Does the business side of this make anyone else cringe?

So, I apologize that I can only explain myself through anecdote.

I was on Udemy a while ago, and I thought it would be nice to take a more general course in design. Courses in graphic design seemed nice, but I wanted something that would focus specifically on the tools I would be using, namely css/html. (I.e. not teaching me photoshop). So, there was a whole section on web design. Great, I thought.

What I found there, however, was not what I expected. It just seemed like a bunch of dudes trying to hype me up about making fat cash. Instead of talking about various styles or design principles, contrast, balance, etc., it was all about ensuring “conversion” and like… money, basically. In short, the focus was not “make it this way, because it is beautiful” but, “make it this way, because then people will click on the ads, and the company will earn revenue.”

And, don’t get me wrong, I know this is a business, and I am doing this to get a job, but it just really rubs me the wrong way. Weeks later, I am still cringing.

I am a creative person. I value originality. I want to do creative work. (I went to school originally to learn poetry, ffs) I know I can use bootstrap to make a site quickly, but I don’t want my site to look like every other site. I have heard a lot of talk about how this is a creative field, and sometimes I can feel that, but other times not. It seems sometimes like all there is to it is to follow the latest trend, whatever it is, and that passes for good design… but maybe that is a whole different subject.

Anyway, I am wondering what other people have felt about this. Does it seem like there is room for creativity in web development, legitimately, or is that just hype? If you are a creative person, how do you reconcile that with the more practical aspects of the work? I’m not entirely sure the question I want to ask, so, whatever thoughts people have are welcomed.


That course might’ve been directed toward internet marketers.

Yes. I find the business side of things, particularly marketing, to be almost creepy. What I love is building things and solving problems. If I didn’t have to subsist on wages, I’d be perfectly happy coding something fantastic that would go unnoticed simply because it’s what I love to do.

While I am loath to share anything by TED, the sheer volume of videos they put out guarantees that at least one of them will be so well made, informative, and pertinent that I will be obligated to share it as part of a greater conversation. That day has arrived.

My reconciliation comes from a belief that all labor is creative (though some, like mass production, is more alienating than others). Few people do have the luxury/soul-crushing-responsibility to innovate and originate, but everyone who creates something is a creative person rather than just those few rock stars. When i’m programming, I’m not thinking about how to do something no one else has done before, but instead focusing on how to do what I want in the best way possible. Perhaps this will someday result in a novel style of coding or an interesting library or maybe even a whole new language or paradigm. Frankly, so long as I’m insulated from the business decisions and can focus on the interesting work, I can be satisfied… for now.


Yes, that certainly is a little cringeworthy.

There is no denying the reality that we still live in a world where we have to earn wages somehow in order to buy our own bread. And certainly we are not hide our lamp beneath a basket, so to speak. But if the focus is on learning, skill, and quality, those other things may well take care of themselves.

“The life to short, the craft so long to learn…”
“There is no such thing as luck. Luck is simply where opportunity meets with preparation…”
“Work begets work…”

“The truth is out there…”

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…”

This reminds me of an article I stumbled across a few months ago about dark patterns in design. These are UIs that are there to trick the user into divulging personal information, clicking on an add, or even buying something more than they actually wanted to. The practice is completely unethical and is, at least in theory, frowned upon. I have no idea how things stand in practice though.

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Most udemy courses are crap, I’ve only found useful the courses by Stephen Grider and Todd McLeod, and I’ve over 50 courses…


I, too, enjoy poetry. My favorite poem happens to be a haiku that I feel says it all:

Artist or not, if you wanna make it in this world you gotta provide value. The shortest, easiest, most common way to do that happens to be all that stuff that makes you cringe. An artist, however, does whatever an artist wants to do, oblivious to the status quo. But even if that were all BS, there are already plenty of opportunities for pure artistry in the wide, wide world of web and software. Go find them.

I am working on my tribute page to Seth Godin–an internet marketer! (I’m ready to be bashed for that) but I’d like to share the quote that will be front and center:

“What matters, what makes it art, is that person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt, and made something worth making. Something risky, something human.”

Even internet marketers value creativity and risk. Hope that helps you see that you do have a future out there. :slight_smile: Bets


Thanks for the replies.

A couple more thoughts:

It’s funny. At work all last week, I was writing stupid legal documents. On breaks at work, worked on a poem and wrote a review for Darkest Dungeon (a negative review, btw.) At night, (and also sometimes on break at work) wrote code. I ran electric wires to a room I have been refinishing this week, and spent most of today installing bookshelves. I used to cook a lot, too, but there’s not much time for that lately. The video does a good job of pointing out how the separation of art and craft was mostly a historical coincidence. Painting is now art, but web design gets called craft. When looking at this video, I noticed a link to a talk about a Vermeer painting, that (supposedly) was going to explain why that painting is considered a masterpiece. It made think that it is strange that we don’t study good websites in the same way. Why shouldn’t we?

What this brings out for me is that we are trying to make a human connection when we make a website, or any other piece of art. Solving the problem for myself is nice, like writing a story for myself is good, but it becomes solipsistic and perhaps just self-indulgence if it doesn’t actually make sense or serve a purpose for anyone else. And it seems the marketing people are very good at that end of things.

But, like @mkarabashev points out, that sometimes goes too far. There is no real connection, but only deception. And I think for me (and it seems for @PortableStick), what makes the marketing people creepy is that you never know when they’re going to cross that boundary. The person who works to solve problems on their own terms feels safer to me because I know they are genuine.

But then, like others pointed out and I (painfully!) am aware, we still have to make money. I worry that by pursuing this career that I am giving up the part of myself that is more of an introverted problem solver and gaining something from the used car salesman. In short, [quote=“bnoden, post:7, topic:78920”]
to be all that stuff that makes you cringe.

