Trophy Barbershop is a magical place—with wild game stuffed and mounted on the walls, leopard skin chairs, and scrappy old tattooed barbers slinging shears.

It was the place in Baytown, TX, to get your standard-issue bowl haircut when I was a kid. My barber’s name was Randall Ashby. I loved being there, sitting on my booster seat and listening to stories while Randall feigned interest in my own. In a place where such humdrum work happened day-in, day-out, it wasn’t the haircuts that made Trophy Barbershop magical, but the people in it.


I’ve always found recursive jobs like that to be charming; hair will always need to be cut, oil changed, and crops tended. Because the end product isn’t permanent, one tends to delight more in the experience itself and the people involved. Part of me has always seen building for the web in a similar light. That isn’t to say that epic stuff doesn’t happen online, just that floating a div sure as shit ain’t it. Technology will eventually render my creation obsolete, and when it does I’ll build something better. For me, what matters most isn’t the code or pixels, it’s the users, clients, and friends who share it with me.

I suppose there are lots of places prone to the numbingly mundane, but the web excels at that because the medium makes it so easy for us to disengage. It’s not hard to forget that behind all the stats, conversion rates, and avatars are actual people with families, feelings, goals, and problems. Trophy Barbershop could have just been Acme Barbershop, where hair was cut and nothing more. In the same way, the web can just be a place for websites, email, status updates, and nothing more if we fail to see the opportunities behind those interactions.


I want my online community to be a Trophy Barbershop. For that to happen, I’ve got to make the most of my interactions by making them as personal as I possibly can.

Use email for purposes other than unloading tasks. Taking time to go out on a limb and say something kind can go far. Just the other day, Kyle Meyer sent me an email just to say hello & that he enjoyed meeting me at SXSW. I beamed.

Use likes & favorites however you want to. Places like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and Dribbble are peppered with star, heart, and thumbs-up icons. I often use these mechanisms for different reasons, like a digital ‘high-five’, or a non-intrusive way to say, “I’m there with you, man.” This may sound silly, but when I found myself at a dinner table with Yaron and Josh, having not seen them since October, it paid off. We were able to spend all our time talking about what’s going on now as opposed to catching up on the past 6 months of our lives.

Invest in your friends and colleagues. Buy their stuff and support their projects. I like my Meditate T-shirt, Cake poster, and Colosseo letterpress, but I love them because Kyle, Aaron, and Cameron made them. Also, I bought 8Faces and supported The Manual, and The Shape of Design on Kickstarter because I believe in Elliot, Andy, and Frank. While the products are, and will be, excellent in and of themselves, I was thrilled to simply support what they’re doing.

Show Gratitude. There are a lot of free or almost-free resources online. I’m not keeping score, but I estimate that I owe Chris Coyier close to $1000 for all the time he’s saved me by regularly blogging about his CSS adventures. If you gain from what someone publishes or shares, why not do something nice in return. I preemptively sent Chris an Amazon gift card in hopes that he won’t now send me an invoice for $1k.

Cut People Slack. We’re going to argue, get things wrong, and step on toes. Road rage happens because drivers aren’t face to face. The same happens online when all we see are avatars. Nonverbal cues, no matter how subtle, can carry a lot of weight—a lot more than emoticons can :)

It’s easy to forget that underneath this fragile layer of markup, HTTP requests, IMAP, and avatars are people, and it’s those people that make my workplace, the web, fantastic.


53 Responses

Leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @TrentWalton

  • Trent

    @Ryan Merrill: Exactly! We care about these people and believe in what they do. Why shouldn’t they get to live their dreams?

    @Dan: Camaraderie is what it’s all about. Heck, we’ve become e-friends simply by commenting on each other’s stuff. Also, you need make an Austin visit one of these days.

  • Matt Ashwood

    Great post as usual Trent. And it’s damn lovely looking to boot

  • Ryan Merrill

    Great post, Trent.

    I, like you, supported Elliott, Frank and Andy mainly because they took the risk to do something great, and they’re great at what they do. I’ll always be more apt to support independent designers/developers who are passionate about their products than I am to some mega corporation. I’m glad I’m part of a community who shares that point of view. It makes getting up and going to work so much more enjoyable.

    Keep up the good work, brother.

  • Andrew Armitage

    Love the analagy and I’d love to get my haircut at the Trophy Barbershop! It sounds awesome!

