Don’t be a tool . . . apologist

October 1, 2007 § Leave a comment

I found myself doing a large amount of head-nodding while reading Jeff Croft’s recent short post about the difference between knowledge of web code and software and knowledge of design principles.

. . . I think employers often value knowledge of tools too much when it comes to hiring web designers. . . . So what is valuable? Judgement. Logic. Creativity. Ability to learn quickly. Ability to work under pressure. Experience. Empathy. Design theory. Design history. Opinions. Decisions. And so on.

I look back at some of the first sites I created after learning XHTML and CSS, and although I was proud of myself for tackling these new languages, I soon realized that just knowing them would not make a site’s type readable, the navigation comprehensible, or the layout well organized. It’s taken a whole lot longer begin to develop those more abstract skills than it did to browse a few books and websites to figure out the difference between an ⟨h1⟩ and a ⟨p⟩ element.

I would not call myself a member of the “any idiot can create well-formed code” camp because I believe that it does take experience and analytical thought to use the right code for a given situation. However, I agree with Jeff that a vast difference exists between interface-design knowledge and design-tool knowledge. In fact, since I’ve been studying design principles, I feel that I have a better understanding of how to use the tools in my kit.

For example, until about six months ago, my use of line-height and margin in CSS was somewhat arbitrary and based on little more than eyeballing. Now that I’ve investigated the vertical rhythm principle, these properties have more valuable meaning in my work.

I would add to Jeff’s list of potential employee desirables that a person should not only be a quick learner, but should also have the curiosity and drive for self-improvement that will lead them to reach beyond their base skill set, whether it be in design principles or code/software chops, to seek complimentary knowledge. Figuring out how to express that in a job posting might be tough, though.

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