I finally got around to reading Virginia Postrel's April 6th, 2007 BusinessWeek article entitled Doing It Yourself. It is an interesting read in light of some change occurring within my workplace, an academic library.
We are probably not the only library IT shop that has a web design team that performs work for outside departments for a fee. Those fees recovers the salaries of the development and design staff. Over the years, our developers have created many design templates as well as a very handy tool set which has facilitate web development and eliminated the need for most content managers to know anything about HTML. Skills developers are required since the underlying infrastructure uses Cold Fusion.
There have also been discussions about the local deployment of an enterprise content management (ECM) system and of the UM.Sitemaker solutions. Both of these tools can create basic web sites and are poised to disrupt the current web design group's business model. These potentially disruptive technologies are generally being discounted by developers, who tend assert that without their specialized skills good design is not possible.
The reality is that these days the tools are cheaper, more powerful, and easily found online that as Ms. Postrel puts it, "permit customization, Build-a-Bear style" that "lets amateurs recombine predesigned modules to produce professional, or semi-professional, results." With these tools many libraries may no longer need to work with developers designers to create basic web portals and will likely suffice for much of the web portal design work which has been historically done by developers.
Designers should not react in fear that we will stop needing their skills. There will always be a need for skilled designers and developers. As Ms. Postrel points out "To fear that shoddy DIY work will replace good professional design is to suggest that the two are indistinguishable to the untrained eye." Still, these new tools will likely require library developers to refocus their energies on creating web applications that supplement and enhance web portals rather than building out the portals themselves.
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