I put up a new web page today – “launched” seems too grand a term for what is after all just one page.
This particular page is for Compassion in World Farming Australia, the local arm of a global organisation based in the UK.
CIWF works to eliminate inhumane practices toward farm animals around the world, and is gradually building a network of country-specific sites. An Australian web presence was deemed useful in the lead-up to a symposium being held in Brisbane in October.
However, it does give me the opportunity to raise an issue I’ve been meaning to post here for some time: pro bono work.
I’m not sure if this is a generally used term in the web design and development industry, but I’ve borrowed it from the legal profession as it seems to fit.
Literally, this Latin phrase means (I think) “for good”, meaning “for the benefit of all” and in this instance it means doing work for free.
I cannot emphasise enough how important pro bono work is to me.
Sure, I’m an old hippy, pinko, bleeding heart, touchy-feely, small ‘l’ liberal – but that’s not the point.
Yes, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing I’m helping someone buidl a web presence they might otherwise not achieve – but that’s a fringe benefit.
The real issue for me is that I get to practise the full gamut of web design and development skills.
Not only do I get to extend my technical capabilities, but I also improve my skills in pitching proposals, understanding briefs, fixing costs and timeframes, liaising with clients, optimising sites and – especially – testing the site on real users.
For a solo freelance designer, this is a huge benefit.
I also get to aim for properly formatted, semantic, validated, accessible, tables-free websites without being constrained by commercial considerations.
In my case, I limit my pro bono work to what I perceive as good causes with a limited ability to pay, but that’s just me.
Any web designer could take on pro bono work in any fields they choose, just to stretch themselves.
It’s on pro bono projects that I’ve tried out stuff I would be nervous about imposing on a paying client.
It’s not a matter of providing “lesser” services to pro bono clients – in fact, quite the opposite. Because I choose pro bono clients that do stuff that matters to me and I think matters to a lot of people, it becomes very important to provide them with the absolute best possible service.
I also feel that this approach is somewhat of an antidote to my own realisation that some of the most important breakthroughs in web design and development were pioneered in less than savoury sections of the online world.
Porn sites mastered streaming video and made it accessible to the masses, gambling sites were among the first to offer secure online ecommerce transactions, and so on.
Through pro bono work, maybe non-profit organisations and community services outlets can be among the first to benefit from the next wave of online technological advances.
In any case, it helps me to sleep a little better.