The Benefit of a Responsive Community
A few weeks ago, I had an article published here on DesignM.ag entitled “The Problem with Free Fonts,” in which I basically suggested that one of the potential problems that may emerge from the vast pool for free fonts that are available (in a variety of capacities) across the internet might be found in their obvious over use. I cited Papyrus and Comic Sans as potential examples, and ultimately was quite happy with the response – both in terms of the quantity and quality of the comments.
A couple days later, I came across another article via Twitter. This one was written by the greatly-esteemed Brian Hoff, and published on his Design Cubicle blog. It was aptly and wonderfully titled “With beautiful type comes great responsibility,” and I was first drawn to the title by the awesome Spider-Man allusion. After realizing who the author of the article was, however, I was excited to read it, since Brian’s insights into the typography are always fascinating and helpful.
Imagine my surprise then, when the very first sentence in the article actually referenced and linked to my article. I must confess that I felt a bit of a twinge in my stomach when I read that Brian was “a hint disappointed by the depth of the articles positioning,” but I read on anyways, still interested in what he had to say.
Basically, the article suggests that the problem I outlined is not the only problem with free fonts and goes on to suggest that issues of missing typographical history, a lack of proper weights and styles and just poor craftsmanship are actually much more significant problems when it comes to free fonts. By the time I finished reading, I concluded that it was a marvellous article and a great response to my own piece.
Now, the reason for highlighting all of this is not to actually focus on the two cited articles. For the purposes of this currently article, I want to focus more on the actual act of response.
A Responsive Community
Ultimately, I think that the larger design community could use a bit more of this kind of interaction, in which one author will formulate a response to another article, and use that as the backbone for one of their own works. Brian certainly wasn’t the first to use this technique (I’ve done it myself from time to time), but I often find that some of the best articles emerge out of this approach to writing. There are probably a couple of different reasons for this.
The first has to do with the power of response. If somebody else’s article works as the starting point for your own, then chances are it’s because it touches on something that you’re passionate about, and passion is always a great motivator when it comes to writing.
Brian’s response to my own article is a perfect example. He makes no secret about the fact that he’s really passionate about typography, and so when he stumbled across my article and saw that opportunity to expand on what has originally been said, he seized on it. Moreover, because it was something he is passionate about, he ultimately produced a very strong response.
So, since a passionate response actually tends to lead to more inspired writing, it also provides the community with stronger articles
The second reason that this is good for the community is that it actually helps encourage connections. A community is, by its very definition, a group of people who are bound together through some sort of commonality. Traditionally, this binding factor has often been geographical and ideological, comprised of like minded people living in close proximity to each other. With the advent of the internet, however, physical boundaries have become far less defined, and online communities have sprung up that cover the entire globe.
This, of course, describes the design community. We are bound together by a common love and passion for all things design, and express that love through blogs, social networks and other interesting projects (like Design Swap).
Like any community, though, the more connections that exist between members, the stronger the it becomes. So, while I do think that we already have a very strong community, it can only benefit even more from the extra connections that are established through responsive article writing.
The Power of Discussion
Moving along, we all know that comments are a huge part of blogging, and one of the foundations of the community. Somebody writes an article, and other people share their thoughts and comments. Often, very interesting discussions can arise, and there are some instances where the comments can almost become even more valuable that the article itself.
That being said, however, sometimes we have more to say than can really fit into the comments on a particular article. When this happens, writing a responsive piece can be a great alternative, giving you as much room as you need to formulate your response.
Again, Brian’s article is a great example. Though it certainly doesn’t rank among the longest design articles on the internet, its scope is still probably somewhat wider than what would have really worked in even the longest of comments. So, in order to get all of his thoughts out, a fully articulated article was probably the only real option.
Of course, if both your site and the site that you are referencing have trackback functionality turned on, your article may appear in the list of in-bound links on the article that you are referencing, thereby connecting it into the larger discussion.
Expansion and Counter Arguments
Though there are any number of different ways to respond to an article, the two methodologies that are likely to be used most often are expansion and counter argument. Both of these are very valid types of responses.
An expansion response is generally used when you read an article and, though you agree with the general premise, you also feel that there is more to say on the subject. Such articles are generally organized by citing the original source, summarizing its main point(s), and then proceeding to outline other, related points, thereby expanding on the premise of the original article.
On the other hand, a counter argument looks at the original source and takes a different, or opposing stance. Like the expansion article, it generally begins by outlining the basic premise of the original article. However, instead of adding further points along that same basic premise, the counter argument takes a completely different stance on the same point, often attempting to highlight the weaknesses of the original article.
Either approach presents a legitimate methodology, depending on how you decide to frame your response.
Grace and Respect
That being said, however, it’s important that any response-based article be written with both grace and respect. As the author of the original article, one of the things that I appreciated the most about Brian’s response was the way he was very respectful of my work. He even went so far as to specifically note that he has “nothing against the article, writer or website” and that he “just felt that the subject needed to be further touched upon”.
After the article was published, Brian and I also exchanged some comments, both on his blog and via Twitter, where we both reaffirmed our mutual respect for each other.
If we want to reap the benefits of a more responsive community – in the form of more passionate articles and stronger connections – then it’s absolutely crucial to maintain a certain level of respect on both sides. The moment things start to get even remotely disrespectful, patronizing or insulting, defences are going to start being raised on both sides and, instead of engaging in an intelligent and productive exchange of ideas, you may find yourself in the midst of a pointless and heated argument that isn’t really of any benefit to the community whatsoever.
One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that not everyone agrees about everything. I’ve also learned that it is possible for two completely opposing viewpoints to exist at the same time, and still both be equally as valid. The evidence of a strong community is the ability to agree, in an honest and respectful way, to simply disagree on certain more contentious matters.
Though it may not seem like much, I really do think that the benefits of this kind of responsive community cannot be understated. Stronger and more passionate articles will help to make for a stronger and more passionate community, and the increased connection will only help to strengthen the bonds that tie us all together.
Honestly, even a bit of respectfully present opposition can help, as it will promote discussion.
In the end, I think everyone wins. Authors will start to produce stronger work, readers will have better material to read, and the ultimate exchange of ideas will help to move the community continually forward. And that, my friends, is a good thing.