04 April, 2012

The Fun Side of Web Design

One of my most recent projects has been the creation of a small business website for an old friend. I used to do this kind of thing as a living, churning out site after site for clients until I finally gave in and got a proper job doing web work, first at Omnistar Interactive, and then at Share Our Strength.

CSS3 is especially exciting because
I helped create it as part of the w3c team.
Doing one of these five-page sites reminds me of those old days, but in a way very different than one might expect. Back then, I did web creation because I needed money and had a skill others' didn't; but today, I am doing this five-page site for a friend, and, as a result, I seem to be enjoying the process much more than I used to.

I wonder if money is a part of the equation. In the past, I charged clients $500 for a site of this size, plus $200 for logo design and another $300 for copy. But today's project for my friend is being done gratis, and so has a completely different feeling associated with it.

The psychology of gifts is rather different from that of sold or bartered goods and services. It's in a completely separate magisterium, if you'll forgive me for borrowing a phrase from Gould. The rules of gift-giving trigger different parts of our brain than do the rules of trade. For example, studies show that when a person is paid to do a thing, they tend to think of it as a transaction, and are suitably disgusted if they find out they were paid too little. But if you ask someone to perform the same task for free, they do not think of it as a transaction at all, and are much less bothered when they see that the normal going rate is not free. (Also related: the penny gap.)

As an anarcho-syndicalist, I strongly believe in the power of gift economies. Mutual gain seems as though it would be a strictly better basis of economy than mutual strife, although I must admit that capitalism does a hell of a good job in trading fairness for astronomical growth. (Free, by the way, doesn't necessarily imply money isn't changing hands, but that's not the point I'm getting at here.) In any case, my point is that gifts mean a lot more to me than I think that they do for most people.

It especially feels good to do something I've done dozens of times before in a brand new way like this. I'm coding, but rather than slogging through it, I find myself having a lot of fun. I'm designing, but instead of dreading to hear the client's comments, I'm excited to show what I've come up with. It is almost like how I would expect to feel if I were designing my own site, but for some reason these feelings only arise when I am doing work as a gift for a friend. I can't even get up the motivation to work on my own site at all, as you might notice from the bland style of this blog.

It may also have something to do with the novelty of the situation. Although I've done a lot of charity that helped strangers, it has been rare to put so much work into a gift for a friend. Most gifts I've given have required only money, not time.

I wonder if I can concentrate this excitedness about coding and apply this effort to my own site as well. I doubt I'll be able to do such a thing, but you never know. I'm going to give it a try.

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