We Are The Medium

People who work on the web often find it difficult to put a name on what they actually do. Are we web designers? Interaction designers? Interface designers? I still haven’t quite figured out what I am. But that’s because we haven’t quite defined the web yet either. Is it a network of sites? A string of interactions? A sequence of interfaces?

It’s all of these things. The web is what we make it. It’s a collection of ideas, thoughts and stories, but we are the ones who dictate what those ideas are, and how they’re communicated. We get to shape the entire medium. We create the content, create the form and create the implementation. We shape the web. We’re not “web designers”, we’re “web shapers”.

This is a rare opportunity — so few other mediums have that direct connection between content and implementation. In the film industry, you might write a script, but that must go through producers, directors, actors, marketers and censors before finally becoming anything — it will never be exactly what you write, but if you’re lucky, it will be identifiable as your work. On the web, you create, and that becomes the web — or at least part of it.

Given this great power, we also have great responsibility. A responsibility to move the web forward. Because of this direct connection, our medium can change so much faster than any other. And it’s our job to ensure that it does.

So how should we go about doing that? Simple — create. Simon Collison often talks about designing responses, rather than solutions. We have to design responses. If we only create the solutions, progress stops. The solution is not the answer. A solution is something believed to be “correct” based on current contexts. But to progress, we need to change the contexts. We need to create responses that fail. Responses that astound, confound, but, above all, delight. That challenge perceptions.

We need to create things that are incomplete. If we build for completion, we leave no room for future building. On the web, there is a belief that what we build is temporary, that it can never outlive us. And in a sense, that may be true. But our ideas can outlive us. We build something, which is built upon by somebody else, which is in turn built upon by somebody else again. The web is the greatest example of an open source technology, and it is our responsibility to maintain this — make our designs open. Make our ideas open.

We are the medium. The medium is the message. We are the message.

Let’s make our message count.

Nov 19, 2012