing I found myself actually believing many of the points. In the end I was forced to scrap that draft and start from scratch.

I am worried about how people see us as web designers. More than that, I am worried how we behave as web designers, both with our clients and towards one another.

Let me explain what I mean, starting with the more obvious and damaging area – our attitude towards clients.

Our attitude towards clients

I speak to a lot of web designers and in all of those conversations I rarely hear a positive word said about the people who keep us employed.

The overwhelming attitude towards clients is one of disdain. Oh, we hide our feelings reasonably well when dealing with them face to face. However, behind their backs we are often critical and derisive.

We see clients as stupid, awkward, or intent on derailing the project. In short we see them as the enemy.

We have to change this attitude. Not only is it damaging to the relationship, it is also untrue. Just because somebody doesn’t understand the web, does not make them an idiot. Without a doubt they will be far more knowledgeable than you in many, many areas.

You cannot have it both ways. On one hand we set ourselves up as experts who should be listened to. On the other, we are surprised that the client doesn’t instinctively know, understand and except everything we suggest. If they could, we would not be the expert!

We need to recognise the critical role the client brings to the web design process and stop trying to exclude them for fear they might bring something different to the table we might not like.

Stop treating your clients like children and start treating them as peers. That means listening to their contributions even when it does not sit comfortably with your own views. This involves us losing our sense of moral superiority.

You do not have the moral high ground

I do not hide the fact that I am an evangelical christian. That means associating myself with some people who have an enormous sense of smug satisfaction and moral superiority. Some of these people really think they are ‘Gods gift,’ literally! However, they pale in comparison to the moral and intellectual snobbery I encounter in the web design community.

I am fed up with web designers who judge others (and their own clients) with such passion and vigour it borders on the fanatical.

We are not poets, artists or preachers. We do not have the luxury of free thinking theory. We should be pragmatists that work in the real world and solve real world problems.

The problem is that most of our high minded ideals are nothing more than ego. It is about exalting ourselves at the expense of others. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean…

Why doesn’t your site validate?

I can’t believe they code in .net

He is always asking people to retweet his posts.

Oh, they are just link baiting

Comments like that are just about pulling others down. Validation isn’t everything and how can you judge somebody’s decision to code in a certain language without any background information? Hell, what does it matter to you anyway? As for link baiting and retweeting – what is wrong with wanting to drive traffic? There seems to be an attitude that desiring your site to be popular and working towards that end, is in someway wrong! Admittedly new traffic is not the whole story but it is a part of it.

Promoting your sites or services is not desperate or needy. It is good business. If all you offer clients is moral superiority and a well built site, then you are only offering them half a service.

I am not saying there are no lines. I do not condone black hat SEO techniques and I hate SPAM as much as the next person. However, I think we need to drop the attitude and consider the broader picture. We need to consider the business behind the site.

Stop trying to be intellectually superior

Unfortunately we do not just like to feel morally superior, we also like to feel intellectually superior.

We dress our profession up in impenetrable jargon and give ourselves fancy job titles. In many ways we are like teenagers trying to appear more grown up by smoking and drinking.

I guess this is not surprising. Our industry is barely in its teens. We are trying to find our identity and justify our existence. However, in the process we are in danger of becoming elitist and inaccessible to outsiders.

Take for example the recent rash of Top 10 posts. It is something I have started doing myself and have received a massive amount of criticism for it. I have been accused of dumbing down, catering for the lowest common denominator and being desperate for traffic.

Indeed top 10 posts do drive more traffic. That is because people like them. They like them because they are accessible. They are easy to scan and easy to assimilate. In what way is that bad?

Those who criticise do so because they feel that in some way these posts cheapen the industry or devalue what we do. I get the same criticism about my podcast. We joke on the show and have fun. We make the information accessible. Therefore we must be devaluing it.

In my opinion this is a view driven by insecurity. By wrapping up what you say in long words and impenetrable jargon you can hide the truth. You can sound better than you really are.

Unfortunately this just isn’t true. By making it impenetrable you are actually hiding its worth. By explaining what you know in a clear and accessible way you demonstrate its real value.

The desire for exclusivity

All of this is driven by a desire to the ‘cool kid’. Perhaps it is a hang over from our school days when geeks were far from popular. We try to impress and dominate, when we should be empathising and working together.

Another manifestation of this cool kid mentality is our rejection of anything mainstream. As soon as something becomes popular we drop it like a stone. Now our clients are talking about twitter, we accuse them of ruining it and start looking for the next thing. We want to be exclusive, special, different.

The trouble is the mainstream pays the bills. We need to break out of our exclusive little bubble and try to associate more closely with that mainstream. We need to understand what the general populace are embracing and go with that, even if it means still supporting IE6.


This post is aimed as much at myself as anybody else. I catch myself doing many of the things I have written about here.

In many ways the web design community is awesome. There are not many industries where direct competitors talk to one another so openly and freely. However in doing so we have become somewhat insular and very intense. I think sometimes we are under the impression that we are shaping the future and that every choice we make is of crucial importance.

At the end of the day we are just building websites. We need to get some perspective.

Thus ends the rant :p