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Professionalism and change

Published on Monday, 26 February 2007
People are social creatures. They are also creatures by which change can be a hard and involving event, to the point of causing stress, anxiety, anger and other forms of socially unacceptable behaviour. Yet the mark of a true professional is to deliver and mitigate any potential damage from change, be that change be in regards to relationship breakdown, or in regards to circumstances within the marketplace and bazaar. So what does that mean for us as web designers, developers and implementers ?
Web development and design remains an industry in infancy, still learning from the established artistic and librarian professions as to where and when it defines itself. To be a web professional, in the true sense of the word, the following things must be evident, from where I stand:

Part of professional membership

To be a consummate professional, one in the very least has to contain knowledge about the fundamentals of the web, and to have certain skills, usually found in a membership body like AIWA or WIPA. As such, a true web professional cares about the ethical standpoint of the client. After all, they are in a position of authority over the client, and once they recognise that they have such authority, they must, at all times, use that knowledge and skill wisely. Knowledge is power, and the way we share our knowledge reflects on how we demonstrate professionalism. As knowledge is indeed power, especially when considering novice web users, it is the duty of a professional to warn about impending or ongoing issues.  Without warning, there is no education as to what is truth and what is falsehood in terms of marketing, design, implementations, cost, licencing or content. This is why the duty of a professional can cause disruption and dissent in major projects.
Other professions, like architecture, to name one, are really sustained and forwarded by criticism. If you open a graphics magazine from the last 30 years, there never seems to be any criticism, just attractive biographies and that's it. Do you think we can go on without criticism ? Without criticism, we will never have a profession.
Massimo Vignelli, 1983
Professionals have the responsibility given to them to speak and educate out of knowledge, not out of expediency or personal advantage to you as a web designer or developer. Whilst it may be recognised that the knowledge present may be partial, so the collective knowledge present within a profession can grow, change and mature over time. This is a good thing. It helps web professionals speak with an authority that comes from recognising the mistakes of the past, derived from the collective knowledge present inside the membership, and helps educate those around them towards a common goal and grounding of good works.

Upholding the credibility of the web

As a web professional, you not only hold responsibility to the client, but also to the wider web community in making sure your word completed advances the credibility of the web as a whole. In  this way, the oft quote comment about web standardistas is a true reflection of this  ideal in action. If people didn't care about the way the web looked, felt, acted, responded, and just worked, we  would probably have  the design and content of Geocities from 1993 mixed with Myspace from 2005. Sure, these sites mentioned are popular  because of their naive interface to novice web users, but they fundamentally fail at providing a meaningful  user experience beyond  popularity contests and ego-searching. A web professional  should be honourable, even when they recognise their  own  skills and  knowledge is lacking in some areas.  Conscience matters.   As a web professional, you are representing the best the web has to offer, not merely making a quick buck by pitching one  thing in marketing and delivering another. Certain actions  by those who call themselves web professionals or web leaders should be eschewed as a sign of honour and intent to uphold the best of  the web. This  is also reflected in how  web  professionals should deal and relate to each other. As criticism is part of  any appreciable change and growth, the responsibility is on both parties to understand the intent.

Upholding the past

To be an effective professional, one must recognise where we have come from. The web industry, whilst new, already has professional advocates inside it's ranks in terms of web standards, web accessibility and the nature of the web. In this way, whatever work by a professional that advances the web should be in step with Tim Berners-Lee intent that the web be universally accessible in order that knowledge be shared freely. This brings us back to the standardista's who seek to uphold the original intent of the web, even when developers mix Javascript, XML and other technology to create products that look more like spaghetti than a document your 70 year old grandmother could read.

Without conviction in your skills as a professional and as an advocate for the web, and without trust in your integrity by peers and collegues across the web, the community and social network that is associated with the web industry may be reduced to a marked cynicism. This has happened once already with the DotCom bubble, and may yet happen again thanks to the web 2.0 hype. Therefore it is in the best interest of the web professional to not only guard web development and design from such events happening, but also to advance, champion and educate their fellow colleagues throughout the web as to what truly matters.
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