On Professionalism New Media Work


Helen Kennedy (2010) who is Principal Lecturer in Interactive Media in the School of Social Sciences and Media and Cultural Studies at the University of East London has answered a call for research response to Gill’s 2002 paper invoking that new media workers’ are rarely studied.

Her recent paper focuses on web designers aiming to answer two questions: 

• What web designers feel about their work?

• What works mean to them?


The research is drawn on a panel of 31 designers (13 women and 18 men) comprising:

 • web designer

 • web developer

 • digital content producer

 • creative director

 •  information architect

Literature inputs : characteristics of work

Previous literature (Florida, 2003) stressed out the importance of creativity in their work practices, introducing the concept of “the industrialisation of bohemia’’ (Ross, 2003) defined by:

•  uneven  project based working patterns (up to 80-hour weeks)

•  flexibility and adaptibility

Literature also highlighted characteristics of their working patterns:

•  freedom and autonomy (Leadbeater and Oakley, 1999) (+)

•  heterarchical organisations (Writtel et al., 2002) (+)

•  ‘corrosion of character’ due to the lack of stability (Sennett, 1998) (-)

•  individualization of work implying an increased sense of risk (Deuze, 2007; Sennett, 1998, 2006) (-)

On professionalism in new media work 

All these inputs reviewed, the Author questioned the professionalism in new media work and especially among web designers.

Web evangelist Molly Holzschlag defines this new professionalism as follows:

‘The essence of this new professionalism isn’t about being perfect at what we do. It’s being able to say: Hey, I don’t know that. Let me go find out. This new professionalism means taking responsibility for the education of ourselves and each other. (2005)’

Therefore, Helen Kennedy pointed out characteristics of professionalism in new media work:

Characteristic # 1  Building an accessible web, for an audience as broad as possible

Characteristic # 2  Making effort to keep up with their trade

I listen to a lot of podcasts on my mobile.…I tend to listen to them when I’m washing up, walking or doing other things that I need to do, but don’t need to think about.

(Timothy, self-employed web developer)

I’ve got an iPhone and use that to send and receive emails, and subscribe to podcasts.… I update Twitter regularly using Hahlo and have even blog posted from my iPhone. I have gReader bookmarked where I read rss feeds.… I follow many in the standards community who are already using Twitter to share information, link to blog posts, etc. The reactions are immediate and there has been some interesting debateon Twitter, all in 140-letter posts!

(Gregory, self-employed web designer)

Probably the main reason I love the industry I work in so much is the communication aspect, so that anyone anywhere can communicate with anyone else because of this brilliant tool. And every day that excites me and it excites me how different people use it and the new things and the new ideas people are coming up with. Underpinning all that, my interest in usability and accessibility is trying to make sure that anyone, on any device, with any ability, can use that communication tool, because I think it would be a grave shame if we didn’t make sure that it was open to everyone.

 (Gregory, self-employed web designer) 

Characteristic # 3   What counts at work is the deeper skills of the craftsperson

Characteristic # 4  Networking practices is based on sharing

Networking is important when you think about being active in your industry. But if you’re active in the industry and you’re putting stuff out and you’re out there being known for what you’re doing then that’s really important.…It does depend on how you define networking.          

(Paul, creative director, independent web design agency) 

Remaining issues

 Beyond these outcomes, and still according to Kennedy’s research (2010) further questions remained unanswered:

•  Is the professionalization of web design a form of control, and if so, who is controlling what?

•  Are its ethical codes – of web standards and of accessibility – a means of excluding outsiders?

•  If so, who is getting excluded when web designers talk about good and bad web design practice?

•  What does it mean, then, ideologically, to talk about web design as professionalized and professionalizing, and what are the consequences for web audiences, especially disabled ones?

•  It is laudable that accessibility and inclusion form part of a sense of professionalism among web designers, but what are the full political and economic implications of this?


Deuze, M. (2007) Media Work. Cambridge: Polity. 

Florida, R. (2003) The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books. 

Gill, R. (2002) ‘Cool, Creative and Egalitarian? Exploring Gender in Project-based NewMediaWork in Europe’, Information, Communication and Society 5(1): 70–89.

Holzschlag, M. (2005) Web Standards and the New Professionalism.

Kennedy, H. (2010) Net work: the professionalization of web design.

Leadbeater, C. and K. Oakley (1999) The Independents: Britain’s New Cultural Entrepreneurs. London: Demos. 

Ross, A. (2003) No-collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 

Sennett, R. (1998) The Corrosion of Character: Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. New York: Norton.

Sennett, R. (2006) The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Wittel, A., C. Lury and S. Lash (2002) ‘Real and Virtual Connectivity: New Media in London’, in S. Woolgar (ed) Virtual Society? Technology, Cyberbole, Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leave A Reply