The following is a TEDx talk with Brad Frost. The web designer, writer, and speaker delivers a perspective about why you should share what you create across the web. You should check out his blog and his Death to Bullshit talk about craft. Check out the full TEDx video here.
How the Web Changed Creation
Because it was so expensive to create, the focus was always on the final product. We only printed the good stuff. We only broadcasted or printed the final thing, leaving a vail of mystery around the process that led up to the final work.
This helped perpetuate this notion that only certain kinds of people can create things. And only certain kinds of things can be created.
And then came the web.
It’s totally, radically transformed every aspect of our society, including the nature of our creative process. The bi-directional nature of the web has given us new meaning and new answers to those questions.
Why we create? How we create? Who can create? And what can be created in the process?
What Makes the Web Successful
First, the web is ubiquitous. The web is meant for everyone regardless of race, religion, color, creed, geography, mobile carrier. The web is meant for everyone. That’s far and away its biggest super power.
It’s royalty free. It’s de-centralized. You don’t need to ask permission to publish a website. You don’t need to ask permission to link to another website. That’s an insanely powerful concept.
It’s built on open-standards and collaboration. Openness and big, messy collaboration.
And it’s in this collaborative world everyday where I like to immerse myself as a web designer. As the web’s evolved, the tools have evolved. We have tools like Wordpress, Medium, and Tumblr that make it dirt simple for anyone to publish their thoughts and ideas.
Our communication channels have gotten better. To email, to forums, and now Twitter.
Our tools for collaboration have gotten a lot better as well. The magic of Google Documents. Multiple authors working on the exact same document at the same time. That’s magic. Right?
Where in the programming world, tools like Git that allow multiple developers to work on the same piece of software without worrying about stepping on each others toes.
What this enables is a developer sitting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a developer sitting in Japan being able to collaborate on a project together.
And I think that’s fascinating.
Taking it a step further, we have tools like Github. Which makes it insanely easy for anyone to open source their code or open source their work for other people to use, to fix, to enhance, or to extend.
I think this just a tremendously powerful concept all brought about by the open nature of the web.
My friend Chris Coyier has a website called CSS-Tricks where he shares web design articles, tutorials, and resources. And on his site, he has a license which he calls his “super important legal document.”
(Read the license.)
Sharing What Works
I get terribly excited when I start to hear about this open mentality start to pour out into other aspects of society and other industries. But I still feel like we have a really long way to go.
I was recently talking to somebody that works at a giant hospital that does a lot of cancer research. And they were telling me that their donation form that allows people donate money to cancer research - they bumped up the font size of their donation form. By doing that they increased their donations by 20 percent.
And I was like “wow, that’s incredible. That’s amazing. Did you share that? That’s amazing insightful.”
They said “well, I’d like to, but they said we’re not allowed to because we’d lose our competitive advantage.”
Competitive advantage? Curing cancer.
What the hell is wrong with us. Right?
I think we need more examples of things being done openly, more information being shared by default.
Anybody that makes something - you know what an uncomfortable idea it is to share some of your work before it’s finished. It’s a really uncomfortable concept.
It also just incurs a lot of extra work. But it has tremendous advantages.
One, it forces you to articulate and justify the decisions that you make. But two, you’re not just sharing with your client, you’re not just sharing in your own little world, you’re sharing with the broader community.
And that community can provide really sound advice. It can validate and invalidate your decisions.
Taking that a step further in the web world. People can fix my stuff. And that’s incredible.
What I’ve found is that in a lot of cases, it’s actually easier for me to try to solve everyone’s problem rather than just my own.
Data Exhaust to Creative Exhaust
What data exhaust is sort of the by-product of our online activity. Every day we go online and we check out email, opening new tabs, clicking on things, completing tasks and all the while we’re leaving behind this giant wake of data.
And that data has value. That’s the data that big companies like Google, Facebook, and apparently even our government, are using to target ads at us and keep tabs on us.
But this idea that the by-product of our data has value, can be related to our creative processes.
Creative exhaust can have value. These by-products of the actual work itself can, in some cases, end up being more powerful than the work you do.
Opportunity to Share What You Know
I think we have a massive opportunity here to not just share our final works, but using tools like Dribble that allow graphic designers to share their works in progress with the world and get valuable feedback.
Tools like Instagram, which my buddy Tom uses here in Pittsburgh. He builds classic cars. And everyday he has hundreds of people flipping out over the quality of his welds. It’s sort of bizarre to witness from afar, but it’s amazing. He’s share his process and inspiring other people that share his craft.
Share blog posts about our techniques and processes. Share case studies about our successes and failures.
Make video tutorials. You can knit a hat. But what if you could inspire hundreds of other people to knit many more hats.
Giving things away for free - our design materials. Publishing our code on Github.
Even if you made a kick-ass meal for your family last night. There is the opportunity now to inspire other people to use that same recipe to make their own families happy.
It’s not about what you do, it’s about what you enable other people to do.
I think this is an incredibly powerful idea.
What’s better? Increasing donations to your site by 20 percent? Or figuring out a way for every non-profit to increase donations by 20 percent?
Has the Internet been a good thing or bad thing?
Recently Pew Research conducted a study as the web turns 25. And asked a very simple question - has the Internet been a good thing or bad thing?
Overwhelmingly, over 90 percent of people were like yeah the Internet has been a great thing. I would personally love to meet the 6 percent of people that said the Internet is a bad thing.
Having access to some of all human intelligence in my pocket at my finger tips sucks. Right?
The web is this amazing tool that helps facilitates the very things that society needs in order to flourish.
Openness. Communication. Collaboration.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be part of the medium that makes those things happen. I personally can’t think of a better problem to have to help sort out what the web is, where it can go, who it can reach, how it gets used, and why it matters so much.
3 Pieces of Advice
Work hard. Don’t be an asshole. Share what you know.
Thank you, Brad.