Almost anyone can get their hands on paint, brushes and a blank canvas if they really want to. Anyone can paint a picture if they really try. However, it was the masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael (No, not the ninja turtles.) who were able to use the tools of their trade to convey emotion and inspire others through their masterful work. Their paintings live on hundreds of years later and are still discussed by scholars and art lovers the world over. Not only that, but their original pieces are considered to be priceless. Great art is very valuable.
On the other end of the spectrum from complex engines are photographs. A traditional photograph is simply a moment in time. Yes, sometimes there are very elaborate set ups; however, a photograph takes only a matter of seconds to capture. Despite this fact, though, they can still sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars because the skill to capture even just a brief moment can take a very long time to learn and even longer to master.
Access may also contribute to what I feel is the devaluation of design on the Web. The simple fact that websites can be shared with anyone who has access to the Internet may be a reason why it’s not considered to truly be art. After all, real art is confined to museums and galleries where only the “worthy” can appreciate it.
The Rise of the Machines
Just as mass production and cutting corners for the sake of profit has changed the manufacturing industry over the years, so to have services like Squarespace and Wix contributed to fast and easy cookie cutter templates in the form of “free” website builders. The sites are all the same with the exception of some interchangeable generic high-resolution background images. After that, just pop in your own copy and logo, change up the colors a little bit and voila! You have your very own “custom” website.
By no means am I saying that codeless options aren’t the way to go. In fact, in the case of programs such as Adobe Muse CC, they just might be the future of web design. However, programs like these still require the skilled eye of a good web or graphic designer in order to create a pleasant user experience. Good use of white space and knowledge of things like color theory and typography are still needed to make a design work no matter how it’s created.
A New Kind of Pay-Per-View
Maybe the current system is broken? Maybe we need to implement a royalty of some kind for web designers? It could be a percentage of payment for each visit to a website and/or resulting interaction by the user. Advertisers pay for clicks after all. Why not more appropriately reimburse a great web designer for their creation that brought your site those clicks? This, however, would go against the very spirit of the Web itself.
The Web is a means of sharing information and leveling the playing field in terms of the acquisition of knowledge. At least this is what I believe. A down side to seeing it this way, though, is that so many people have come to equate the Web to getting things for free vs. attaining personal freedom. They take for granted what it provides and wind up devaluing those things in the end. This is a lesson that was learned from digital music.
It’s not just free information either. We have also come to expect cheap and fast design as well. We now think, “Why pay a professional graphic designer when I can get a logo for my business at very little cost using a site like Fiverr?” While I understand why anyone would want to save money, especially a small business, I don’t think that a five-dollar logo serves the greater good of the design world either. Our work is so valuable and yet so undervalued.
Comparing Apples to Oranges?
Now I realize that it might sound crazy to compare websites to the works of Renaissance artists. SVG code doesn’t even come close to the brush strokes and methods of painting used by Leonardo da Vinci. Although the HTML5 canvas element I feel is very aptly named and it brings that art association a little bit closer to web design. However, I think that we really need to re-evaluate how we determine value when it comes to design on the Web. We can all appreciate a great website when we find one. We need to place the appropriate value on it as well, though, and know that there was likely a great amount of time and skill that went into creating it – the blood, sweat and tears of a modern digital artist. Think about this the next time you visit a great website.