Last August I had the opportunity to share the living space and studio of an old friend, a weaver. He happened to have an extra seat in one of his classes and offered me the chance to learn. As a web developer, I was curious—I had been told that looms were the first computers. Curiously enough,the Jacquard loom was controlled by a series of punched cards, setting the precedent for computer programming and data entry. I believe there’s always something you can learn from another industry’s business and process.
As I began to learn the process, I couldn’t help but draw similarities between weaving and what I do professionally. Taking the weaving class got me wondering how I could emulate weaving with writing code, it helped me build more patience for fixing mistakes (debugging), and ultimately gave me a deep sense of appreciation for another artform. However, unlike software, once a textile is made, it isn’t as easy to reshape or iterate on anymore. And just like web development, the amount of work that goes into a piece of cloth is intense and not always well-compensated. There’s definitely something to learn from comparing these two crafts.
With textile weaving & web development (among other things), you can’t get started without knowing why you’re doing it. A lot of that has to do with who you’re doing it for. Gathering information from your clientele gives you more than just a set of assumptions to work from. Even experience-based assumptions can be wrong: you may understand the demographic you’re working for and can produce something that appeals to them, but you might still miss the smallest of details.
For example, I commissioned my instructor from Fringe Society, Levon Kafafian, to weave a scarf for my Mother. It was for Christmas, which was approaching fast, and not only did we not have enough time to gather information, it was set to be a surprise. I couldn’t really question my mother about her preferences without giving away what I was gifting her. Levon, figuring the type of woman my mother is (simple yet with elegant tastes and a spunky attitude) was fairly confident about weaving this scarf to her liking.
When mom saw what he weaved for her, she loved it! It was beautiful and had her favorite colors woven together. But we missed one important detail. Despite the fact that it was winter, my mother didn’t feel comfortable wearing it because it made her too warm, she’d start sweating! She stays warm without putting on too many layers since her body heat is higher than the average person. We gave her a scarf that ended up not being functional for her.
Similar situations happen in web development. You can understand the general demographic you’re targeting but until you have a qualitative look at how they react to things on the web, you’re likely to miss important details. Unlike textiles, with software, you can always fine tune with an iterative approach, but you’ll save time & money if you gather information up front. Here are some questions you can use to get started:
|Textile Weaving||Web Development|
|What is the intended function for this textile? (e.g. Apparel, Accessory, Home Goods, Decorative Art, etc.)||What are your business objectives? What is the purpose of your project? (e.g. Informational, eCommerce, Marketing, Lead Generation, etc.)|
|What are your values? Aesthetic? Style? Needs?||What are your values? Beliefs? Who’s your audience? What are their needs?|
|What’s your budget?||What’s your budget?|
As you can see, these initial questions aren’t very different. In this phase, it’s all about “design thinking”. We want to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the client in order to create something that’s best suited for them and their audience. It’s safe to say that making any assumptions without investigating the answers to the questions above (and more) will likely lead you down the wrong path. You might end up creating something that the client doesn’t want or need.
After gathering all the information you need, it’s time to make some decisions. In both crafts, these decisions have a major effect on the entire project. Poorly made decisions will create a consistent struggle throughout the project. It is wise to approach this phase with making deliberate calculations, conceiving a plan that enables your confidence and ability to adapt during the course of the project.
At Pitch Black, we gather as much information as possible before designing and developing a web application. This way we can make the best decisions possible. For a client we recently serviced, we realized that their demographic was broad and included all kinds of users, some of them with disabilities. Accessibility and usability was key (as it should always be), we developed with this in mind. Making this decision up front meant that we didn’t have to backtrack to include this decision later; sorting through thousands of lines of code to add assistive technology (HTML5 and ARIA) would have been quite time consuming. So we did it right up front.
