In the back of my head is always a thought: What will I do when I stop designing websites?
It’s not because I want to stop—I love what I do—it’s that I wonder how long I can expect to do it. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that there will be a time when I don’t want to, or can’t—due to fatigue or professional obsolescence—work in this industry anymore. It may not happen, but planning for that possibility isn’t a bad idea either.
I think about this stuff because the speed of life and our industry can be humbling and terrifying all at once. It’s not just about keeping up with the latest techniques or news, but also finding time to continue developing the skills you have. There’s never really an end point to learning, just different plateaus of understanding.
Not long ago I was having a conversation with a friend who wondered if web designers might go the way of typesetters. Type used to be painstakingly set by hand, letter by letter. But that laborious process, as well as the skill involved, was subsumed by faster typesetting technologies like the Linotype machines. Later still, most Linotype operators were made redundant by computers. Advancements and displacement aren’t new things—I’m sure there was a time that scribes using clay tablets shook their fists at those snooty papyrus jerks—but it’s a cyclical thing.
With so much money flying around for valuations and acquisitions every week, no one would fault you for thinking our industry isn’t a stable one. Whatever ways things change, being mindful that they will change is a smart perspective, lest we all become today’s Luddites.
The stories we tell of the drive of faster automation and industrialization are cautionary tales, not because of the rise of machines, but because of our own stubbornness. Like many designers, I’m also afflicted with the fetishization of past parallels for what I do now. I love books and manually set typography—the byproduct of hard labor with one’s own hands to produce something unique and beautiful. But I also delight in how much more is possible for communication and connection with today’s tools.
I’m not entirely sure what options I would have if I wasn’t a designer. There are certainly themes throughout most everything I’ve done so far in life. Art. Drawing. Color. Type. Rhythm. I’ve invested so much time and energy into doing this, and the drive I had in my youth certainly made things easier. I have that same drive now, but sometimes it’s feels like it’s shifted towards deeper understanding rather than broad learning. I like getting further into the details of topics. And that’s when I get scared that I’ll get caught unawares by progress, like a twisted game of musical chairs.
Standing with one foot in the past and one in the future is a good thing. It honors those that came before and their work, but also incorporates progress. Maybe the key is not getting caught flat-footed when the future makes a shift. Flexibility in work habits and in thinking, rather than languages and programs, might be our most useful skills.
This piece originally appeared on The Pastry Box Project.