Making Matters 5 - Digital Ego

Chris and Thomas discuss how we can overcome our digital ego by using what’s out there, instead of reinventing the wheel.

Chris and Thomas are reunited to discuss the phenomenon of elitism in the web industry. We debate why we digital professionals should let go of our ego, and embrace what’s out there.

  • Why do some designers & developers attach such a stigma to tools like Squarespace?
  • When should you use a tool, and when should you build something yourself?
  • When can pride be harmful to your project’s success?
  • How can we work more quickly and efficiently?

Transcript

Intro

This time on Making Matters, we talk about how we can overcome our digital egos by using what’s out there instead of reinventing the wheel.

Chris

Hello again, and welcome to Making Matters! The podcast where we talk about user experience, web design, web development and all that exciting digital gubbins. My name is Chris Myhill and once again I’m joined by the gorgeously wonderful Thomas Edwards.

Thomas

Hello!

Chris

Hello Thomas, how was Christmas?

Thomas

It was lovely thank you. I got everything I wanted, and I got to see Star Wars.

Chris

Nice! Just a note that we probably spent the last hour and a quarter talking about Star Wars. There was a temptation to run it into this podcast as well.

Thomas

No spoilers.

Chris

No spoilers! The bit where Kylo Ren actually turns out to be her father, that was insane.

Thomas

*Laughs*. Aw!

Chris

*Laughs*. Cool. So, today we’re talking about ego! And big-headedness! As someone with an enormous ego, this is an issue or discussion that is very close to my heart.

Thomas

Specifically the stigma attached to using a tool. A tool that’s available to you. And why some people’s egos stop that from happening because they think that it’s beneath them… They don’t think it’s real web development, to use a tool that’s already out there.

Chris

We’ve seen an awful lot of these sorts of tools in the last couple of years in particular. If you have a computer, you have probably heard of squarespace. You have probably heard of Wix. These are out of the box tools that allow you to quickly put together websites using reusable templates. They’ve made the process of making websites much, much easier - and much more accessible to normal human beings.

That said, a lot of developers and designers get a bit huffy and a bit egotistical about tools like Squarespace and Wix because of their perceived ease. And that’s a bit of a puzzle to me.

Thomas

Yeah, it is strange. You’d think that people would just want to get on with stuff. To get on with the job at hand. But some people have a bit of an ego about it. They don’t want to use these tools that are perceived to be very, very easy. They see it as cheating, even.

And so they have this ego that prevents them from just getting on with it and trying it out.

Chris

There is an awful lot of elitism in design, development and digital. I don’t know why.

There are a lot of industries where we see ourselves as being makers. But I can’t think of many positions quite like web designers and web developers where they get their backs up at the idea of using website builders and frameworks.

Thomas

It’s weird isn’t it. I think part of it… and I’m going to be a little bit feminist here… I think it’s partly men’s fault?

Chris

*Gasp*. Oh no! You’re alienating our listeners! All five of them! We’re down to three now!

Thomas

Sorry men! *Laughs*. But if you go into other industries, say for example, cars… And you say, ok, what’s better a Golf, or a Mini? You’d go onto a forum and you’d type ‘Golf vs Mini’, and people will go MENTAL. Trying to battle through which one is better.

So I think it’s maybe a men thing? I don’t know, maybe there are women who do get their backs up about it? But the majority of angry, egotistical developers that I’ve met have been angry men.

Chris

Yeah… I mean, developers are just angry anyway. *laughs*.

I think part of the dilemma for developers in particular is a feeling that they’re being undermined by these tools. You think about how a traditional developer would have to spend a very long time learning to code, the ins-out-outs of these more complicated frameworks.

I think even if we’re thinking about some of these technologies like Wordpress and Drupal. When these were introduced they were a massive time saver for developers, but they still required a lot of learning to get your head around something like Drupal.

But take something like Squarespace or Wix, literally anyone can put together a website using something like this. In theory anyway. It’s one of the selling points of the service…. So I feel like a lot of ego comes around at the idea of using these tools because if you’ve spent several years of your life training to do something, and now everyone (in theory) can do it themselves. Even though they may not make quite as good as job as you’d like…. It’s a bit undermining.

Thomas

I think that’s at least a big proportion of why.

You don’t always need to build everything yourself. If you built everything yourself every time you did something, you wouldn’t get anywhere particularly fast. You’d be permanently trying to build basic language constructions… You’d never get anything done.

You get to this point where you have to make a decision. And that decision, I think, is based on what’s best for the person that you’re building it for.

Chris

The thing is with these website builders is that they make easier and more simple tasks a lot more straightforward.

Thomas

Yeah.

