Making the Case for an Independent Web
Part One of Two
I had the opportunity to sit down with a reporter from a local paper yesterday and do an interview about Thematizer. I had some talking points thought out ahead of time, but when you’re in the moment and you’re trying to answer somebody’s questions, prepared nuggets of information don’t quite seem to cut it.
The big question I keep coming back to, for somebody who is not computer-literate or all that familiar with the web, is why building another software tool is important. After all, we’re drowning in information already — for-profit, not-for-profit, proprietary, open-source. Our options for apps, editors, and interactive experiences seem at first glance limitless.
Venture a little further into the world of code and you will discover that there are a finite number of languages and toolsets applied for the vast majority of development projects. You will also discover that expert visual designers and user experience professionals are sought after as much so, and often more so, than top programmers. What’s more — although there are approximately 260,000 graphic design jobs in the United States and 343,700 computer science jobs — most graphic designers are not trained to design for the web, but work instead in the shrinking, economically imperiled print sector.
The end result is that to build an original application that looks really good and is full-featured and usable, you need a large budget. In fact, you are probably working for an advertising agency or a large corporation. Meanwhile, thousands of recent graduates have have fabulous graphics skills but no way to interface directly with programmers. The process of working together, when tried at all, feels like pulling teeth. The two professions simply do not know how to communicate the information that helps them both to do their jobs.
Web development is a new field, so the methods and processes for collaboration that we see in art forms like film or music simply have not had time to evolve.
If graphic designers and programmers are not able to talk to each other, tomorrow’s online spaces will be built largely to corporate specifications. Concerns about privacy and freedom of expression can mostly go out the window. Opportunities for creativity and risk taking will also diminish. Open-source web platforms like WordPress and Drupal that are geared toward end users will find themselves at a disadvantage, as graphic designers jump ship for proprietary platforms that offer the promise of custom design.
Thematizer will make it easy to build a great, custom look-and-feel for a Drupal or WordPress website — with about the same time and effort that is required to produce an original design for a concert poster, an album cover, or a business card. Designers understand these media because they are physical and bounded. They know the rules: where the margins and the bleeds lie, what they cannot and cannot do, what will result in tripling the cost of the final job, and what will save the client money. Until now, gleaning the same information about a web design in progress has required either an existing programming background advanced psychic skills — designers are typically given no parameters at all, and then criticized when the design they propose turns out to be time consuming or unwieldy to implement.
Unlike do-it-yourself web design tools, Thematizer makes it easier for designers and programmers to collaborate directly. Hence, art meets code. Because the templates that designers use are themselves open source, developers can modify the code if a different feature set or layout is desired, or to support additional templates such as new implementation on a mobile device. Because Thematizer templates generate clean, editable CSS, developers can make small changes to the design quickly and on the fly, without having to wade through bulky, difficult-to-read auto-generated markup of the type typically generated by commercial visual web editors (WYSIWYGS) such as DreamWeaver.
At the very least, our goal is to build neat tools to download that will make building visually interesting websites easier and a lot more fun. If we do our jobs right, then we’ll also get people talking to each other.