Zach LeBar

Personal ramblings on a wide array of topics. "But, you know,
I could be wrong."

Table Stakes

— Start with simplicity before choosing complexity

An index card has been propped up on my desk for the past few weeks. Scrawled across the top is a phrase I’ve been turning over in my mind:

Job security through obscurity

I’m worried that’s the current state of web design/development. Why are we complicating things before they need to be? Is it misguided excitement over what we can do today, that we couldn’t before?

The example we set has an effect. Each time we extol a new tool or technique, we’re implicitly saying “you’re not a real developer if you don’t do this too.” We change the rules out from under those trying to join our ranks. Why? We’re not making things easier, we’re making them more intricate, and I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t at least a little bit intentional.

Maybe it isn’t. This is a complex field. A lot of us are out here solving different problems with higher stakes than we used to. As a skilled professional you expect your peers to understand that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. This specific toolkit is the most flexible and efficient option for your workflow, with your team, and under your operating conditions. No blanket judgement or definitive proclamation is intended.

There’s a problem though. We’re playing a reckless game of telephone. By the time these things filter out and around, it’s been stripped of context and caveats. We only read headlines these day, skimming our feeds, scanning for keywords. Lacking detail or explanation, every hot technique starts to look like the new table stakes. Everyone’s talking about it, so they must all be using it, right?

The true table stakes of the web is HTML. Everything else is optional. Why aren’t we saying that anymore?

Reading the thoughts of Frank Chimero on the subject and seeing the warm reception it received gives me hope. Maybe I’m not wrong here. Maybe others feel this way too.

Not everyone out there has your history, your background, or your level of experience. They’re solving different problems, for different people, at different levels. That’s a good thing. We need more diverse perspectives around here. They’re still designers. They’re still developers. What they create and how they create it is often very different from what you do and how you do it. Give them a path to follow to get to where you are, but make it clear this is a choice, an option, not a requirement.

Extend the playing field, don’t move the starting line.