Chris

But there’s still plenty of room for custom development, and design for that matter, on more complicated untrodden ground. We don’t need to spend that much time making a simple brochure website anymore.

Thomas

Yes, I think that’s the point around who is this for and why are you doing it. If you’re within the industry, if you are an angry developer, say. And you’re trying to impress or talk to other angry developers… then there would be a huge amount of stigma if you built your site in Squarespace, for example.

That’s very difficult to try and explain to someone who you respect. “Why have you done it in Squarespace?” - it’s like a put down. And actually, we all get paid by the day, roughly speaking. Therefore, any time that you spend is equal to money that you spend.

If you’re working on a site and it takes you a day to build it in Squarespace, and it takes you two weeks to do it by yourself… You’re losing a lot of time there. And that’s your choice to make, but ultimately if the end product is exactly the same, you’ve wasted 9 days.

Chris

Absolutely, yeah. If my friend said to me : “Why have you done it in Squarespace? Don’t you know what you’re doing?”. I’d say : “Why would I not do it in Squarespace?”. Because if my client wants a simple, brochure-like website with a few different pages… If I can find a suitable Squarespace theme that does what I need, it’ll be much better than what I could build myself. It’ll be tested, it’ll be bug free… Because it’s drawing from a big community of developers and designers who have put a lot of time into it.

That then means I can get the job a lot faster, which means a happier client. But it also means that I can instead focus on other things. For instance, thinking about it from a design point of view. There’s less work for me to do on the layout because I’m using a theme that already exists. But, instead, I can spend more time focusing on the content. Or the navigation. Or the structure.

Thomas

Right, you can get on with it. And ultimately, that’s a much much bigger problem. And I think part of the reason that people put up a bit of a fence when it comes to using something out-the-box that’s a bit too easy, is that then they need to face the reality that they’ll have to get on with what they need to do.

For example I recently moved my blog to Squarespace. Because what I built it on before was very old, and I was like : “I just need a basic website. Something that promotes me, and have a few articles”. And so I thought I’d try out one of these ‘headless-CMS’ platforms that I’ve been writing about recently. They’re very cool, very useful, particularly in corporate companies. There’s a lot of use for them there. Or why don’t I try out something completely mental like Amazon S3 with blah blah blah.

I’m coming up with all of these technical ideas for what I could do. But ultimately, all of these things stop me from getting on and writing. That’s it. They’re all excuses. Ultimately people will go onto my website, they’ll read some articles and they may contact me. That’s the goal.

I just need to get on with it then. I just need to start writing content. And so I thought, I’m just going to use Squarespace. That was the goal, and I got through to doing it. But it took me ten years of making my own websites to realise, do you know what… This isn’t worth doing. I need to let go. But it’s hard to do!

Chris

Yeah. I think you just need to ask yourself, “what is the goal of my site?”. The goal is to publish content people want to read, attract people, and get contact from potential clients. Maybe.

Thomas

Hopefully.

Chris

Definitely. *Laughs*.

So who gives a shit what it’s built in? It’s a means to an end.

Thomas

Exactly. And as a developer, there are definitely things that i don’t like… But, you don’t have the absolute finite control that you would have doing it yourself. And so that’s trade-off for me.

That’s the reason why I poo-poo’d it at first. Because I thought that “I can’t do this one thing”. But the conclusion I came to was that, well - if I don’t use it, I won’t have a website. I won’t publish and content, I won’t get any visitors, and nobody will want to hire me. And I wouldn’t be able to live.

So step one was just to get something up there with Squarespace. Step two is to maybe migrate away from it. But there are, I think, advantages to using platforms that are better than trying to build things from scratch. So you can migrate away from Squarespace once your business has grown and you need something more complicated.

And the same thing applies for e commerce, where there are actually advantages. You don’t need to make your own site.

If you make something, like a physical product you sell online, you could use a service like Etsy. A lot of companies employ teams of people just to manage their Etsy shop. And they wouldn’t have any traffic if they WEREN’T on Etsy. Yeah fine, they don’t have their own shop. They don’t have their own Shopify site (which is actually quite easy to do). But they have an audience they wouldn’t otherwise get if they were trying to do things themselves.

Ok fine, maybe if you’re a bigger company and you’ve got huge amounts of stock, then maybe Shopify is more appropriate. But I have noticed that quite a few bigger brands now but their outlet shop on Ebay. And it makes sense, when you think about it. You’re just to connecting people who are looking for value… and they’re on Ebay anyway. So you might as well just connect the dots, and go straight to those people where they are in the first place.

So yeah, it’s not just using these platforms because they’re easier… Sometimes they’re better. That’s a great reason for doing it.

