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Pat Dryburgh

The time when I was first becoming acquainted with designing for the web coincided with the dawn of the MySpace band. An industry once controlled by a select few who had, over the years, entrapped hundreds if not thousands of artists into unfathomably hostile record contracts had finally been unshackled from its tyrannous overlords, allowing anyone with a pirated copy of Pro Tools to turn their three-song EPs into global rock and roll tours.

This was not unlike my own experience of the web which, from the time I was in secondary school, had granted me the ability to make what I wanted and share it with the world. My pirated copy of Photoshop and a few lonely evenings and weekends introduced my ideas and personality to more people in a month than the total population of my hometown.

My own nascent musical proclivities, and later an opportunity to swindle some free studio time from a buddy of mine, allowed me to record an album of charismatically Christian choruses to publish in that god-awful Flash player for anyone with a web browser to hear. And that led to some shows, and some friends, and some opportunities to practice my also-nascent craft of web-making with some MySpace artist profile designs.

I don’t know if I even own the hard-drive that once housed those early PSD files. Maybe one or two out of a dozen or so would be worth spending an hour or two recovering one day. The rest could rot in ferromagnetic hell for the rest of eternity for all I care.

But it’s the memory of those early struggles that is as familiar today as any day since. It’s where I first learned to never, ever, ever do critical work in a web text field (Tom was way too popular to spend his time implementing autosave); where I could no longer rely on ImageReady’s auto-generated rollover JavaScript to change my fancy menu links on hover for me; where I experienced my first client-relationship clusterfucks.

So it was not without some feeling of nostalgia that I read this evening a quote from Frank Ze, recently shared by Mandy Brown (in a beautifully written piece sharing her thoughts on the world’s transition from text to other, more modern mediums):

Regardless of what you might think, the actions you take to make your Myspace page ugly are pretty sophisticated. Over time as consumer-created media engulfs the other kind, it’s possible that completely new norms develop around the notions of talent and artistic ability.

This rings true to me. As my friend James Shelley once pointed out, the technology we create in turn creates us. My time designing and building MySpace templates for bands and songwriters introduced me to the skills I needed to learn so I could create my own future. It taught me that I need not be a victim of a system that rewards conformity and demonizes individuality, and that even your best friends can forget to pay an invoice on time.

There was no post-secondary syllabus with “Client Tomfoolery 101” emblazoned on a title page. My local library didn’t have a book explaining just what the fuck a spacer.gif was. I had to learn these things like everyone else who had uncovered the secret of View Source: through trial and error.

I believe young designers need this opportunity to experiment, to make mistakes on a smaller scale and learn from them so they are prepared when they’re pushed out onto a larger stage.

Occasionally I am asked how to get started in this industry. The truth is, no two paths are alike. But, I do believe that what separates those who make it and those who fall by the wayside is an understanding that it’s ok to make mistakes, to fudge a project or two or ten, to make something ugly in order to understand what it takes to make something beautiful. Character is developed not from the avoidance of falling down but from falling down and fighting your way back up again.

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