Reaching and helping the new amateurs

The New Amateurs - part 2 is Peter-Paul Koch’s follow-up post to The New Amateurs, which I mentioned in my post A web professional can never stop learning. In the follow-up, ppk responds to some of the comments made on his original entry, and talks about elitism and how to reach the “new amateurs”, among other things.

Reaching is indeed a problem. I’ve spent countless hours writing tutorials and articles that are meant to help. But I find it hard to reach everybody, and there are two groups that stand out to me as being harder than others to reach.

  • Those who don’t want web design and development to follow any rules at all. They want the web to be a purely visual medium, and treat it as if it was a printed brochure or a computer game.
  • At the other end of the scale there are back-end programmers who don’t really want anything to do with client side programming, and let their development tools create the HTML, CSS and JavaScript for them.

I would very much like to be able to reach these groups of people. But I’m not sure it’s possible to reach those that do not want to be reached.

Posted on November 22, 2005 in Quicklinks, Web Standards


  1. I used to fall into the first group, but I’m currently in the process of being re-edumacated.

    I’m not sure how to more efficiently reach other groups. Unfortunatly, even though there are a lot of people, like yourself, creating tutorials based on web standards, there’s probably just as many tutorials out there that are teaching young impressionable designers how to “hack” HTML to do what they want.

    I think it’s just a matter of keeping tutorials like yours coming, and hope that the amature tutorials slowly fade away.

  2. “But I’m not sure it’s possible to reach those that do not want to be reached.”
    I think you are to harsh on them, I don’t think they don’t want to be reached. I think we face other problems.
    I They just never were exposed to anything better. The community that does use standards is very small and very closed.
    II They were exposed to tutorials and help articles, but they don’t get the advantages. So why use it?
    III They see the advantages but using standards is very hard, there is no good WYSIWYG editor. and lets face it, using tables is just easier.

  3. November 22, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Raanan: I’m not saying that everybody in those two groups don’t want to be reached. At least that’s not what I meant.

    I don’t agree that the web standards community is closed. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  4. I would add a third category. People who know nothing at all, even how to use a WYSIWYG tool properly, who are given the task to create a web site for their company by their employer. They may search for help when they are trying to accomplish their task, but I suspect they don’t understand the tutorials and advice they find when they do find it.

  5. I think it is important to be patient as well. Standards based web design has been around for a number of years, but it has really only been in the past 1 or 2 years that it has even had any exposure at all that people might pick up. Every day people are picking up standards based design, and more and more big businesses are starting to see the ethos behind it. As designers, yes, we should be on the bleeding edge of technology, but we need to allow time for others to pick it up.
    I would argue that there are two places we should aim our efforts at educating the unwashed masses:
    - At the frontline, in design collegers, universities, community education, anything like that. Get them when they are learning. - At the existing web conferences. Its great that things like WE05 and the like are attracting big crowds, but why not start telling people about standards at the other existing design conferences where the people who DONT already know about it go?

  6. November 23, 2005 by Adrienne Adams

    Reach me! Reach me!

    No, really, I think you might be selling yourself short. As a beginning web designer, I feel so grateful that I am entering the feild at this particular time. I have no “bad habits” to unlearn, and there is an incredible community of designer/coders like yourself who are reaching out to educate & inspire people like me.

    Jordan Gillman’s comments are right on. It will take time for standards-based design to reach new designers, because right now students are being taught by instructors who by and large have “Old-school” skills. As humans, we all tend to be a bit reluctant to re-learn skills. It takes quite a bit of motivation (and humility!) for a professional to admit that he/she has been left behind & needs to learn new skills.

    There is the issue that web standards must, by and large, pay their own way in the marketplace. Designers must be able to articulate the benefits of standards-based designs to their clients. It’s a liitle tricky to do this w/o becoming too technical. Clients don’t really give a hoot about how a site is coded— they need to sell their product, service, or idea. How do we promote standards based on market realities?

    And then there’s also the desire in every designer to win an award. And we all know what kind of sites win design awards…

    So, I just want to say THANK YOU to Roger, and to everyone like you, who is willing to share your knowledge & skills with newcomers.

  7. I agree that this is one of the most sharing professional communities out there. You don’t see lawyers or stock brokers giving out free professional advice do you? Nor do you see them sharing much information.

    All we can do in the web dev community is open up for shared knowledge. This site and many others freely make their knowledge available to everyone to use and I for one has benefited from such a great community. Its international and its far reaching. Personally if someone decides not to learn, there is nothing we can do about.

    Its like libraries these days, if no one wants to visit them and we can’t force them in there.

  8. I think that the people at the edges of the design and programming spectrum really just don’t understand what’s so special about the other one. Most programmers I know could care less about design, or think it’s cool but beyond their comprehension. Same for designers thinking about working with HTML and CSS.

