Somebody asked Dan Cederholm this question today. I know. I couldn’t believe it either. Actually, I think their precise words were “can’t someone just get a copy of Front Page, and make their own website? I mean what’s the difference?” Once you’ve stopped shuddering, read on for some ranting.
Okay, before I get going, I should note that the offender doesn’t work in the web industry, and probably doesn’t really understand much about the workings of the web. Dan, who is known for his humility despite being profoundly talented and respected amongst his peers, simply responded with something about web standards, nodded and smiled at the inquirer’s website, and made his exit for today’s Lunch Bunch.
While great Indian food and conversation did help to distract me, as soon as we returned to the office I was fuming about the questioner’s remarks. It touches on a sore spot for me, since I got my start working at a software development company that placed no value on standards based web development, and I had to fight a lonely battle to help my superiors see the light. (Luckily, Jason and Brian came up with this amazing video presentation which weakened their resolve to suck.)
So, like George in that episode of Seinfeld where “the ocean called, they’re running out of shrimp,” I thought for most of the day about an adequate response to the (by now probably tired) question: why get the best possible web developer for the job? And why, as a growing designer, should I take the time and care that Dan uses to craft markup? If it’s something any 16 year old with Dreamweaver can do for a hundred bucks, then why should I bother?
So after a few hours of fuming, here’s the response I came up with.
The difference between a FrontPage website and a SimpleBits website is like the difference between a $30 chipboard dresser from K-Mart and an armoire made by a furniture designer / carpenter.
The former will last you about 6 months before somebody puts something heavy on top, it cracks it in half, and you get splinters in your fingers dragging it out to the trash. The latter will be sturdy, able to hold up under pressure and withstand new content and new homes over the years.
The K-Mart dresser says to visitors to your home that you place no real value on the design of your furniture, or the contents it holds. It says you are cheap, that you don’t care about getting a homogenized, factory assembled item that may have cost you less up front but will inevitably need replacing in only a short time. The armoire says that you care about presentation, and that you value durability and artistry. These might be the kind of qualities you’d want to convey to your visitors.
And lastly, people will look back at the armoire one day and think that it is a perfect example of furniture design for that time, the way the guys on The Antiques Roadshow are always raving about the simplicity and elegance of a Quaker chair. Nobody will ever rave about the K-Mart dresser, not even the poor 16 year old settling for minimum wage who is trying to sell it to you.
It’s sort of like the difference between buying a Dell from the kid at Best Buy who’s just happy to no longer be delivering pizzas, and going to the Boylston Street store to discuss purchasing a Mac in a One-to-One session. But that’s a whole other argument.
I should note, before some Event Apart attendee calls me out on it, that I’m not the first one to make the furniture / web site metaphor. A true Vermont boy, Dan drew this craftsmanship comparison way before I could think of it. He’s probably just too polite to say so.
So what do you guys think of my comeback? Is this the jerk store of responses? Have a better answer? Comment it up, kids.
Also, I’m working on those wallpaper requests. Look for those soon.