Respecting What You Don't Understand


While at SXSW, I had the privilege of attending a panel called Respect! During the panel, Jason Santa Maria made a comment that really struck me. He said that it’s “difficult to respect what I don’t understand”.

How very true. Respecting what we don’t understand is if not impossible then extremely hard to do. Without some sort of knowledge of the process and steps involved in arriving at the solution, how can we really respect the work required to make the solution? I think this comes into play when working with both clients and co-workers.

As far as clients go, the solution involves making sure good communication takes place between you and the client. I think involving the client early and often helps to build respect and knowledge of what you do. If we meet with the client about a project, then hand them a design some time later, they are not going to have any idea of the process involved. To them, it’s like delayed magic…they ask us to come up with a design, and viola, we come up with one.

However, if we go through a more involving process, they start to get a taste of all that goes into designing/developing the final product. We can start to show them our research, information architecture, wireframes and prototypes, all before actually showing them some sort of design. By walking through the project with them, a few things happen. First, they feel more involved. This can be great for clients…it’s always difficult to just blindly trust someone else with such a crucial part of your company’s marketing.

Secondly, by allowing the client to see a lot of these steps, they begin to gain a greater respect for what is involved. Let’s face it, a lot of people simply don’t realize how much goes into developing their site or application. The web is open to anyone, and it makes people feel like anyone can just jump in and throw together a website. That’s why you run into clients whose site was developed by their mothers’, brothers’, lawnmowers’, sons’ cousin! By letting them see a bit more of our process, we help them to gain a bit more respect for what actually is going on in the professional development of a site or application.

Clearly, this can be taken too far. You don’t want to involve the client too much. If you do, you may end up confusing the client, which leads to frustration. It’s important to remember that while you want to get them involved, this is not their expertise, and anything you show them should be a very general perspective, and should be explained in non-technical terms.

I also said that respecting what we don’t understand comes into play with co-workers. A co-worker with no knowledge of CSS is going to have a difficult time respecting your job of creating cross-browser compatible layouts. I think in this case we just need to try and remember just how involved our job can be, and should assume that so and so down the hall’s job is just as involved.

I think there is an excellent argument to be made here for the “Jack-Of-All-Trades” worker. Having at least a basic understanding of a variety of topics will help you to respect the work of the people using those languages or techniques (not to mention, at least in my opinion, make you a more attractive candidate for employment).

In the end, it all comes down to communication. If we can find ways to effectively communicate to our clients and peers throughout our working process, we can hope to achieve some level of respect.