The merits of sycophancy

Well, Brendan Dawes has certainly stirred up a right hornet’s nest, or at least stimulated a healthy discussion on the state of the UK web design scene.

To summarise/paraphrase Brendan:

I’ve got to say this. The UK web design scene is often just self serving, indulgent bullshit perptuated by friends of friends. Count me out.
… Let’s have a bit more honesty and less sycophantic bullshit.

Whilst Brendan to some extent has a point – the ‘scene’ is largely dominated by the usual suspects and liberal doses of idol worship – however, Brendan’s observation is largely a product of the media through which the web design scene largely communicates: twitter.

The scope for comment afforded by 140 characters usually results in a “yay – i like this” with limited opportunity for elaboration. Meanwhile the echo chambers that twitter encourages means that we tend to forward on the work that we like because it is likely that someone who follows us may also like it. As Jon rightly says, the outcome is positive noise – something accentuated by a legitimate reluctance to offer public criticism when the nature of the medium so often leaves it open to misinterpretation.

So what if the scene is dominated by a sychophantic few? I moved to the web from a completely different field (academic archaeology) early in 2006. I had taught myself web design and development whilst studying for my PhD and was guided along by the work of a number of key designers and developers.

In academia I had always struggled with the prevalent ivory towers. The strict hierarchy, the closed and protective exchange of information, the slow pace of debate, the reluctance for communication and collaboration. The limiting opportunities there were for dialogue regarding the merits or imperfection of one’s work, approach, methodology or ideas.

When I moved to web design those barriers were quickly removed. People who’s books and articles I had digested, whose work I had looked up to, responded to emails and blog comments I made and were happy to communicate both openly and freely.

Web design is a competitive, commercial environment yet most of those within the “UK scene” are happy to divulge their secrets and chat about their work.

Furthermore, this environment of positive noise is not – I feel – entirely disingenuous. I trust the judgement of those who speak positively about my work and would hope they would be honest and up front in offering their criticism.

That is the lovely thing about the dribbble website. Insights into the process of people’s work and the trusted feedback of like-minded individuals – both negative and positive but always constructive.

Such an environment just makes us improve and refine the work we produce. I have bills to pay and work to get out the door but deep down I want the respect and approval of my peers and am not afraid to reciprocate where it is due.


I’d rather work among friends, who can be honest when needed, but kind, than in an area where everyone is just another competitor that must be eliminated, disrespected and put down.

Twitter is not the place to be nasty or brutally honest. You can’t elaborate on your feedback, and you just sound mean.

Group hug?

“That is the lovely thing about the dribbble website.”

Only if you’re cool enough to get a Dribbble invite… <grumble>

The bad thing about dribbble is that it is invite only. The great thing about dribbble is that it is invite only – and by that I don’t meant to suggest that it is only filled with the cool members of the geek chic clique.

Your invite’s in the post Ryan ;)