Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Value of Showcasing Craft

Lately I've thinking been about how we can value the craft of webmaking within the context of Webmaker.org. The topic is fresh on my mind because we are starting to seriously think about how to develop out a gallery presence for the platform that is true to the spirit of our community. This got me to researching a bit about how other web properties highlight this stage in the design process.

Threadless does a nice job of surfacing the process of individual t-shirt designers on their site. Very simply, they have a curated section of blogposts featuring designers going into detail about how they made the product.

First they profile the user, and then they show great process shots like this one below by Joshua Kemble:

Additionally, they have a critique section of their site, where users can rate in-progress shirts and provide feedback via commenting. Again, super simple and effective. There are so many reasons to do this kind of highlighting of process, but for Threadless, it serves three functions well: 1) as an educational resource that isn't in your face "here is how it is made," but in fact offers many ways to make similar things and 2) as a way to elevate their product- they highlight masters who have done cool work, and show you how to do that too and 3) as a way to build community.

Sketchpad.cc highlights process but in a very different way. In their gallery, instead of just showing the end product, they include the code which can be seen as a video replay. I find it compelling because it allows you to see the different decisions that the creator made when designing the animation. In turn the entire process is treated as a journey. I've seen other sites do similar things, and in a less organic way, a lot of cooking websites do this with their video documentation of their step-by-step tutorials, but I like that it's not really a tutorial- that the verb - or the action is actually an appreciated part of the design- possibly even elevated higher than the end product.

So we have two forms of process documentation so far, and my last site that I am going to talk about is so documentation heavy- that it might blow your mind: Github. Like other version or bug trackers, here you find a community of people who are collaboratively crafting documentation for their project. I like this as an example because you can see the history and different phases of the project.  So on an incremental level you can see how the project was built up, who forked what code, who hacked what - and from time to time, particularly with their "Issues" section of the app- you can see conversations about how decisions were made.

It seems like there is some awesome formula for success here- like 1 part documentation plus 2 parts social plus 1/8 part inspiration, 2 tsps of process and 4 cups design thinking = craft. 
Right now we are still in the research phase of the gallery for Webmaker- but what's clear to me is that it needs to accomplish a few things: it needs to be social, inspiring, educational, live across the web, and very importantly - have some level of showcasing the craft of making things on the web.