Earlier this year I had the opportunity to hear Jeremy Keith speak about the importance of owning your data and the challenges of digital preservation. In this particular lecture, his tone was slow and deliberate, and he explained with reverence that due
to the crumbling of proprietary solutions, aspects of your digital life are slowly being lost. An obvious example he mentioned was Geocities; a website building platform that gave myself and countless others their first public experiences with publishing HTML.
One morning, the world woke up and saw a message saying, “If you did not download your GeoCities files and images before October 26, 2009, you will no longer be able to access that data.”
Designers, we are historians.
I doubt anyone feels that the world lost any substantial examples of design or engineering by deprecating Geocities. Its value clearly wasn’t in the quality of work that was stored on those servers—it was in the story it told. The loss
we felt came from a piece of human history being carelessly discarded. More specifically, this loss of history was something that many of us made early contributions to in some form or another, and now it’s gone forever.
While our corporate job descriptions don’t mention it, never forget that what we’re truly doing everyday is documenting the world around us. Every color you choose and line of code you write is a reflection of you; not just as a human being in this world,
but as a human being in this time and place in human history. Inside each project is a record of the styles and fashions you value, the technological advancements being made in the industry, the tone of your voice, and even the social and economic trends around
you. Looking back on old projects, it’s easy to identify where you were when you made it. Most of us can probably remember what music we were listening to and what clothes we were wearing when it first went online. Each of these projects are detailed entries
in a journal of human history.
Make no mistake; we are historians. Long after we’re dead and gone, our families won’t look at our work and attach an ROI to our user experience strategies. The work we leave behind is a proclamation to the world that says I was here at this time, and
this is what was important to me. Remember this the next time a frustrated client calls. Enjoy this responsibility the next time you’re forced to work an all-nighter. We don’t just design things. We’re not simply helping users and we’re certainly
not just collecting a paycheck. We’re the few in this world who have accepted a calling to record the history happening around us.
Let’s go make something worth preserving.
Mike Finch is a designer, writer, and coffee enthusiast living in the Pacific Northwest. He's the founder of
Open Design and has had the pleasure of designing for companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Oracle. Feel free to say hello on
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