Power to the user!

Montage image showing portrait of Anthony in front of a rainbow backdrop with html code superimposed over parts of the image

Originally published for Creative Folkestone's Tech Week in June 2020.

I love technology. I was instantly attracted to it as a child, ever since my siblings bought a Commodore 64 computer (yes, I'm that old). Games would take about three to five minutes to load from the tape deck, but I couldn't stop myself from staring at the multitude of coloured bars dancing on the screen to the staccato bursts of beeping and buzzing sounds. In between playing Way of the Exploding Fist, Pitstop II and Impossible Mission, I would tentatively experiment with computer programming. I would marvel at being able to type words on the screen and then make the sentence repeat endlessly.

During my college and university years, the bulk of the coursework was created painstakingly by hand. Hand rendering fonts and painting tiny neat squares of gouache paint to learn typography and colour theory respectively was no easy feat. Laying out a magazine spread by cutting and pasting images and blocks of text onto paper was also challenging. I did my dissertation on an electric typewriter. Back then, it was a life-saver and thanks to teaching myself some touch typing skills; it was also faster than writing by hand. It wasn't until my final year at university that I bought my very first computer. It felt like a new world had opened up inside that tiny 15" CRT monitor. I could do the things that I had previously learnt by hand in less than half the time on the computer, once I learned to use the software, that is. 

My professional career started in graphic design for print, where the use of computers became a necessity as design rapidly moved from analogue to digital. Technology became more and more advanced, and Adobe slowly and steadily grew to become the monopoly on industry-standard graphic design, illustration and photo manipulation software applications. Some tasks became more comfortable and faster to execute with a higher standard of output. Eventually, I gravitated towards working with the web, which was also changing rapidly. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript were becoming more advanced and globally standardised. Companies like Microsoft, Mozilla and later on, Google, built web browsers that took advantage of the new code developments. Not only was it becoming more accessible for new designers to use software applications, but it was also becoming easier for non-designers to pick up the same tools and do their own thing without formal training. Fast forward to now, and it is clear that modern technology has the power to democratise the creation of digital design. We have never been so spoilt for choice.

I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't admit that I have occasional pangs of anxiety when I consider how DIY web-building platforms may affect my profession.

After spending years working in various design studios, I have recently transitioned into the role of a self-employed web and graphic designer, working from the comfort of my own home while catering to small businesses and creative individuals. It would not have been possible to do this without the standard of technology that we have today. Fast broadband internet, a powerful computer, modern graphics, code editing and video conferencing apps all enable me to become a one-person creative studio. This technology is especially useful in the age of the global pandemic where social distancing has temporarily become the new norm, and most people are stuck indoors.

Despite its merits, technology can be a double-edged sword, be both an enabler for my prosperity and a threat to my professional existence. This sense of duality is particularly pertinent for me during the journey of my self-employment and the simultaneous rise of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) website builders. Platforms like Squarespace, WordPress and Wix, to name a few, give non-web designers the ability to create their websites from professionally pre-built templates, potentially without the need to employ a professional designer. Some platforms offer a completely free service at the sacrifice of having to feature ads on the website, making the DIY approach the most affordable and sustainable option when you are starting up your new business. 

However, I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't admit that I have occasional pangs of anxiety when I consider how DIY web-building platforms may affect my profession. If my prospective client can build their website by themselves, why would they need me? What does this mean for my role in the creative industry? Could the advancement of technology in web and graphic design tools eventually put me out of business? When those moments of anxiety occur, I need to remember to take a deep breath and reflect. I am a trained professional at what I do, just as the prospective client is a qualified professional at what they do. Neither of us can do each other's job effectively without spending a great deal of time learning the ropes first.

For some, the DIY website would be ideal because it is the cheapest option to get them up and running. However, it could also be a false economy as they would need to learn essential design principles as well as the technical aspects of the platform to be able to launch a website effectively. Furthermore, free options that feature ads and use a generic domain name don't come across as professional and detract from the potential client's uniqueness. It's great to learn new things, but at the end of the day, time is money, and sometimes time spent elsewhere leads to missed opportunities.

To keep on top of my anxiety, I also have to remember that by offering value to the prospective client, my services are less likely to become redundant, even when technology becomes more advanced. By getting to know their goals and aspirations and combining them with my knowledge and experience, I can create a strategic solution that saves them time while making a return on their investment. They can free-up time to focus on what they do best. It's a triple-win; for me, for them, and for their customers. All with the aid of modern technology, which has empowered me also to help empower my client. Phew! Panic over. For now.