Last night I had the opportunity to do a video chat with a journalism class at the University of Florida. The class, taught by Dave Stanton (@gotoplanb), is called Applied Interactive Journalism and my book is required reading. I never intended the book to be used in classrooms, but it seems to have filled a gap in non-design degree programs where graduates are expected to do web design. That’s important in programs like Journalism, where producing web content is imperative, but formal design classes just don’t fit into the curriculum.
It was fun getting to talk to the students about what I do at work, how design trends affect our workflow and how to find a niche in the constantly evolving world of web technology. One of the questions I was asked was how I keep up with it all. I’m sure this is the same for most web designers and developers out there, but for me, the answer is blogs and Twitter. Sure, a book like Transcending CSS comes along now and then and rocks my boat, but filtering through the steady flow of links, tutorials and resources available for free online is what keeps me in the game.
After talking for a while about some of the blogs, resource sites and twitter accounts I follow, I was asked, “What 5 people should aspiring web designers and developers follow on Twitter.” Five?! I stumbled a bit listing off household web design names like Jeffrey Zeldman, Dave Shea, Jonathan Snook, Jason Santa Maria & Andy Clarke, but I wasn’t nearly done. There was no way I could only pick just 5 so I promised to email the professor my list before their class period was over. Yes, I gave myself homework.
What I discovered was that I rely on Twitter way more than I thought. Of the 328 people I currently follow, a large percentage are web designers or developers who have influenced my work in one way or another. Some of these people have 10s of thousands of followers, and some have less than 100. In my mind though, they’re all essential members of my online web community.
Here’s what I had to say:
“I definitely can’t narrow the must-follow list down to 5. To start out…follow every person who’s mug is posted up on http://www.happywebbies.com They’re all highly influential people and most are fun to keep up with.”
I followed that blatant cop-out up with a list of 5 brilliant people they probably aren’t following, but should be:
Matthew Smith (@squaredeye)
He eats web and talks about beer. Created a great resource called http://patterntap.com
Lea Alcantara (@lealea)
Freelance designer who has written a lot of valuable content about self branding.
Derek Powazek (@fraying)
Long-time industry thought leader and an excellent writer/speaker.
Jon Tan (@jontangerine)
Huge type nerd who is always on the cutting edge of the font-embedding problem.
Aarron Walter (@aarron)
Mailchimper, teacher at Art Institute of Atlanta & author of a great book on Findability.
It’s been interesting to watch Twitter go from being a medium of communication between nerdy web workers to a globally adopted resource, but it still does that initial job very well, knitting this tiny world of an industry together. Of course, I could have made my list a lot longer, but I promised 5 and I think it’s important for everyone in this industry to find their own heroes and muses.
With that said, I’m wondering who else I should be following. Sure, a lot of Twitter users throw out names each week on #FollowFriday, but with only 140 characters, you never get anything more than a list of names. So in the comments below, tell me about 5 people from your list who I might not have heard of that every aspiring web designer and developer should follow.