“Don’t read design articles,” I often hear from my colleagues — other senior designers. And, you know, they are right… But hold on. Seriously? Can design articles do harm to anyone? Articles are a source of helpful information. They give us inspiration and insights into other designers’ work. They are easy to find and understand. What can happen?
At first, let’s recall what articles are. Basically, an article is a piece of authorial text on a certain topic: social, political, design, etc. There are a lot of motives why people write profession-related articles. I listed the main ones.
- Draw attention to a problem. In this case, an article is like a demo of an existing or upcoming book or whitepaper. Unlike articles, books and whitepapers dwell on the subject and give the big picture: the context, pros and cons, history of a problem, and so on.
- Summarize fundamental knowledge. Articles of this sort are like notes from a lecture. For example, if you read a book about the value proposition canvas, an article can help you keep in mind key points. Designers often bookmark such articles and use them as cheat sheets later.
- Express an opinion. It means a text is more personal and subjective compared to attention-grabbing and summarizing articles. Opinion texts have more ideas and interpretations than proven facts.
So, how all that might appear bad?
Articles are often mistakenly treated as a 100% reliable source of professional knowledge. Metaphorically speaking, articles are informational fast food, whereas books and training courses are like fine dining. Articles are easy to find and quick to read. In contrast, one usually gears up for reading a book or attending a course. As a rule, articles are free, while books or courses require investing time and money. People usually better value what they purchased and remember what they put effort into.
Great books are always a trifle outdated because authors need more time for structuring, writing, and editing. On the other hand, books suggest “matured” knowledge, which is validated and normalized over time. Similar to wine or whiskey matured in oak casks. One doesn’t simply publish a good book or prepare a high-quality training course. An author has to think wide and cover all aspects of a subject thoroughly.
Writing an article is easier. You can publish it on one of numerous open platforms, even via Facebook. No one will ban you from doing so. I’m not saying books and courses cannot be crappy. Actually, they can. It’s just more difficult to create one. I personally haven’t published a book because I’m lacking extensive valuable knowledge in some area. That’s why I write articles about various disconnected things.
Since articles are more dependent on the author’s personality and cover a narrow topic, they can not educate anyone from scratch. People who rely on design articles as a source of quick knowledge may get into trouble.
If a novice is on the article diet and disregards good books and training courses, he or she runs the risk of becoming a barcode-shaped designer.
A barcode-shaped designer is a person who has deep knowledge in several disconnected areas. Such a person is able to talk for hours about the anatomy of the letter G and the psychology of blue color perception but has no idea about the end-to-end design process, cooperation in a team and how to come up with a design solution.
In other words, the article diet leads to putting on informational fat — a bulk of diverse unsystematized knowledge. I used to be barcode-shaped several years ago, although colleagues considered me a Wikipedia Guy. They heard me talk about really nerdy things and were unaware of serious gaps in basic skills. I had to spend nights exploring techniques I didn’t know and preparing for situations I had never dealt with.
It’s not a big deal to list up to fiver must-read books on user experience or recommend a course created by seasoned trainers. Can you come up with a short list of must-read articles about user experience? I can’t. Articles are useful when you have the basis to build them upon. Then they fill in the grooves between “boring” fundamental knowledge.
Articles aren’t pure evil. The only dangerous thing is when designers (especially novices) chaotically read all sorts of articles and skip over the “boring” fundamentals of design.
And one more thing: maybe you shouldn’t have read this article either…