Plotting points and designing based on the information you’ve collected provides a visual language that can be used to communicate your plan to the client and ultimately verify that the product you plan to build will be the right one. Here are the decisions you’d make in both crafts:
|Textile Weaving||Web Development|
|Length x Width x Density = The total amount of thread.||How is the information structured? (e.g. sitemap & wireframes)|
|The type of thread (e.g. wool, cotton linen, silk, rayon, etc.)||What will interface look and feel like? (e.g. mockups & prototypes)|
|The pattern, its scale and if it repeats or not.||What is the data relationship model?|
Piecing together the puzzle of both crafts requires respective materials and tools. The materials give the craftsmen something to work with. The higher the quality of material, the higher the quality of the end product. With cloth, the finest materials give the beholder a sense of richness in the textile, resulting in a gratifying experience. With a web application, the quality of its assets give the user a sense of what the business is all about. High quality images and copy tells the user that the business cares about their needs.
With proper care and maintenance, the tools of a craftsman makes her life easier. Without them, the process of creating can be tedious and long. She invests her time and money up front to ensure that her tools are finely tuned and updated to fit her latest needs. These tools provide her with the confidence that she can get the job done in a manner that is prompt, potent and relevant.
|Textile Weaving||Web Development|
|Loom (tool): A device used to weave cloth. The basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads.||Text Editor (tool): An application that allows you to input text without any hidden formatting. Generally used for input data/computer languages.|
|Reed (tool • part of loom): Part of the loom, the reed resembles a comb that keeps the warp’s threads separated and holds them in their positions.||Internet Browser (tool): Software for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web. You view your project in a browser.|
|Reed Hook (tool • part of loom): The reed hook helps the weaver sley the thread through the reed, making threading the warp easier.||Debugger (tool): is a computer program that is used to test and debug other programs.|
Now it’s time to use all the materials and tools to implement decisions you’ve made throughout the project by developing or weaving. There’s a specific sequence of steps that you would follow for either craft—they both have a set of rules, best practices and patterns:
|Textile Weaving||Web Development|
|Get the warp onto the loom.||Install frameworks to project (e.g. Bootstrap, jQuery, WordPress, etc).|
|Sleying the reed.||Prepping the environment and linking all dependencies in the header of the application and just above the closing body tag (HTML template) respectively.|
|Carry the shuttle across the loom, through the warp, under and over the floating selvedge ends (floaters).||Using the language’s syntax, close all open tags, end all statements, and nest your code.|
|Raise and lower shafts, beat the weft, see the pattern as it forms.||Compile and run code in the browser, preview progress.|
There are plenty of things in both crafts that I’ve left out of this article, but you get the point. There are a lot of general principles and connections that can be drawn between these two industries. For instance, when you make a mistake while weaving, you won’t realize it until you beat the weft and see how it fits into the pattern you’re forming. The same goes for when you’re coding, you won’t always realize your mistake until you’ve compiled and run the code in the browser, seen its output and noticed either an error in the console or a break in the layout. In both cases, you have to work backwards, line by line, to correct the mistakes.
If you look at the scarf I made, you can see where I began. I experimented and made tons of mistakes without going back to correct them. Then I became comfortable with the pattern and began developing an overall idea of what I wanted the project to look like. I felt like I had more independence, understanding what I had to do if I made a mistake. My confidence grew and I started to correct them. I’d unweave what I had done, “debug” the mistake, correct it by fixing the pattern, then move forward again.
The process was very rewarding because the amount of effort I put in was equal to the progress I made. I could see my scarf slowly start to form and was able to admire its intricacies. I had no idea what the pattern I had planned for in the beginning would turn out looking like. I just “winged it” and pushed forward. It took shape and the more progress I made, the more I understood what was going on and that understanding reflects in the design of my scarf.
II realized that to do this as a professional, it would mean doing time-consuming work that ultimately didn’t spin up much profit whatsoever. Weaving seems to be an under-appreciated artform, its practitioners are often times underpaid for their level of skill and most folks don’t ever consider the amount of work that goes into it. We have a similar situation in our industry. Learning the craft isn’t always enough, you’ve got to understand the business and how to sustain it or bring someone in who can do it for you. You’ve got to learn how to communicate your value. You’ve got to tell a story.
Whether you’re weaving, web developing or creating in any other type of craft, never allow yourself to be underestimated. Get what you deserve and enjoy yourself.