Something dawned on me as I listened to the speakers at HOW Interactive Design Conference in Washington, D.C., just a few weeks ago. It’s not that I didn’t already know it, but it never occurred to me just how important this thing is to what we do: There’s a sort of “middle knowledge” to web design. It’s in between the stuff that is easily categorized, like core design principles, programming languages, front-end development techniques, etc.
What Connects Designers and Developers in Interactive Design
I suppose you could file it under “process,” but I’m not sure that quite gets at what it really is. After all, most people think of process as a kind of recipe: Take these steps, use these tools, and so on. But what I’m referring to is more obscure than following steps, and it’s not insignificant. In fact, this stuff is the dark matter of web design. It’s everywhere, but we don’t quite understand it well enough to reduce it down to “Five Simple Steps to Getting Things Done.”
I’m talking about how knowledge moves between people—particularly designers and developers—and how that is both the most abstract attribute of a project and the single greatest influence upon whether it will succeed or not.
This “dark matter,” if you will, was also the thread connecting every session and every nugget of truth shared on the conference room floor. The voices of our D.C. presenters are still in my head. “We’re entering an era of fluid information…designing means letting go of absolute control,” Andy Fitzgerald shared. And, David Sherwin said, “Every habit is an entry point into another habit.” Alexa Curtis: “Research is everyone’s job.” Eric Karjaluoto: “Abandon convention; agree upon a destination.” Dan Hon: “Technology does not have to be dehumanizing.”
And yet, there’s always the crushing weight of concrete reality. As Jenn Lukas so masterfully made plain: “Sometimes fixing things breaks things.” What’s the connection here? The connection is the connection. The designer AND developer. The information they hold. The perspective they have. The roles they perform. It doesn’t matter if it’s two people, two teams or two things that one person does. They are fundamentally different. Not opposed, really, but different modalities. This middle knowledge is what keeps the forces in harmony.
Though this connection was embedded in every talk given in DC—and will be given in Chicago and San Francisco—it eludes the bullet points that can be flashed up on a screen and prompted the same admonition from every speaker: Go and do and you will learn how. But follow one simple rule: Care about what the other person needs and create space to make sure they get it. No matter who the “other person” is — whether she’s a designer, a developer or a user — this “golden rule” fills all the gaps. Knowledge gaps. Process gaps. Role gaps. Platform gaps. Empathy gaps.
If you’re considering joining us in Chicago or San Francisco, ask yourself what gaps you need to fill. Do you need to know how things work? How to do new things? How to collaborate? How to grow in your understanding of the bigger picture? How to move forward in your career?
This stuff is more than a tutorial can provide; it’s what community is for. So I encourage you to join our community. Come and learn from people we’ve invited precisely because they know about the dark matter and live by that golden rule of interactive design: Care about what the other person needs and create space to make sure they get it. We’re making a space like that. Come tell us what you need.