Chris

Better in many ways. Y’know, Ebay have a huge user experience and development team. They’re constantly making sure the UI is awesome. They’re testing it. They’re making sure it’s all optimised, super fast and accessible.

It’s taking so much off your plate. If you’re a small business who’s chief concern is selling your product… you don’t want to be wasting all your time managing a bespoke ecommerce website. If you can be using something else to take all that away from you, then you’ve saved yourself a bunch of time and money. Which you can then focus on other parts of your work.

Thomas

Yeah. And again, we get paid by the day. Or, if you’re a small business you get paid by the thing you ship. You don’t want to be sitting there worrying about the new iphone. “The new iphone has come out, and now my app doesn’t work… Great!”. But if you’re on someone else’s platform, it’s their job to make sure that the new phone works. And then you can just carry on making what it is you make, and you don’t need to worry about it.

Chris

Yeah. If you’re selling something relatively straightforward like designer coasters (I’m looking at a coaster that’s sitting on the table), then you don’t need anything too complicated.

I mean, sure, if you’re selling made to order curtains then you’re going to need some very specific functionality. That’s why big companies like Marks & Spencer, John Lewis or whoever will probably custom build the made to order curtains component of their site. And that’s completely fair enough because they’re a big business with a very specific need.

For must of us though…

Thomas

Yeah. Ultimately the web works in certain ways. You’re going to have a login. You’re going to have a logo. You’re going to have a menu. They’re going to be in certain places because that’s where we know people know to look for them… So you have to keep it quite restricted. But as soon as you do that, people kind of panic. Because their ego gets in the way. They’re like “I want to be different! I want to be new!”.

Chris

“We can’t possibly use the bootstrap navigation UI! We’ve got to do something cool, and we’re paying you to design something!”.

Thomas

“I want to be magical! And whizzy! I want to have pop… and bang!”.

Chris

… The fact is that user interface design has been around for a while now. And we have figured the best way to do things for a lot of UI conventions. That’s why the idea of design patterns exists in the first place.

So something that’s a really established pattern, like a login screen, you don’t have to reinvent that every time you design one. And chances are that someone else has done that same thing already, and they’ve done it as well as you could hope to do it… You know, they’ve tested and researched it.

We’ve got to put our obligatory GDS mention into every podcast that we do… So, GDS (that’s the UK government’s digital service), they spend gazillions of pounds of user research. And it’s all really good stuff. It’s through that user research, which they have to publish, they find the best way of doing things. For instance, the research that they’ve done into form design and how you should be breaking tasks up into separate steps, and how you should be position labels, tooltips and so on. They’ve researched that to the Nth degree. And they’ve shared that best practice. You would be a real idiot-head not to be using that.

And it’s only pride that gets in the way. People ignoring that, and wanting to do their own crazy, wacky thing. And… there’s a place for that, where people can think outside of the box…

Thomas

Oh yeah, you never want to get to the point where you’re closing yourself off so much that you are refusing to do things in a better way.

Chris

No, but if there’s an established convention of way of doing things that’s available to me, I’m gonna take that. It’s for the same reason we keep banging on about, which is that it will save time for me to spend on other stuff.

I can focus on doing the rest better. I can do my job more quickly and efficiently. That’s what it’s all about. Design patterns, and tools like these website builders and ecommerce platforms… They exist to make our lives easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to have nothing to do. There’s still plenty of work to do. The industry won’t die off because our work is getting more convenient.

To use an analogy… The cake industry, the baking industry. It didn’t die out when instant cake mix was invested. There are easier ways of doing things that doesn’t necessarily mean that the industry is dead.

Thomas

There was a fantastic article on a subreddit that I follow, I think it’s called ‘networking’. And one of the topics that got a lot of very bemused replies was : “now that DevOps has automated everything, what are you doing with your free time?”. Ultimately, nobody has got any more free time. Because all people are doing now is managing the automation. People aren’t just sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

But, what it means is that we can do things way more complicated than before. 10 years ago you might pay someone to have a tiny portion of a server somewhere. And you’d have to look after it like it were a toddler. Now you don’t have to do that. Now someone else does it for you. It helps you make things much more complicated, and you can use content delivery networks, and stuff that 10 years ago only Apple and Microsoft would have been able to use.

This idea that you’re going to run out of things to do is rubbish really, because there’ll be something better to do.

Chris

Yeah. I might save a lot of time if I’m front-ending a site when I’m pinching a lot of stuff from codepen, or I’m borrowing from things other developers or designers have shared. That’ll save me time so I can come up with something original and groovy, and share that with the wider community again. They can then borrow that and repeat the same process. And it means that the industry and the products we make get better, because we’re all sharing and shortcutting.

