Letting Go of the Old Web

Last year I wrote a thing on Automattic’s design blog about something I keep noodling on, which ultimately boils down to what makes us creative. What gets us to build a website? What the hell is a website today?

I don’t mean “Us” the web community, or tech industry. I mean “Us” as Humankind.

It started off as thinking through what gets a person to Post, or Build, or Edit, or Publish something to the web. At work, we had invested in a big user research initiative, and there was a decent pattern of people feeling much more confident about the idea of making a website on a desktop/laptop versus a mobile device. Tweaking content, checking activity, sure. But not the big stuff. Not the upfront stuff. The decisions felt too big, or their idea of how that would work on a phone was too overwhelming. Tactically and strategically, as a designer, the take-away could be, “Ok, we don’t have to worry about making a 100% parity experience for mobile. Sigh of relief.”

These last few days I’ve been forcing myself to post using my phone, mostly because I need to enforce my work boundaries right now, and want to finish this 100-day project on a strong note. But I haven’t been able to shake that research. Knowing that the rest of the world is coming into the web on a phone, (not in their basements), and for reasons other than sheer Awe and Wonder—that this is something important to keep in mind. It’s not even an emerging markets product thing or a mobile-first web standards thing. Just something Important.

These things are what separate the good research from the meh research anyway, right? Things that still make you think months or years later. Sometimes bringing the giddiness that you’re on the cusp of that exciting “Aha!” moment—or the unease of that dreaded “Fuck.” moment. By then it is probably too late to choose which one.

It was fine blogging on my phone. Awkward, at first, like being abruptly asked to switch from speaking one language to another. It’s so cool how all five senses have to recalibrate to reach an equitable state from which to proceed. I think I still prefer to have my writing in a sort of sandbox. I always used client back in the day when auto-save was not a thing, and once hand-coding blog posts became a glorified thing of the past.

My client/sandbox/writing application of choice across all devices is Ulysses, and I am so excited to share more about it. I have been testing different writing applications for years now, and can now confidently say that I Have Chosen.

But I will post that one from my laptop 😆.

Regarding that nagging research, I still think there is a crucial distinction—that it matters whether people can reach a “Create” mindset versus Edit/Build, or Post (which only connects with bloggers), or Publish (the scariest one). For us, the makers of these publishing platforms, or, The Folks Formerly Known as the People Who Make Websites, we can get ourselves to put something out there easily no matter what mindset we’re in. It’s work.

But not everyone else. Yet, we implicitly still hold them to our standard, expecting them to discover the joy of the web, or come to see our esoteric tools and frameworks charming and endearing? When they really just want a place on the web to display something about themselves that reflects the actual world they live in.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re not aware of how much we’re shutting them out. We live in this interesting time in the web’s history where more and more people are making websites, but they are not coming to it with awe and wonder, like we did. They are not about to find a new hobby. They have already found their passion and it’s not this. And it’s like we’re interested in making it easy for people to make a website, or learn how to code, but so long as they’re coming to church on Sundays.

In glorifying our past, we delight in still being able to do it the hard way. We’re still making it about us. We can’t fully set our users up for success this way. Moreover, we are perpetuating the very walls that keep people from discovering the joy of the web the same way we were so fortunate to experience.

It’s taken me a while to make peace with the reality that most new homebrew websites today aren’t people’s first transformative experience on the web: that first foray into Geocities, or first post on WordPress, or saving a text editor file as .html and opening it up in a browser. More importantly, accepting that has made me understand that it’s not that people have stopped caring or don’t want to express themselves on the web. Or that we’re on our phones now, and you can’t Make a website the same way. Or that the walled gardens have hijacked our desires to create something on our own terms.

We miss the old Web and we miss Making Websites. But that time has gone and passed. The future web can only hold as much wonder, discovery—and community—as it did back then, when we let go.

Begging for forgiveness instead of asking for permission

Brief thoughts on why I think this saying never sat right with me.

My family has undocumented people. Latino folks make up the biggest percentage of inmates in the California state prison system. We don’t really have access to forgiveness. And for the former group of folks, permission isn’t even on the table!

I wonder if, in the past, when I would scoff at the idea of me being having potential for this or that, if this was part of the why. Good leaders or awesome designers don’t give a fuck about asking permission.

There are additionally things that are culturally foreign or unattractive too. I’m talking about rural, indigenous folks (the stock of people I come from). Things like self-destructive humility, or extreme distaste for bragging, that are seen as virtues. Things that often follow people who have been marginalized and shoved to the bottom of the social ladder for generations. If you are raised in a system like this, you self-sabotage many qualities that Americans look for in leaders. Or very traditional, conservative family members might do it for you. Of course especially if you’re a woman. I don’t agree with these things, but it takes a long time and effort to get rid of stuff that’s been with you since you were born, and continues on in your family.

In addition to the things that American tech culture throws on women, mothers, and minorities.

Why I don’t wear lipstick anymore

I have no less than ten shades of red lipstick in my makeup arsenal. My all-time favorite is Lady Danger by MAC. At one point, you could say I was into makeup. I loved going to Sephora or to the MAC counter and play a game with myself (this is such a designer thing), where I’d try and guess the name of each shade of eyeshadow or lipstick, flip it over, and see if I was right (I usually was 😏). I would do people’s faces for important events. I usually wore makeup to work or school. I love old Hollywood, cine de oro, and red lipstick was my signature look.

Eventually, I stopped. First gradually, then suddenly. There was the time where, the president of the agency asked the new female hires to attend a meetup we were sponsoring. He introduced us as, “see, I told you I’d bring some women” to his friend. There were the side-eye ogles that I tried to ignore during meetings. The groping on the metro. The complaint I made that HR recommended I not pursue, because I would probably lose (even though the person was a repeat offender). The one time I gave a visiting group of executives a tour of the studio, and one of them (drunk) tried to kiss me. Thankfully, my colleague stepped in and had my back.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t take a job at a distributed company partly because of the reduced risk of these things happening. With the reduced pressure to dress up for work, going to and from the yoga studio or gym straight into the second shift at home with young children, red lipstick, and makeup altogether, is something I can forget ever existed. Except it’s also partly choosing a path of isolation.

The last time I wore Lady Danger was in Paris, when I was six months pregnant, and some of us were doing a thing with the LVMH folks. I figured being around folks who work in fashion, in a large group at all times, and being visibly enceinte, would make me less of a target.

I miss dressing up. It makes me feel confident and creative. But I like feeling safe more.

Edit: for all the makeup geeks out there 🖤
MAC Lady Danger, MAC Ruby Woo, MAC Russian Red, NYX Alabama (Go Irish!), NYX Perfect Red, NYX Pure Red, NYX Indie Flick, NARS Cruella, NARS Red Square, NARS Dragon Girl. My makeup tastes effortlessly range from ghetto to booj (just like me).