Acacia Carr started learning to code in HTML and CSS a little more than 20 years ago, when she was 16, for a summer job. She entered the field professionally a decade ago and since then, she says, "it's been my passion every day and every night."
A native New Mexican who grew up in Santa Fe and currently lives in Albuquerque, Carr runs her own agency with clients all over the world, but mostly focuses on those in New Mexico and California, where she also used to live. She's seen many changes in the industry, with "the most striking" being the divide between web developers and designers. "There's often a lot of friction between the two," she says, "because they don't speak the same language."
Carr, on the other hand, is a unicorn, "that rare web creative that is both developer and designer." As such, she wrote the book Uncommon Creative: The Handbook for Unicorns, which publishes this month, to try "to heal that divide between design and development."
Understanding the emergence of unicorns into creative web culture requires looking at the ways in which the industry, and its tools, have developed and changed. Carr's book provides a world wide web history that traces the technology from its inception as a networking tool for computer scientists to the current mobile-centric climate of responsive web design.
That history includes a drill-down on key developers, designers and companies, as well as a narrative that explicates the role Apple and the iPhone played in shifting creative work away from flash-based design to current content management systems such as WordPress. Those changes have certainly made creating websites more accessible for people, Carr notes, but also have added to the schism between designers and developers. It's a divide she's encountered repeatedly when taking over projects where communication between people with widely different skill bases broke down. As someone who practices integrated web design and development, Carr maintains the importance of understanding "the different components that are going into what you're doing when it's web-related because it's all connected."
The history Carr provides helps explain the current industry, but Carr also provided it, she says, because "there's no standard for education in this field," which means "not everyone is going to have the same awareness of what's come before." For example, she's encountered many people within the industry unfamiliar with Ada Lovelace, an early 19th-century mathematician considered today to have written the first computer algorithm.
"I didn't even want to assume that anyone knew the base information," Carr says, "so I went ahead and just kind of covered everything." The result is a book she hopes will appeal to people at all stages of work in the web domain. "I feel like if you had no knowledge walking into the field, you could pick up this book and you get something going right away," she says.
At the same time, she adds, the later chapters in particular will be helpful for people who have been in practice for years as they address areas of project management, hiring and technology selection that can help address some of the issues she's seen.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," she says, "but if you actually take a step back and look at your foundation—not just your technical and your creative foundation, but your business foundation—this book can help you with all of that."
Hence, chapters that consider everything from the essentials of web design and development to finding clients, branding and project management are all presented in a colorful format that includes many additional resources.
While the book was intended to help web creatives at all stages of their careers, encouraging women in technology was Carr's fundamental goal along with helping foster more recognition for their contributions. Lack of knowledge about web pioneers such as Lovelace is indicative of the general way in which women's roles in technology have become marginalized. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its impact on society as a whole.
"Many of our daily interactions are now controlled or monitored or somehow affected by an algorithm," Carr says, "and an algorithm is a reflection of a mindset and the mindset is reflectant of the person who creates the algorithm, so it's basically, your digital culture comes from the culture of the people who make it." Right now, she notes, "tech is at this point comprised of men in their mid-30s who are white or Asian, and of a very affluent background, which is a very limited perspective."
Ultimately, she adds, she's working toward helping create a vision of tech that is more inclusive, "where gender isn't even mentioned; you could be nonbinary, you could be anybody, and it's just going to be about the work you're doing."
Uncommon Creative: The Handbook for Unicorns by Acacia Carr. $40 (soft-cover); $14.99 (e-book); acaciacarr.com/my-book.