The web design community is remarkable at freely sharing knowledge, more so than most industries. I often wonder how some designers get any work done with the amount time they spend teaching online. Websites like CodePen, Stack Overflow, and innumerable design blogs are filled with useful information.
I’m grateful to be a part of such an open community, one that I strive to give back to, but in reality I’m often constrained by money. I have to focus on projects that financially support my family and that greatly limits the amount of time I have to make code tutorials, design assets, work lessons, and other useful materials.
I’ve quickly learned that any side projects I take on have to at least generate supportive income, meaning the project can pay for itself. To do this, there are a handful of popular methods used today:
- Referral links.
- Donate buttons.
- Increased exposure.
Let’s go through each and identify some of their pitfalls:
Advertising is one of the most common ways for publishers of any kind to see a financial return on their time. The theory is: publish attractive content, generate a significant amount of website traffic, and advertisers will want a piece of that audience.
One of the immediate drawbacks to this solution is cluttering your website with ads that are generally annoying and ugly to your visitors. Though small in impact, it’s also worth noting that ads typically require additional load times for images, scripts, and HTTP requests.
While selling ads is very easy and potentially profitable, a big danger is letting the allure of higher traffic drive your content’s focus. Far too many design blogs put more effort into creating linkbait titles than they do in writing quality articles.
Referral links, when used subtly, are another easy way to increase revenue. For example, if you run a website dedicated to reviewing the top design books, it might seem logical to include referral links to Amazon.
However, from what I’ve found, referral links usually generate very little income and publishers are forced to use a minefield of intentional product links. Similar to advertising, this can taint a website’s true message.
Donate buttons are, in my opinion, the least invasive but also the least powerful way to generate income. Because they requires users to manually go through a donation process, you’re likely to only receive a one-time payment from individuals interested in contributing. People have busy lives; they don’t want to have to remember to donate to your cause repeatedly.
I was hesitant to include this category but sites like Kickstarter are viable ways to get your side projects funded. The major problem I see with this method is your idea needs to be very narrow and concrete. Say you had a great idea for a mobile app, crowdfunding may be an option.
Unfortunately, this approach is very centered around the end result only — backers want to know exactly what they’re going to get in return and that leaves little room for exploration. What I’d like to see is an alternative form of crowdfunding that invests in an individual’s talent and allows them to create whatever they want.
Increased exposure certainly has value and is worth mentioning. One example is when a designer on Dribbble posts a useful resource and, as a result, gains new interest in their work. They’re not generating direct income from the free file but the added exposure may lead to paid work. The catch-22 is the more paid work you receive, the less time you’ll have to create free resources, and vice versa.
What the Web Community Needs
What I would love to see started in the web community is some kind of monthly donation plan that would allow anyone to support the designers and developers they feel provide value to the community. A comparable example is Patreon. In their own words, “Patreon enables fans to give ongoing support to their favorite creators.”
It’s important to note the difference between this idea and a subscription-based service. Take Tuts+, for example. Much of their content is free but a lot of their articles are premium-only and require a paid account. To me, this isn’t as helpful to the whole web community because not everyone can access and learn from the information.
If a service like Patreon existed in the web community, I could see it being extremely useful. It would help eliminate nearly all of the drawbacks mentioned above while still allowing creators to have some kind of financial support. Personally, I would be happy to send people like Sam Soffes a little money to explore new app ideas, or to Chris Coyier for his hard work in the CSS world.
What do you think? Is this a good idea? Are there other ways you support fellow web designers and developers? Let me know in the comments.