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Hi. All my current writing is over at Audacious Fox, and I'd love to show you around. Thanks for reading.

On the Shoulders of Giants

The very first website I ever designed was the horrifically-named Linkag3verywhere.com. I built it with the intention of displaying a curated list of links to online games, websites and articles I found interesting. I gave the address out to my cousins and friends, and remember being thrilled to see the (mostly generated directly by me) page visits go up every day. I still have the Linkag3verywhere.com code in a folder of archived projects, and every now and again I’ll go pull up the original design.

It was terrible.

As I’m sure any designer can attest, the first foray into the world of web design left much to be desired in terms of final product. Nonetheless, I had a passion to improve, so I spent hours online finding websites I thought were well designed and peeking in at their source code. The fact that every cool design trick I saw was only a click away made the whole experience of learning the craft intoxicating.

As I improved, I got to a point where people would actually pay me for the work I did. I decided that I needed a logo for myself, something official that would inspire confidence in my abilities. As I began sketching, I felt incredibly lucky being born into the family name “Dreger” given that the alliteration between “Dreger” and “design” was pleasing to both hear and say. Going off of a double-D letterform, I eventually settled on a draft I was happy with and went about polishing the pixels. Once a final design had been reached I, very proud of my work, showed it to a group of classmates and a teacher. With a smile on my face, I explained the process I took and the subtitles behind the concept. When I finished, I expected a pat on the back and nods of approval, but what I actually got was incredibly disheartening. My logo, although unique to my eyes, bared an unknowingly-inspired look from the DC Shoes icon. One of my friends immediately pointed this out, and a quick Google search showed the dreadful similarity. My logo instantly felt cheap, and I felt embarrassed. When I got back to my laptop, I promptly removed any trace of the identity from my website.

I still remember the embarrassment to this day. In fact, it stopped me from designing anything for the next couple weeks. Instead, becoming absorbed in my school work, I ignored the little moments of inspiration that hit me throughout the day — casting them as just another opportunity to unknowingly copy someone else’s idea and suffer ridicule for it.

I’m glad to have now matured past that ideology of thinking. For even though I eventually got back to coding and pushing pixels, my hiatus was unjustly taken and an insult to my own creativity. It was only later on I was exposed to the idea that Everything is a Remix. That even though originality is the purest form of creation, most of what I will ever accomplish pays both tribute, in spirit and being, to the work of others.

Although my arrival to the remix notion was later than others, Isaac Newton beat us all to the idea when he eloquently put, “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” While Newton was undoubtedly speaking about the physicists and mathematicians that came before his time, the web design culture today is a fantastic example of his sentiment. In fact, what’s so wonderful about our field is that some of the individuals I consider my “giants” are actually younger than myself.

In addition to the idea that everything we build is a remix of someone else’s work, I’d like to reflect on some of the qualities I’ve noticed these “giants” tend to have.

First and foremost, a Giant has an innate ability to adapt and persevere through difficult moments in life. All of the great things that we, Team Human, have ever accomplished were not easily obtained. Accompanying that sentiment, the attitude one must have when approaching something difficult is to Embrace the Suck and push through.

Giants seem to thrive off these demanding situations, and we already have hundreds of examples of what can happen when they eventually overcome them. Another quality I admire of the Giants is their never-ending source of inspiration on which to draw from for new ideas.

However, one of the paradigms designers get caught in is thinking inspiration only comes from browsing new work and content within our field. I’m a fan of Dribbble, but I don’t often go there when I’m looking to satisfy a need for “inspiration.” I’ve found that if you want true inspiration, you need to widen your view beyond the resolution of your monitor.

For me, I read, draw, or play the piano. It is said that Wolfgang Mozart loved to do card tricks and Leonardo da Vinci had a passion for riding horses. Going outside your field of work can do wonders for your inspiration, as it exposes you to the stories outside your own. At the very least, shut your computer off and take a walk outside. Heck, maybe even leave your phone as well.

The final thing I’ve noticed about Giants is less a quality of their character, and more a statement about their online personas. I’ve often found that some of the Giants whose blogs or Twitter feeds I visit are infrequently updated. However, this should never to be take as a negative thing. It doesn’t mean the Giant is too lazy to update their site, rather they’re too busy building awesome things to stop and let you know about it until they’re done.

I am not yet a Giant, but that’s the beauty about our industry — anyone can be given enough time and the right attitude. You and I may never create something on the level of Twitter Bootstrap (a massively-popular web framework), but so long as we never stop chasing the ideals of the Giants and striving to help others around us, our work may one day be the foundation for someone else to build on.

God willing, my work may get to that point one day. But for now, there’s still plenty of joy to be had in the journey, and maybe that’s the most important part of it all anyway.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013