One of my best friends from high school, Alex, is an architect. Years ago when we were both still in high school or maybe when we’d moved on to college, Alex told me one of the reasons he was drawn to architecture is that it’s a noble profession.
I agreed with the statement, but later wondered what it really meant. What makes a profession noble? It’s a question I’ve thought about on and off over the years and today I want to think aloud about web design and whether or not it too is a noble profession.
What is a Noble Profession?
I don’t think there’s a single definition of a noble profession, but when asked common responses include
- The work is done (at least in part) for reasons other than self-interest
- The work serves the public good in some way. It contributes to society
- The work is meaningful and lasting
- The work glorifies the spirit of humanity
- The work influences future generations
Reference.com offers the following as one definition of the word noble.
noble (adj.) — of an exalted moral or mental character or excellence: a noble thought. Synonyms: lofty, elevated, high-minded, principled; magnanimous; honorable, estimable, worthy, meritorious.
The definition applies the adjective to people, not professions. Maybe it’s not that a profession is noble, but rather some people in the profession perform their work with nobility? Perhaps a noble profession is one that provides more opportunities for the people who work in it to be noble.
Some professions seem to have this opportunity for nobility built in.
- Police officers
- Fire fighters
Alex considered architects another. What about web design?
Is Web Design a Noble Profession?
I’d like to think it is. While I realize our jobs are mainly to serve a client or project and create a website that helps achieve specific goals, I can’t help but think it could be something more.
Perhaps it’s not so much that the profession is by definition noble, but rather it’s one of those professions that provides opportunities for those of us who work in it to act nobly. Off the top of my head here are a few ways in which we might contribute something more, while also doing the job we’re hired to do.
We can choose the projects we work on — If we don’t believe in an idea or a business or we don’t care for how a potential client conducts business we don’t have to accept the project. We can choose to take on projects that align with our vision of some greater good or at least reject those projects we think act against it.
Our choice of projects helps define our brand. Our choice for one project helps attract the next. You can build a brand that’s about more than attracting clients. One that also represents who you are and what you believe?
We can define a larger concept — Design is a series of questions and answers, of problems and solutions. The possible solutions and answers are many. We define a concept to help direct answers and solve problems in a unified way.
We could do something similar for our life’s work. Define and refine a concept, not for a project, but for a career and a life. Unify your choices from the projects you choose to the style of your work. Unify them under a concept that reflects your worldview and vision for the future.
We can communicate more than a marketing message — First and foremost we should serve the clients who hire us. We should never attempt to use their sites as our platform. By communicating more I don’t mean we should be making political or social statements on client sites.
However, there will always be something of our voice in any work we do, especially if we’ve understood our career and life concept. We can communicate in ways that perhaps aren’t seen when looking at a particular design, but can be seen when taking in the whole of our work.
We can pursue more projects for ourselves — While we shouldn’t use client sites as our platform, there’s no reason we can’t create our own platform to communicate whatever it is we’d like.
When you do have something more direct to say, build a site to say it. Blog about it. Create a page on a domain you own that directly makes your point. You have opinions. Don’t be afraid to share them.
I don’t think designers are by definition better or more noble than anyone else, but the profession seems to attract people who are interested in more than the bottom line. Even those among us who lean toward the analytic, engage our right brain frequently. Characteristics like empathy fill us and we generally have ideas and visions for something better.
All people in any profession have the ability to act in a noble way. However, web design gives us an opportunity to reach more people than most professions and to do our jobs well we develop skills for communicating more effectively.
Earning a paycheck by serving clients is honorable. It’s honorable to help them put food on their table while also putting food on ours. At the same time we work in an industry that provides opportunities to do more. Why not do more while putting food on the table?
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.
Web designers have the opportunity to improve accessibility. This is a noble pursuit not unlike an architects’ or city planner. The Internet is a Wild West of data; we need designers to harness the content and present it in a way that empowers all users.
That is something we can do that’s certainly noble. Good point.