Outside Our Bubbles

My friend Mario is a bad-ass programmer who works with enterprise level clients on WordPress projects. He has talked frequently about how 99% of the WordPress community is not heavily involved in keeping up with best practices and what’s going on. He correctly states that only about 1% of the community contributes back to the growth of the platform.

I would argue that many communities in the larger tech space are like this. The Apple ecosystem is vast, but very few people contribute to the actual advancement of the platform. In the larger web development community, there are a larger number of active contributors, but many people are essentially end users, doing their daily jobs.

Of each of these communities, the voices that guide the community as a whole are perhaps 1% of the 1%.

This isn’t right or wrong, it’s just that once you get recognized as moving the needle — whether that’s page views, downloads or selling conference tickets, you’re going to continue to get booked.

Most people who gradually reach the point where they are seen as community leaders wholeheartedly deserve it. But the people who keep coming up with new ways to share what they have learned have the most longevity.

Every community has a sort of culture bubble. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about tech, politics, sports, or popular culture. Every community — every tribe, if you will, has an ideology bubble.

I have seen a few notable people in the WordPress ecosystem talk about learning from other programming communities. Tom McFarlin, Mendel Kurland and John Eckman are just a few.

Not only does each community have an ideological bubble, but as individuals, we each have a bubble of what we expose ourselves to.

As individuals, we continue to evolve through our lives, based on our experiences and what we are exposed to. Most of us go through several shifts in our thoughts, approach and demeanor while staying true to the “core” essence of ourselves — that which makes us unique, and cannot be separated from our being.

But one thing I’ve noticed as I get older is many people begin to limit what they expose themselves to as they mature. They cut off their opportunities to learn from others, perhaps for fear it will change what they believe their core essence to be.

Our identities are really about our beliefs, our knowledge, the affinities we have, and our philosophies about life.

When we restrict our ability to reassess what we believe in and why, we risk becoming stagnant. In this industry, that is lethal.

As a personal challenge, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone. Read something, listen to something, do something that you have been putting off exploring.

Expose yourself to different voices — ones outside of the particular communities you have built your self-identity around.

Realize that you can learn from anyone, even if you think they have nothing to offer. You may be surprised where life takes you if you let it happen.

Why I Don’t Recommend Freelancer Marketplaces

So much of what makes a web project successful is the communication between the consultant and client.

When there is trust between both parties, communication is more honest and open.

So, before I even agree to take a project, this ability to communicate — this connection — is something I’m looking for.

Continue reading “Why I Don’t Recommend Freelancer Marketplaces”

Building Your Website On Stable Ground

Web design is one of the more ephemeral forms of design.

The things we build very seldom stay unchanged throughout time.

Times change. Technology changes. And most importantly — the needs of the people using your website change.

A website is never truly finished. It is a constantly evolving organism.

How a website evolves depends a lot on how intently the architects are listening to the people using the site.

The Only Thing Constant Is Change

Every so often, there seems to be an upswing in the number of people who are actively seeking to get their website redesigned.

Sometimes, it is brought on by news that websites will get penalized in search results if they don’t comply with basic usability requirements.

I know that many of these websites should have been designed with usability in mind from the get-go — whether that means accessibility, mobile-friendliness, or page speed and performance.

Whatever the reason that business owners seek to improve their websites, I’m happy that they are motivated to do so. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Website redesigns, when done right, can have a huge impact on the bottom line of a business.

Customers trust sites that look current over those that don’t. That’s one place conversions can improve. (By conversions, we mean taking an action, like signing up for a newsletter, or buying an item from an online store.)

Page speed affects conversions. So does mobile-friendly design.

But a lot of site owners are not savvy enough to make changes or updates on their own. Many sites don’t have any sort of analytics installed, so observing how customers actually use their website is impossible.

Some site owners are locked into old technology, and since it’s been so long since they had their website built, the web designer is long gone.

This can be overwhelming.

But all is not lost.

The Web Is Malleable

Web design is a constantly evolving form of design.

In almost every other form of design, once the artifact is made, that’s it. It’s done. Game over.

If an architect designs a building, once it is erected, it’s finished. There is no easy way to redesign it.

You can maintain a building, but it’s difficult to reassemble it, and not disturb all the people working inside of it.

But here’s what is so great about web design as opposed to other forms of design.

You can rebuild a site to make it easier for people to work, shop and do what they need to do, if you see a problem. You can even rebuild a website on a better foundation to make it work better, now and into the future.

Your site doesn’t need to be an inflexible monolith, that can never be improved. It can work for you &#8212 to better satisfy your customer base.

Redesigning With Purpose

Like the Frank Lloyd Wright quote says, nothing can be built without knowing the needs and use cases of everyone involved. That means the site owners, the people who maintain the structure, and the customers within.

Owners are sometimes baffled why I ask so many questions about their business. Why do I ask?

The more that I can know about the business I am designing a site for, the better I will be able to help them achieve their goals.

The goal is always to improve your business by making sure your website fully supports your business objectives.

Your website should be your most tireless and efficient employee. I need to know what actions the business profits from, so the website can assist in those tasks.

Hearing customer input also helps me determine what areas of a current website need the most improvement. Sometimes there is functionality missing, that customers wish was there.

Making your business website appealing and easy to use signals to customers that the business is trustworthy. Making sure the customer can find information or complete tasks they came there for means more sales for the business.

An empty building and a website with no visitors are both equally useless to the owners.

Gathering Information For A Flexible Future

The great architects of the past didn’t design their blueprints in a vacuum. They gathered as much information as they could — about the land they would be building on and who would be using the building. They had to know the constraints and limitations of the building site, and consider the needs of the tenants and landlords.

But what if those needs change over time?

As web consultants, we are used to design trends, marketing techniques and technology changing constantly. Change has been the one constant of the web.

When the needs of your business evolve, you don’t want to tear your whole website down to the ground and start over.

At the same time, you need a web structure in place that will adapt with your needs. Something that will scale with your business, so you don’t need to start from scratch every few years.

The best web designers will help you solve the issues of today, but will also build with an eye to the future. They know your website will continue to evolve, and they will plan for tomorrow, and not just the present moment.

The web consultants I respect talk more about business goals than they do web technologies, but are masters of both.

There are multitudes of people who can build a website, but few who can help you build your business. There are plenty of people with access to the tools, but few who build on stable ground.