And of course, people need used cars, too. Anyway, it remains something of a personal dilemma of identity for me, but hopefully that will be resolved with time. Thanks again for everyone who weighed in.

Software is so ephemeral. A fantastic, beautiful website may seem completely outdated in just a few years. One decade ago, Flash sites were all the rage. Two decades ago, people loved scrolling marquees. I don’t think it’s that our tastes change so much as that the technology has been gradually allowing more human expression by removing design restrictions. While it’s unlikely that the standard web technologies are going anywhere, I’m not sure a website built in 2017 will mean the same thing to anyone in the year 2217. Then again, maybe time will show us what the masterpieces are. 2217 could have entire museums dedicated to displaying web art from the 21st century.

Hell yes.

It’s interesting you say you write poetry as lots of poetry types (haiku for example) enforce very rigid patterns. Expressing yourself in 14 syllables seems ridiculously hard. And it is. But it’s that sort of confinement that forces you to be creative. It’s the same with software. Using X and Y is not creative by itself, but making them work together in an elegant and performant way is. And you encounter those problems all the time.

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I have been thinking about that exact issue A LOT lately. I was actually thinking about trying to make websites that were like poetry appreciation for programmers…

I think people today misunderstand poetry and art in general-- that it should be this sort of free-form expression that follows no rules. Generally such art sucks, and I have a strong feeling that’s why a lot of what passes as art today absolutely fails to touch the vast majority of people. I think of poems (and other art forms) as intricate little machines. It’s not a bunch of fancy words that makes a poem beautiful but the incredible craftsmanship and the often startling leaps to unexpected logical conclusions, etc. I find myself using the same skills I developed while writing poetry now that I’m writing code-- the problem is that this world thinks of these two professions as though they are totally different worlds.

Oh well. Some time before I die I’ll get around to writing a book about that. For now, I have to go to bed.

I agree with everything you said. I am afraid you may be skewing in a dangerous direction, though. Let me explain.

As the internet grew in the 90’s many people like yourself were building websites. You were able to unleash your creativity and make beautiful masterpieces. My mother is very creative, she ran a business out of her home from 2000-2005. She built her own site for writers, it was a work of art. I, on the other hand, search the net to find information fast. My mother sent me a link to her site and it seemed like a gob of colors and text everywhere. I didn’t know where to start. I like sites that are clean and direct. I like lots of content but I first want to find the specific subject click a link that takes me to a page that describes nothing but that subject. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that if I saw that site, I wouldn’t be able to click away fast enough. I have later learned, most people are like me and get frustrated by all the bells and whistles.

She did very well with this company, that is only because she created the entire market and she was the only place where you could buy these types of services. Two years later, there was tons of competition. Her competitors had very simple sites with one or two links from the home page. Tons of white space, legible fonts, one or two colors, and cool pictures. She hung on for a couple more years until the work dried up. My opinion, her site was waaaaaay to complicated. People would find her and be off searching for someone with an easier site to understand.

Hate to say it, you kind of have to tone your masterpiece down for us surfers who want to get in, get it done and get out fast.

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hm. That’s very true, but I feel there should be some compromise. I’m sure you agree that, while a page of just black text on a white background would be simple and easy to extract information from, it wouldn’t quite grab your attention.

Someone linked to this (parody/satire?) of the typical bootstrap template on the forum a while ago: every bootstrap website ever. I feel like this kind of sums up a good part of my feelings, actually. There’s that template, it looks nice and is easy to get information out of, but after seeing website after website of the same basic format, I am just so bored. I know for purposes of efficiency that you probably don’t want to design every single website from scratch, and probably your layout ideas would run dry pretty fast…

Another issue I might point to is the rise and fall of the hamburger menu icon. Someone came up with that idea, and it seems like a good idea (and maybe it was for the purposes of that particular site.) For whatever reason it took off and quickly became ubiquitous on the internet (I’m seeing one in the upper right corner now!). Now a lot of UI people are saying its bad design and are advising against it. I think the primary issue here is that people were not being creative. They saw a trend and hopped on without thinking about the particular environment in which they were working. In short, they were not being creative.

Anyway, I definitely see what you’re saying. I’m not looking to make the next Sistine Chapel, but I don’t want to just fill out templates all day long either (otherwise I’d be staying at my current job…)

I think the biggest factor comes down to the project itself. You wouldn’t craft the same website for a restaurant that you would for a hardware store. And you wouldn’t use either of those design concepts for a website portfolio.

To me the design has to compliment/fit the content. It has to display it in a easy to read, easy to find way that is also aesthetically pleasing. Sure you can be creative, you should be. But you have to balance your creativity with what is needed by the client and what showcases their content best. Which is especially important if that website is a shop that sell products or services. Or any site where information needs to be readily accessible.

I think the real challenge, the real creativity comes into balancing design and functionality/user experience. Now I’m not a graphic designer myself, but I tip my hat to anyone who can put together a clean, simple, yet still gorgeous UI.

Hey, I am not knocking you one bit. Personally, I believe to be successful you have to set yourself apart from the crowd. I think it is ridiculous the way everything looks the same and just follows trends. You have a creative heart, so if your heart doesn’t sing, you will get tired of this line of work real fast.

I am building a large mobile app right now. My first UI had a lot to it. From showing it around to people I trust, I was told it was hard to understand what to do. I literally stripped the entire thing down but left the buttons exactly where they were. Now, they tell me it is much easier to navigate through. It is literally the same! I don’t see a problem with creativity, I think clutter is the killer!

The vast majority of design articles and courses are going to be about what you want, the background and current efforts of whoever is making the course will come through. Just search for things like usability and “-conversion -marketing”