Grounded & Steadfast

The journal of Chris Bowler, a collection of thoughts on faith, business, design, and the creative process.

Hammers Are Sucking the Soul From Carpentry

Imagine someone using a headline or statement like that? As if a hammer, or any other tool used by a craftsmen of wood products, would be given so much credit that it greatly affected the usefulness and quality of the end product.

Let’s use an example that’s closer to home. Copywriting is taking the life out of web design! Right. As if well written, carefully crafted words that evoke the right tone and cleverly communicate the nature of the business or service contained within a web site will ruin it.

Can we all agree that any end product is more greatly influenced by the one wielding the tools, rather than the tools themselves. It's 2013. There are a whole lot of tools and techniques required to make a website turn out well, and a whole lot of ways one can go wrong. Just as blaming publishing tools for bad writing is misguided, so too is blaming frameworks or methodologies for a design that is lacking.

But that’s what Noah Stokes did last week:

I feel like responsive design has sucked the soul out of website design. Everything is boxes and grids. Where has the creativity gone?

One result of this statement was a good discussion on the topic. Unfortunately, the discussion spent half its life defining exactly what Noah actually meant with his statement.

Words Matter

Noah followed up this thoughts in a long form blog post later on. It turns out that he doesn't actually believe that RWD is sucking the soul from web design. Rather:

I did however want to elaborate a bit more on my thoughts, as I think they are not about RWD as a methodology but more about the visual trends/aesthetics that are dominating our industry right now …

That's better. I understand his tweet though. We’ve all seen something during our work day, then spat out a short, caffeine fuelled tweet that never fully communicated our thinking. I'm so, so guilty of this! The problem is, we can use tools like twitter to make these statements without fully working out the problem or solution in our mind.

That’s why I love the long(er) form blog post. It gives you time to clarify your thoughts, to hone your thinking on the subject. How many times I've started out a post with one conclusion intended, to only change my thinking during the writing of my thoughts. Or, more often, to more clearly identify the problem.

Noah is right. There is a lot of copying in web design (there always has been). Every time I come across a new site with a fixed nav bar and multiple sections of content on a long vertical page I feel like it’s time for something new. I can imagine exactly how he felt when he crafted his tweet.

But his answers to the folks in the Branch discussion and his blog post prove that he actually thinks differently than his original statement indicated. He hadn't taken the time to flesh out that thought fully.

Words matter. Whether it copy for a site, a blog post, or a tweet, we'd all do well to carefully consider our words before throwing them out to the world.

Opinions Are Subjective

Some opinions are just preference. One man’s soulful design is another woman’s soulless wasteland. Noah was asked for some examples of sites that exude ’soul’. His answer listed several sites that I would definitely consider to be well done, but I wouldn't associate then with the word soul.

We’re all different, so of course, certain words will evoke different emotions or associations for each of us.


Noah Stokes is a craftsman, one I greatly respect. Please don't read my words above to believe otherwise. Reading the Branch conversation last week simply got my brain churning along these lines.

RWD or any other tool are simply one more thing we can use to meet our intended goal. But in the end, words are the primary tool of the web designer, for with them we communicate our purpose to the audience. And it's the same for Twitter, this blog, or any form of conversation.

Words matter … we have to use them with care.