    I just posted some more organized thoughts on the matter.

  9. It’s funny you bring this up, as recently I tackled the problem with two amateurs and am currently in discussions with a university which is teaching nothing but table based design (sad, I know).

    The only thing you can do for the seemingly unreachable groups is NOT to go after them with a Standards Beating Stick, but to sit back and present yourself in a very approachable manner. People like Molly have done an incredible job with this. There are thousands of tutorials of an excellent nature on the web. That’s not the issue. It’s about being somebody that some stranger can easily relate to.

    I’ve been experimenting with something new. Instead of on-the-web evangalization, I’ve been doing a whole lot more of the in-person meetings and such. To reach those who don’t care enough to search the web, I believe that we should go and meet them in person. Give free seminars, talk with your local university’s web development professors, and even do low-rate in-person tutoring. So far I’ve had GIGANTIC success.

    I think it’s mainly because those groups often won’t end up at a website like this. They don’t care enough. But once you, as a passionate web designer, present yourself (not force yourself) in that approachable manner, there’s a 9 out of 10 chance they’ll be hooked.

    So instead of sitting at your desks, get out there! Move those flabby legs (don’t deny it) and start working on in-person relations.

  10. I try reaching the second group daily, since I’m responsible for the accessibility of sites. They figure that, since they’re all smart with SQL server and C#, the front-end people are inferior life-forms. It’s very frustrating to work with.

  11. I’ve found the “don’t want to be reached” group can be split into two subgroups:

    1) those who really don’t want to be reached, ie. they know what you’re talking about and still don’t care; and 2) those who haven’t realised that what you’re talking about is actually important and achievable.

    Group two can come on side if you get their attention and provide resources in a format they want; group one… well, group one has to be forced; by managers, by policy, by contracts. But thankfully group one seems to be really quite small.

  12. November 23, 2005 by Florian

    Yum, I love Google Ad’s contextual sarcasm! :) What comes after all these comments on how to convince people to care about WS and learn to code proper HTML?

    Why are you learning HTML?
    Pay programmers in Asia §8/hour to work for you.

    Pffff …

  13. I’ve been proactive at work, having first convinced my manager to send me to @media my ‘payback’ was to do a presentation to the team based on the conference. Since then though I’ve repeated it twice for ICT managers (with the aid of our in-house training team) and should start thinking about spreading the word a little further afield.

    Talking face-to-face definitely pays dividends - I’ve helped address accessibility issues with one of our websites (don’t get me started on why this was retroactive :p) and get approached by complete strangers for accessibility questions. My hyperlinked name will take you to a more indepth description of my thoughts on what’s become a hot topic for standardistas this month.

  14. I think a good idea would be writing “HTML for dummies” articles, as they are the kind a total noob (I think) would search for. I really want to write some, but I’m a little lost in this area. If someone has ideas, please share! I’ll accept any idea sent to [s o l o m o n v 1 (at) y a h o o (dot) c o m]

    PS: I know my site doesn’t validate, but I think the errors are of little consequence, and there is a 3.0 version going on…

  15. Roger, i’ve always found your site useful and interesting, so have a metaphorical pat on the back for what you’ve done so far!

    I think another problem with standards design is that, no matter what anybody says, it can often be a little harder than developing with tables etc, and many people just want an easy life.

    What i’m really trying to say is that it’s sometimes difficult to make some people see the “point” of standards-based design, because many people just use IE and don’t have any issues using most sites, so standards and accessibility issues don’t affect them. Apathy is our greatest enemy!

  16. Get the Web Standards Project to go through the top 100 hits for “learn HTML” and similar keywords, kindly inform them they’re teaching all the wrong methods, and publicly list the sites that do and do not change their curricula as a result.

    Do the same with university and college courses.

    Really, why kid around anymore? Tell them, in however nice a way you desire, that they’re screwing up and ask them to stop.

  17. November 25, 2005 by Boelie-Boelie

    The way I try to reach people is by visiting online forums about web design and trying to help solve web design problems the web standards way.

    On these forums most vistors ask how to accomplish some particular layout or styling for their website. When I think I can answer that question, I dig through my bookmarks (or Google) and I present them my solution, including a link to an explanatory article (very important). In some cases I even built a fully functional concept layout, just to get those frames out of the picture.

    This way people see what CSS can do for their specific problems, which introduces them to a whole new world without frames and table layouts. They might not get it right away, but at least they’re on the right track. And when you ‘pollute’ that forum for a couple of months with solutions based on web standards, soon other visitors will notice the amount of ‘new’ solutions to old problems and eventually they also might give it a try.

    And it’s hard to measure, but I seems like it’s working! A lot less frame related questions, and a lot more questions on CSS.

    So I totally agree with Edward. And I think showing how to solve people’s problems at hand the web standards way in online forums is a great way to reach those ‘new amateurs’.

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