One of the curious questions a web designer faces is when to make a change to the tools you use and the way you work. How do you know when say goodbye to something that may have served you well for a time?
As an example, many of us veteran designers at some point had to make a hard choice: Keep building websites using the old, table-based layouts or move on to CSS. At the time it was actually a much harder decision than you may think.
After spending a number of years learning every trick in the book for creating a layout using tables, it almost seemed a bit crazy to drop it all and learn something new. But, as the industry moved on, so did we. And it wasn’t nearly as difficult or scary as it may have felt initially.
Unfortunately, not every decision is as obvious as switching from tables to CSS. While there can be a massive sea change from time-to-time, other evolutions are much more subtle. Those are the types of changes we’ll talk about today. Let’s figure out the hows, whys and whens to make a change.
Humans are very much creatures of habit. We get used to doing things one way and can be reluctant to change.
For instance, how many of you loved Adobe Fireworks? It was a tool built for making web design a more efficient process and was pretty popular. Then, in 2013, news came out that the software would no longer be actively developed.
This hit a lot of us who enjoyed and relied on Fireworks quite hard. In fact, there are still some designers out there who insist on continuing to use the long-discontinued software.
True, the software still has some value. There are certain tasks that Fireworks can handle that still make life easier for designers. But at what point is it time to move on? Do we wait until it’s no longer compatible with the OS we’re using or is there some other threshold that needs crossed?
Comfort vs. Progress
It feels like the answers are as difficult as the problem itself. While you don’t want to hop on the bandwagon of every “hot new thing”, you also don’t want to get left behind.
In defense of comfort, the tried-and-true really does mean something. It’s withstood the test of time (even in web years) for a reason. Abandoning something that works for the unknown can be a real risk.
Progress, however, is often uncomfortable. There were people who were reluctant to leave their good old horse and buggy to get one of those fancy automobiles (not far from where I live, some never did make the switch). We see the same challenges in web design.
Making a Thoughtful Decision
When you’re faced with a deciding between a trusted tool or technique and a possible new solution, think about the pros and cons of each choice. And, ask yourself this important question:
If I continue doing things the same way, will it put me or my clients at a disadvantage?
Your goal should always be to produce the best possible outcome for both you and your clients. If sticking to your old standby can help you get there, stay with it. If there’s something else out there that may be better, do your homework and find out all that you can.
No technology is fool-proof and, in this line of work, nothing lasts forever. So it’s all about finding the right solution for now and the near-future. Whatever you decide should ideally be, at the very least, a solid choice for the next 2-3 years.
Of course, this may apply to some things more than others. If you’re comfortable using a tool that’s still in active development, the decision to move on is more about personal preference. But if you’re still using a code framework that hasn’t been updated in a few years, you’ll want to think long and hard if that is really the best thing for everyone involved.
Change is Always on the Horizon
Just hanging on to something because that’s what you’ve always done often just delays the inevitable. Like those last holdouts that refuse to leave Windows XP, eventually the decision is going to get made for you.
Therefore, it’s best to take a step back every so often and review what you’re doing and how you go about doing it. You’ll also want to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry. Even just a cursory read over the latest trends will keep you informed.
Over the long term, the amount of change we’ve seen in web design can seem quite radical. But it tends to happen more gradually than that. A tweak here and there leads to something else, and the evolution continues from there.
So while you certainly don’t need to get rid of what’s working for you, don’t be afraid to make those hard decisions when necessary. The web keeps on changing, and it’s our job to change along with it.