Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a Media Arts class at USC that is using The Principles of Beautiful Web Design as a textbook. While I’ve had the opportunity to talk to college classes several times and I’ve heard from professors around the country that are using my book in their curriculum, I’ve never had the pleasure of presenting to students who were required to read my book. Preparing for the talk was fun, but a little unnerving at the same time. I imagined that if I did a bad job, the students might start chucking my own book at me mid-presentation. I knew that I couldn’t give the typical design principles presentation to such a group, so I decided to make it personal. Rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of grid systems, color theory and typography I spent a full half-hour talking about “The All-Important Personal Website”.
There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about how blogging is dead and how social networks make blogs look “so 2004“. While I agree that the blogging landscape is changing (when hasn’t it?) – the need for personal websites, especially blogs, is higher than ever. No, you aren’t as likely to get rich from ad revenue and the shear number of voices out there might crush the odds of becoming a weblebrity, but if your goal is to build websites for a living, you need your own website. As as webdesigner who just took the time to rebuild & redesign my own site, I may be a little biased here, but I really do believe this is a necessity. If you don’t have your own website on a real hosting account with a real domain name, you’re missing out on the following:
An Essential Piece of your Brand
Sure, you’ve got a Twitter account with a custom background and a matching profile name on every social network known to man, but without a personal site, you’re missing the biggest piece of the self-branding puzzle. Lea Alcantara has done a great job of teaching The Art of Self-Branding, but it all started with a series of articles on her personal website. Your personal website should be the hub of your identity online. You might not link to every social network profile you’ve set up, but every profile and every comment you leave should link back to your own domain.
A Respectable Online Portfolio
If you’re an illustrator or photography who would rather not be bothered with the task of writing HTML, then a profile at Coroflot or DeviantArt might be all you need to get your proverbial foot in the door. If you’re applying for a web design job though, even at an entry-level, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot to send a link to a hosted portfolio with your resume. Regardless of whether or not you’re actively seeking employment, it’s good practice to maintain a public portfolio. For more great reasoning behind this point, read Alyssa Gregory’s Sitepoint Post, Designer Needed, Portfolio Required.
Lab Space to Learn In
My wife is a 4th year PhD student in chemical engineering. While I’ve learned a lot from her about the steam hydrolisys of sodium borohydride, she wouldn’t have learned what she knows without the time she has spent in the lab. As a web designer, my personal website is my laboratory. Sure, I spend time learning and experimenting at work, but here I get to do what I want. I don’t have to worry about client approval or deadlines. I can just play…and occasionally blow things up.
That was the gist of what I presented. I showed screenshots of the previous versions of my homepage, shared a few things I’ve learned about maintaining a blog and encouraged all of the students in the class to start their own websites. Fortunately, the talk was really well received. I felt like I did a good job of connecting with the students and not a single book was hurled at me. As I was preparing for this talk, I realized that the decision of whether or not to maintain a personal website is just as applicable to students as it is to web professionals. Once you’re settled in your career and happy with your day job, why should you spend time outside of work writing blog posts and maintaining a website? I’m hoping this topic will make for some interesting discussion at tonight’s Refresh Columbia meetup. For me, those 3 points I made above come to mind as I ask myself that question, but it’s also nice to have a journal. I try to write posts that I think will be helpful because I’ve learned so much from other people’s personal sites, but usually I just write to archive my thoughts and ideas – as cooky and random as they may be. So what about you? If you have a blog or personal site, why do you keep it going?