The concept of craftsmanship fascinates and drives me. There are many definitions of craftsmanship. Some silo the term to physical trades like carpentry, while others pigeonhole it to artistic endeavors. My understanding of craftsmanship is much more fundamental.
Craftsmanship is doing what you love and doing it right.
No matter what you do — designer, baker, electrician, architect, author — your job is your craft. Learn to think of your work as practice towards becoming an absolute expert at what you do. Craftsmanship is not a destination; it’s a life-long discipline.
What makes a craftsman
It’s near impossible to capture all the nuances “craftsmanship” carries, but when you see it, feel it, experience it — you know it. My dad loves to fix and rebuild homes, so it was unsurprising when he demolished the bathroom in our family home 2 months ago. His entire life is about making things better. I visited home a few weeks ago for Thanksgiving and saw the new bathroom. It’s beautiful. A tangible testament to my dad’s incredible skill as a builder. What about the bathroom made it remarkable though? What about it stirred a newfound respect for the man who made it?
It’s the quality of the work. Not only is the tile flooring a tasteful slate, absolutely level and evenly spaced, but underneath it there are meticulously coiled heating elements to keep the icy stone heated for my mom at night. Those electrically heated coils are wired into a breaker box hidden from sight, but easily accesible for future use. I know, without question, that the plywood that sits below those heated coils has been protected from the threat of combustion and is probably a 150% thicker than is “code” in our county.
It’s a passion for betterment. Our previous bathroom was acceptable by all standards. It had a functional sink, toilet, shower and plenty of storage, but it wasn’t exceptional or delightful. He wanted to make it better. To date, he’s built a deck around the house, laid hundreds of square feet of concrete, rebuilt the roof, rewired the electrical, installed a car lift in the garage, and assembled a hot tub on the patio (I’d say I’m covering about 25% of his home improvements).
It’s experience. He knows everything there is to know about that bathroom, whether it’s about the 1.25″ diameter pipes that channel water to the shower or the acrylic, semi-gloss “Swiss Coffee” paint that’s 3 coats thick on the walls. Even more importantly though, he knows why to use those from years of doing.
That’s a whole lot about a single bathroom, but it illustrates a point. Craftsmanship is about quality, passion and experience. Make things that you want to show to others. Build things that will make you proud 10 years from now. Sweat the details and the final product will be something to be admired.
Craftsmanship in design
Craftsmanship is universal. Designing a product (or site) shares the same core values as any other craft. Quality, passion and experience are still the ingredients, the difference is the outcome. Instead of painstakingly positioning a few dozen tiles, we arrange thousands of pixels. Rather than double-check that floors are level and that walls are square, we double-check a design’s alignment against a grid.
Craftsmanship on the web presents an interesting challenge. How we build for the web is changing every day, so the practice of perfecting it is never ending — but that’s what I love about it. Designing for the web requires a passion for learning and the measure of quality is in constant flux. Three years ago, most mobile web experiences were afterthoughts, but today they are rapidly becoming the focus (and with good reason). Thinking mobile first and responsive design have changed the craft of designing for the web.
Love your craft everyday. Design the simplest, most delightful product you can. Write organized, performant and readable code. Watch people use your product and make it better for them. Improve your work by learning from others and from your own experiences. Help create a better web for its 2 billion users.