There's no shame in doing what you know best

I recently ran across this tweet on my timeline:

As someone who works on websites for a living as well as in my spare time, this tweet grabbed my attention. I do see a point in this argument, as far as creativity and originality go. There's always a time and a place for new ideas, designs, and formats to take be created. But having tons of websites look very similar - even almost identical in format - is not necessarily a bad thing as this tweet makes it sound.

Websites are similar for a reason. It makes things easier for people who are visiting the site. By having common design patterns and components throughout the Internet, everyone from those who spend their entire days online to those who barely get on a computer to begin with can easily use the site. For the majority of websites on the Internet, this is really the main purpose for their existence - most websites are meant to be used, not created to be admired from afar like a work of art at a museum.

One of my favorite books on the topic of web usability is Steve Krug's classic book Don't Make Me Think. If you manage any kind of website, either for yourself, a portfolio of clients, or a large company, I highly recommend reading this book. It encapsulates all the ways being consistent with web design is a great thing for the people you're building the site for. Not to say that he encourages people to do the same thing over and over again, as this quote from the book points out:

The problem is there are no simple "right" answers for most Web design questions (at least not for the important ones). What works is good, integrated design that fills a need—carefully thought out, well executed, and tested."

This really is the key here - there are no right answers for making a website. Sometimes making a new, shiny design is what's right for business. But more often than not, for most people's websites, I'm willing to bet that building something that's familiar is the best answer.

As I continued to think about this tweet, I started to realize that the reason why it grabbed my attention was not necessarily because of what I just explained above. It was because I felt like the message behind this is not a productive one to make. It sounds more like shaming instead of a helpful observation.

If the author of this tweet had posted this screenshot and offered a link to a blog post or other resource explaining why people should stop making websites like this, I wouldn't have minded at all and would thank them for teaching me something new. But my main issue is that there was no follow-up to this tweet, as far as I can tell. The replies to the tweet even have people directly asking what website creators should do instead, but there were no direct responses either.

This example focuses on the web design community, which I admittedly am not a part of, at least actively. I get the sense that there's a lot of focus on what's shiny and new while forgetting the things that really matter to the users the designs will serve. Unfortunately, there's a lot of the same mentality all over the Internet for just about any industry, whether it's unintentional or blatantly intentional.

I personally experience this quite a bit with my own work. The majority of my work consists of working with Ruby on Rails sites. The popularity of Rails skyrocketed in the mid-2000s when I first learned about it and jumped on it. I know Rails pretty well and am very efficient with it. Ten years later, I still use it for both my day job and my personal side projects, and it serves me incredibly well. But the software industry moves quickly and there have been a lot of new tools that serve similar purposes than Rails does.

This is a good thing - as advances in technology occur and new problems start popping up, having appropriate tools can help greatly. But the problem is that I notice a lot of people tend to jump on the newest fad just because it's new, not because it is significantly better than what they're used to. Not only that, they also vouch for their new tool while bashing others along the way. There doesn't seem to be a week that passes by where I read a comment, tweet or blog post where people essentially bury Rails as a tool of the past and vouch for something newer, even though Rails is more than capable of handling the same needs.

There have been plenty of times where I've read one of these articles and have personally felt bad for myself. I felt like I was holding on to a relic of the past, and because I'm not using the newest, coolest technology out there, I must not be as capable as others who are using it. As I write this, I feel silly that I once thought like this, but it really was how I felt. It's taken me a while to know when to spot one of these comments, tweets or blog posts and take it as shaming - which is really what it is - instead of something that might help me with my career.

My point of this entire post is that it's perfectly fine to stick with what you know, and refine your process and improve as you go along. Don't jump on a trend because it's something new. Don't let go of something you're good at because someone said you should. There's no shame whatsoever in getting results and reaching your goals, however you get there. As long as you get there, enjoy the journey, and don't denounce everything that's not your preferred tools, that's really all that matters.

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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