Days after my eighteenth birthday, or perhaps the very morning of, i woke up early at my dear friend Bonnie’s house in Eugene, Oregon, and headed out with her to a local tattoo parlor. I’m not the type to get up early by choice—and “early” in this context means probably about 8 a.m.—but Bonnie is, and she had made arrangements for me with the place where she’d gotten her navel pierced to take me in before they even opened up to the public for the day, so that i could get in & out before having to head off to the airport or the beach or some such. I can’t remember exactly. I was in Oregon for my summer visit with my dad, and i had decided to get my eyebrow pierced.
I’d envisioned a delicate silver ring looping around my eyebrow, glittering in the sunshine, calling attention to what i considered to be my best asset: my eyes. I was deep in my poetry phase and i think i thought a facial piercing went with the whole “artsy” look. I wore silver rings on most of my fingers and had even worn one on my toe for a while. My long hair covered any earrings i wore, so an eyebrow ring would be more visible. I’d be more visible. It would set me apart, just like every other kid who would be starting out at Iowa State University that fall with a fresh chunk of metal in their face.
So we went to the shop. The piercing artist guy let us in. I signed a paper confirming that i was “over eighteen” (“But… i am eighteen…” “Yeah, that means you’re over eighteen years old.” “Oh—right.”). I think the guy discussed proper cleaning of the site and how long to keep the ring in and such. And then i sat up on the table and he brought out his instruments and put his latex gloves on. I took a look at what was on the tray as he cleaned my eyebrow. And i saw a thick pewter-colored barbell lying there.
Barbells were for goths. They were for girls with greasy black hair and fishnet sleeves. They were for guys; the ones who listened to Metallica and wore chains and rode skateboards. Barbells were NOT for me. I told the guy i didn’t want a barbell. He explained that i had to have a barbell rather than a ring to start out with so that the hole would heal properly and not leave a gross scar. I started to cry. I decided i didn’t want the piercing if i had to have a barbell. By this point, the owner of the shop had come in and the artist guy and Bonnie were telling him what was going on, and he got pissed and starting ranting at me, which made me cry harder.
“This isn’t [expletive] Burger King! You can’t just come in here and ‘have it your way’! We’re gonna do what’s safe and what needs to be done, not just whatever you [expletive] feel like!”
Eventually he calmed down and Bonnie smoothed things over by buying some new jewelry for her navel, and the shop owner showed me some of his unusual face piercings and talked about how careful they’d been while figuring out how to do that sort of stuff. He was passionate about piercings, and he was dedicated to doing them properly, even at the risk of upsetting his clients.
Some day, i want to work for that guy.
Or better yet, i want to be that guy, because i’m not a piercing artist and i’m pretty sure this kind of character doesn’t exist in the world of web design. Not in Des Moines, Iowa, anyway.
I’ve wasted a lot of your attention on my story, but the point i want to make is that every web designer and every web developer out there with only a few exceptions is a yes man by necessity, and i’m tired of it. The Oatmeal has already illustrated the phenomenon in full color, so i’ll just direct you to his comic How A Web Design Goes Straight To Hell. We’re not listened to, we’re talked at. We’re told how to do our jobs. We’re used as tools, because we know HTML and Photoshop and you don’t. But you know that you like the color blue, and so you tell us to use it. And you think you know that big flashy banners get people to buy stuff, so you tell us to make them. You tell us that you want a delicate silver ring in your eyebrow and we give it to you, even though we know that it’s going to travel and it’s going to scar and it’s going to do more damage than good in the end. This is why i’m tired of this industry. I want to be an expert, damn it. I want to be consulted for my knowledge and expertise, not just my skills. I want to be able to tell people some day, “I am not Burger King,” and still take home a paycheck of some sort.
I read a fantastic article on smashingmagazine.com this morning that puts this issue in the spotlight and suggests that designers need to take their profession back by refusing to compromise. I want to be like the tattoo parlor owner, and take my job back from other people’s hands. Oh, but how can i?