Access vs. Ability: Web Design, Code & Comfort Level

    May 11, 2015 Jessica Jones

    It’s a fairly common occurrence for one of our clients to use the word “access” in a way that doesn’t quite fit the situation. They’ll want to know whether they can make a particular edit to their website on their own and they’ll ask if they “have access” to make that change. “You have access to everything,” I’ll tell them. “We don’t restrict your access to your website.” If the change they’re discussing is one that involves code I’ll usually follow up with something like “I’m not sure, though, whether this particular update is one you’d feel comfortable doing on your own.”

    code <figcaption id="caption-attachment-3309" class="wp-caption-text">If this makes you want to hide under the sofa, then web design probably isn’t the profession for you.</figcaption></figure>

    That, of course, is my gentle way of saying “I’m not sure you have the necessary skill to do it.” Usually in these cases if I mention that the change requires editing code the client will hurry to say that they’d prefer to have us handle it. Most people who don’t write code have a healthy appreciation for the fact that it’s outside of their skillset and will gladly hire us to take care of it for them.

    Technically, you’ve got “access” to everything …

    Of course there are occasional people who turn a bit grumpy when faced with the idea that they can’t make a change on their own. They could, of course - they’d just have to learn a bit of css and/or php in order to do it. Continuing to frame it in terms of access, however, is inaccurate. There are ample reasons why someone might not possess strong web development skills - lack of interest in learning and lack of time to learn being the most common - but access isn’t the issue.

    When questioned on this I always trot out my car as a metaphor. I love my car, I keep her well taken care of, but I don’t understand the first thing about car maintenance and repair. What I do understand is that I should regularly pay an expert to make sure she gets what she needs to keep running smoothly. I have full access to my car. No one is stopping me from learning to change the oil on my own, but I don’t wanna, so I’ll pay a pro to do it.

    WordPress: Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master

    I regularly teach our Working with WordPress class, which, in two hours, teaches clients how to log in to WordPress and manage the content on their sites. It’s a part of my job that I enjoy - giving people a bit of power over their site. Many people seem to enjoy the class and come away from it feeling less intimidated by the prospect of managing their site, especially people who have just upgraded to a WordPress site after spending years dealing with an older site built on a far less user friendly platform that literally couldn’t be updated at all without a strong understanding of code. One of the reasons why WordPress is our platform of choice is the ability to do just that - teach a two-hour class that gives a client the power to manage their own content.

    Naturally in that class the question of “what can I and can’t I do” comes up regularly. I teach content management through WordPress, but more advanced web development requires far more than a single two-hour class. Sometimes I’ll get a student who clearly has a genuine interest in going beyond what I teach in the class - someone whose eyes light up with curiosity when I mention code (as opposed to the deer-in-headlights look that is the more common response). I love to encourage learning, but I always encourage interested folks to do any newbie practicing or tinkering on something low-stakes - i.e. not the shiny new business website they just paid us to design. Back to the car metaphor - you don’t begin the process of learning auto maintenance by disassembling your brand new Camry.

    So if these are skills that you’re interested in learning - go for it, because learning new skills is awesome. If it’s not your bag, that’s fine too - web development certainly isn’t for everyone. We’re here to help - that design tweak that’s a bit beyond your comfort level is probably something we can handle for you. Just because you have the access doesn’t mean you have to use it! To paraphrase Uncle Ben, with great access comes great responsibility.

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