Thomas

Exactly. Ultimately, sharing is the best way of overcoming an ego. Because it solves quite a few problems.

First of all it gets it out there. It forces you to finish it. One of my biggest problems in life is failing to finish something. I love starting things, but I find it harder to finish.

Chris

How’s that blog post going?

Thomas

Blog post is going great! *Laughs*. You mean the one that’s half-finished, live on my site right now? Yeah that’s great.

Chris

It’s the MVP that’s live right now. *Laughs*.

Thomas

Yeah that’s it! MVP! Get it out there.

But yeah, in order to share something you at least need to finish it to the point where you can share it. Just doing that alone means that, if the goal is just to finish I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. I’m not going to invest my own framework. I’m just going to get something working so I can show it to people. So sharing helps enormously.

The other thing about sharing is that someone else can then take what you’ve done and improve it. Or give you an idea that you didn’t have before. A long time ago I met this guy at a conference who was around in the very early days of the web. And he shared a flat with somebody who was working with Sir Tim Berners Lee. This was about 1990 or 1989. Tim showed up at their flat once with the idea for a BR tag, which in HTML is a line break, basically. They designed it on his kitchen table, this guy. They were like, “what happens when you’re half-way through a paragraph and you need to…”.

Anyway, this guy told me something really interesting which has stuck with me for a long time. He said, your idea is not just your idea. And if you tell people your idea it doesn’t matter. Because they will never do it the same way you would. Even if you told someone the entire plot for a film, if they were to go film it it would be completely different to how you would do it. So you should never be afraid to share anything. Because even if you’re scared that someone might take your ‘amazing idea’, frankly someone else has already thought of it, if it’s really that good.

Or, they’ll make it better. And that’s the best thing that can come out of anything if you’re sharing. I spend frickin’ ages building a huge massive framework for a project, and it’s got 10 features, And I launch it, and I share it, and people tell me that 9 of those are rubbish, but one is really good. If you’d have just shared it earlier, you wouldn’t have had to go to all that effort.

So that idea of sharing means that, yeah ok fine, maybe your ego takes a hit. Because hopefully people are honest and tell you what’s rubbish. But you just need to take that. But I’d say that’s one of the best ways to get over your ego. So, this idea of having an ego, of wanting people to know it’s your idea, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t matter.

Ultimately if you’re the right person and you do the right thing then people will come back to you. And that’s more important.

Chris

Mmm. If your work is good enough, you’ll get recognised for it. But that will not happen unless your work is good enough. And that will not happen unless you get help. We all need a bit of help sometimes.

Thomas

We all need a bit of help.

Chris

So, what have we learned…?

Thomas

*Awkward silence*.

Chris

*Laughter*. Great, that’s staying in. We’ll not edit that. Um.

Thomas

We’ve learned that people need to get over their egos. And that they can by sharing, experimenting, and getting to the goal of making something and getting it out there. And that they should, because they’re able to do things to a higher state of mind, so to speak. Or, they’ll have more free time — and then you’ll be more relaxed and be in a better place to have a great idea. And it continues.

Chris

Yeah. And tools like Squarespace, Wix, Shopify (all of these people, if you want to sponsor us because your products are awesome, feel free *laughs*), they’re all a means to an end.

And if you can shortcut your workflow by using them, and likewise by sharing and borrowing other people’s work… do it!. Because… We’re here to make stuff.

Thomas

And if you’re not making stuff… You’re not making stuff. So get on with it! *Laughs*.

Stop listening to this podcast! And get on with it!

Chris

*Laughs*. Right! Go away!

….There you go, they’ve gone. And on that happy note… If you’re still here, and you haven’t gone off to make something…. That’s it.

Thomas

Oh wait, we haven’t done the twitter thing.

Chris

Oh yeah, the twitter thing. Let’s do the twitter thing.

Thomas. Where can you be found on that crazy interweb?

Thomas

So I’m @thomasedwards on twitter. I always say the @ for some reason. And thomasedwards.co.uk if you want to read my half-finished Squarespace blog. Well, one article is half-finished. Work in progress.

Chris

Get feedback on it!

Thomas

Give me feedback on my half-finished article!

Chris

And then you can like, flip-out completely. *Laughs*.

Thomas

Yeah with my big ego.

Chris

*Laughs*. And I’m @justuxdesign.

Thomas

So until next time. Is that what you say?

Chris

Yeah I guess so. Bye!

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Chris Myhill, an incredibly handsome UX designer who heads up Just UX Design

Chris Myhill

Chris heads up Just UX Design with 10 years of experience creating digital products and managing design teams.

He’s worked on loads of different projects, using UX wizardry to help businesses make better products.

Learn more about Chris

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