Performant Art

For artists, the quality of work is often subjective. Subjective, but tangible to the consumer. The skill of a painter, photographer or designer is apparent to the viewer, regardless of any differentiation in taste. People take trips to museums, buy coffee table books from their favorite artists and attend openings at galleries.

For graphic designers, there is a measurable response to their craft. A color combination works, a font choice feels right and an appropriate use of space is generally recognized by the user.

Things get a little less tangible for UX designers and web developers. Technology and interactivity have become so ingrained in our culture, that the execution of immense skill is rarely noticed or acknowledged by the general public. People expect to have beautiful, high resolution images appear on their devices in lightning fast speed. They expect, rightly, to immediately begin interacting with a web page on request. And they expect that interaction to be almost brainless in its navigation and seamless in the execution of tasks.

What is not considered, however, is the immense skillset needed to deliver these experiences. The skills required to serve the massive amount of resources that have become commonplace in the modern web in a performant and responsible way take years of dedication to cultivate. Likewise, the amount of skill needed to prevent a user from having to think about any action throughout the course of their online experience is equally impressive.

Yet, this is considered normal and is the general expectation from the public. This is not to say that it is an unreasonable expectation. Simply that it has become such a facet of daily life that any interruption to the perceived norm is a failure. This is the true measure of our art. Rather than stare in awe of the tonality of an Edward Weston print, our consumers’ only measure of the quality of our art is whether or not they become frustrated during the course of its consumption. A frustration free experience is akin to the Mona Lisa, but there is little chance of the user understanding the corralary.

As a collection of aspiring performant artists, let us all embrace that unsung status from our consumers and acknowledge the true measure of our abilities comes not necessarily from enduring masterpieces, but from the underappreciated ability to enable our users to have a seamless, uninterupted interaction with our work.