By Tobias van Schneider Published September 17, 2019
This is a declaration of love for personal websites, written from years of thinking on the subject, reviewing thousands of portfolios, building websites for friends and bookmarking those of strangers. It’s a subject I’m so passionate about, I built my business on it. And recently, it’s become a matter of principle.
Not long ago, the web was still the future. It was a big deal for companies to have their own site, much less individuals. Technology evolved. We picked up a few HTML and CSS tricks, discovered the wonders of Flash. We started spinning up our own sites, complete with guest books and visitors counters.
In those days, our website was our home. An extension of ourselves. Every day we visited our page, tweaked it a bit here, adjusted something there, stood back and admired it. Our site was a little corner of the internet we could own.
Fast forward to now and a website almost feels old fashioned. Our social profiles are all-consuming. Curating our Instagram page is our second job. We almost feel an obligation to share our work there, in addition to our personal lives. Our little corner of the internet? It now collects cobwebs.
"Our site was a little corner of the internet we could own."
In contrast to our personal websites, we don't own our social platforms. They own us. On top of eating our time, our emotions and our focus, they are demanding our privacy. Whether we realized it or not, we signed away our rights when we signed up for these platforms. We not only give giant tech companies our personal data – we allow them to use, sell and share our content in whatever way they wish. Soon, we will see the repercussions of freely giving away our data and our work. When it comes to creativity and self-expression, the loss is already apparent.
On social media, we are at the mercy of the platform. It crops our images the way it wants to. It puts our posts in the same, uniform grids. We are yet another profile contained in a platform with a million others, pushed around by the changing tides of a company's whims. Algorithms determine where our posts show up in people’s feeds and in what order, how someone swipes through our photos, where we can and can’t post a link. The company decides whether we're in violation of privacy laws for sharing content we created ourselves. It can ban or shut us down without notice or explanation. On social media, we are not in control.
As designers, we already forfeit a degree of creative control outside of social media. At our day jobs, we usually don’t have a say in the final product. Directors take over. Politics and process force their way in. Clients leave their fingerprints on the work or reject it entirely. If our work does see the light of day, and there's no guarantee, the execution is not always how we imagined it. Work is not the place for personal expression and full creative freedom. It's the place to follow the creative brief and solve the problem presented to us. So what's left to call our own?
Our personal website.
We control the layout of our website. We can create a page that reflects our taste, our personality, our style.
We control the narrative, too. It's here we can finally show our work the way it’s intended to be shown. We get to tell the story exactly as we wrote it, with context the audience or user doesn’t typically have. It’s our chance to own our work and put it in its best light.
We decide the way our website functions. We can influence how people interact with our work. We can guide our visitors through our content in the way that most makes sense. We can lead them straight to our contact info.
We choose whether our work stays alive on the internet. As long as we keep our hosting active, our site remains online. Compare that to social media platforms that go public one day and bankrupt the next, shutting down their app and your content along with it.
"Having my own website says I care about what I do beyond clocking in and out and cashing a paycheck."
At the risk of sounding religious about this, and maybe I am, our personal websites are our temples. They remain the one space on the internet where we decide how we are introduced to friends, potential employees and strangers. It’s a place where we can express, on our terms, who we are and what we offer.
As a working professional, it feels empowering to have my own website. Just seeing my personal domain name and my email address that ends in it gives me this little boost of confidence. Scrolling through my work and making small adjustments makes me feel like I’m deciding my future. Considering the percentage of opportunities I get through my portfolio, that feeling is accurate.
Having my own website says I care about what I do beyond clocking in and out and cashing a paycheck. It shows I’m proud of what I create. If my taste or my work or the industry evolves, I have the power to reflect that on my portfolio. If I launch a new project, my first thought is to put it on my homepage. With this blog, I can write articles that connect directly back to me and my website. Social media is a nice way to extend the reach, but it all points back to vanschneider.com. It’s the one link I give to people inquiring about me and my work, rather some www.designplatform.com/vanchneider08247 URL or social media handle I don’t own. My site is the little place I’ve carved out for myself on the world wide web. It’s mine.
Call me old fashioned, call me nostalgic, call this a self-serving attempt to convince you to use Semplice.com. All of those accusations are at least partially accurate. But the real truth is that as long as we’re putting our work in someone else’s hands, we forfeit our ownership over it. When we create a personal website, we own it – at least to the extent that the internet, beautiful in its amorphous existence, can be owned.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!