The Chirp

Artisanal Web Design


So there is a lot of drama around what it means to be a Front-end Developer and what skills should be most valued. The war between JS frameworks and standard HTML, CSS, and JS is real and divisive. Chris Coyier at CSS Tricks ramped up the discussion in 2019 with the must read The Great Divide. Read this, it really lays out the debate. Rachel Andrew added her own thoughts on the discussion, and she has concerns about the vanishing entry points to web development. Frank Chimero, laments about the rapid change and the struggles to keep up. Jen Simmons, another well-respected leader of the web, sees a “class war” between the rich and poor. She says in a tweet:

The pressure to re-architect the web itself to conform to these ideas, and abandon the original design principles (HTML as a base, super robust, works with *all* devices; CSS for styling on top of that, with a cascade; JS for bonus fanciness) is fierce. Feels like a class war.

Chris, Frank, Rachel, and Jen have been designing the web for many years some going into the 1990s. Frank and Rachel, both describe being inspired to have careers in the web by building their first simple HTML and CSS pages in a text editor. Like them, I built my first website in a text-editor in 2011. I was learning as went along and I used a table-based layout because that is what the book I bought told me to do. 10 years later, that would be blasphemy to the profession.

Today, I find myself in an even smaller subset niche of front-end development, being a geospatial web developer. I read about React, Vue, and Augular and wonder if I need to start learning them and if so, which is best for geospatial? Alas, my professional workflow is still building mostly single page websites in Notepad++ or VS Code. They all start the same: a basic HTML document. A map, the necessary component of my work, is commonly created with Leaflet and I add it via a script tag to my HTML page. Because of this I feel like I identify more with the HTML-CSS-JS side of Chris’s Great Divide.

This brings me to my point I want to make. I feel like the world needs a new term to describe a style of web design. I am going to try and coin a term: Artisanal Web Design. Let’s see if it will catch on. Yep, I am talking small-batch, hand crafted websites and web apps made with love and care. Something hand-coded with clean and accessible markup, written in vanilla, browser ready, HTML,CSS, and JS.

Artisanal Web Design starts with a blank page. An artist starts with a blank white canvas, so does the artisanal web designer. A blank white shape-shifting rectangle is how the process starts, no npm install needed.

What Artisanal Web Design generally IS:

What Artisanal Web Design generally is NOT:

I am sure many web developers will identify with this term and I am sure some not so much. The web is a big place and there seem like 10,000 ways to make a webpage. Artisnal Web Design is just one way I want to define. Deciding which way is best, which skills should be valued most, and what is the best way for new folks to enter the industry is beyond my expertise. We all have different experiences and different reasons why we got into the web. We all have opinons, I just hope we can be civil and polite. One thing I do feel confindent about, I think the future holds opportunity for every web professional no matter the particular skillset they arm themself with.

Think of the artisan baker making a beautiful loaf of bread. They might not make as much money as a huge bread company, but they make a hand-crafted product they are proud of, even if it takes a bit longer and costs a bit more to produce. Maybe it is my hope that this term, Artisanal Web Design, gives value to those who feel undervalued and empowers them during this Great Divide.