It is fascinating the varying ways in which we describe our industry. As a juvenile discipline that is nebulous in its boundaries we struggle to create words to define ourselves. So we are inevitably forced to search for analogues.
Lately we have seen a rise in the use of the word ‘craftsmanship’ to describe our work. This term evokes various positive adjectives—hand-crafted, quality, unique, personal, bespoke—and can be seen as part of a broader appreciation of the art of making. I’m as guilty as the next person for appropriating this word but I am increasingly feeling that ‘craftsmanship’ has become an unhelpful term for describing what we do.
The first problem is that if we choose to see the web designer as artisan then we begin to see the website as artefact. This objectification of websites leads to fetishism—where we come to value a 400 x 300 pixel screenshot* more than a moment of interaction, a subtle change in navigation, an engaging feedback message, a beautifully executed form submission. We lust after representations rather than relishing the substances that they are composed from and the processes that inform them. And we come to see ourselves as the peddlers of goods rather than services.
Secondly, the word craftsmanship is bound up with a particular practice of working and, more importantly a particular practice of learning: a practice that emphasises repetition and mastery and the passing of knowledge from one (the master) to another (the apprentice). Of course we refine our technique with doing; practice makes perfect. But is it not the ultimate beauty of working on the web that we can never be its master? There will always be something new to learn, always tools and technologies that change, new devices to support, new audiences to accommodate.
The world wild web has always been a fluid medium. It is time to stop objectifying it and accept that mastery is a fool’s errand. We work in the digital space: we don’t make things by hand, most of us teach ourselves and we don’t need to borrow labels from other disciplines to evoke pride and quality in what we do.
*other dimensions are available