    A great read and a good reminder that there’s more to a digital life than avatars and quick exchanges which can easily hide genuine emotion and personality.

  • Dan

    I agree with everything you have written. Creating for an ever changing landscape is part of what makes working with the web perfect for me. The opportunity to continually advance myself and grow is one that I cherish.

    I echo your feelings on social interaction on sites like twitter, flickr and dribbble. These are places to encourage our peers and grow with others. These are the places where I have learned that this community of ours, is for the most part totally awesome. The support and camaraderie between many designers and developers have made so many great things.

    Thanks for the insightful and personal post!

  • Gustavo

    This is a good topic, goes along the lines of being a good team player. This is paramount when working within an agency b/c people come from all walks of life and it can get pretty hairy at times due to the nature of the work.

  • Viktor Engborg

    Such a lovely piece, and a great header on top of that. Lettering.js rocks.

  • Pat Dryburgh

    Beautifully written prose on what truly matters most on the Internet. You are exactly right: while the tools and technology we use to communicate changes at an almost daily pace, what stays consistent are the relationships we build around and with these tools.

    One thing I have missed as a young adult due to my constant moving from city to city is having a consistent community around me to call my own. However, though I have lacked this consistency in my offline life, I have grown to appreciate more and more the faces I’ve come to know through the few online social circles I am part of. Like you, I try to show that appreciation by supporting the work of my friends. Even by writing this very I am hopefully communicating to you how much I appreciate what you share through your blog. While the look of the site may change from year to year, the impact of these ideas will live on.

  • Adam Clark

    Well said Trent. I was thinking these same thoughts a week and a half ago at Greenville Grok. It’s the personal relationships and camaraderie in this industry that make is so amazingly fun to be a part of.

  • Sharat Buddhavarapu

    That’s absolutely brilliant, and captures the best part of our community. I think it also highlights how people who are new to the web (aka me) can “break the ice.” This post has given me further confidence to carry through a certain blog series I wanted to do.

    In connection with the #IdeasofMarch movement, I thought wouldn’t it be cool if some of my blog posts were responses to tweets or older blog posts? I think blog posts can get lost in the archives of a website after a few years, and tweets can be lost within 5 minutes. I want to enlarge the intelligent conversation on the web to encompass our past, like we do with Socrates thousands of years after his death. There are a lot of brilliant visionaries on the web and I think this maybe one way to give their ideas a spotlight to shine in.

  • Nathaniel

    Nice! Thanks for the reminder.

  • Peter Hason

    Great sentiment, much agreed.

    Where do you find your brushes/texture for the background? I’ve been looking for something similar, worn yet subtle.

  • Steve

    Great post as usual, Trent. You are one of the people who greatly influenced my decision to art-direct my posts/articles. Thanks as well for the CSS tricks you sometimes post in the Notes section of your site, as they have truly been beneficial for me as a relative noob.

  • YJ Tso

    Insightful and inspiring post. I’m sure I’m not only one for whom this is a much needed and much appreciated reminder. Also love your background, and that all your articles have different styling. I’ll be looking out for new ones :)

  • Matt Riopelle

    Deep thanks Trent for writing this. Being personal (in other words, shedding the facade of “professionalism”) means letting go of that self-protection we can so easily retreat to. But it’s what our friends, family, and yes, clients need from us. The two posts I wrote on it have been from a client-relations perspective, but I really appreciate how you’ve extended it to the other relationships you value.

  • mark

    Super refreshing post, Trent. I think taking this approach (which often gets lost when we’re busy) makes working a lot more fun and satisfying.

    I probably owe Chris about $5,800.

  • Trent

    Thanks for all the kind words, all. I really do appreciate it.

    @Pat Dryburgh: Thanks, Pat. It’s always great when online friends (industry comrades) become offline friends as well. One of the best things that’s happened to me over the past couple of years has been to put real faces with the avatars I know so well.


    “I thought wouldn’t it be cool if some of my blog posts were responses to tweets or older blog posts?”

    I think so. There’s good stuff out there that falls off the grid. I just read a post Jon Tan wrote last May about self-promotion and loved it— no expiration date there.

    @Peter Hason: I love all of Liam McKay’s grunge brushes, but on this post it’s not brushes, just layers and layers of noisy gunk.

  • Chris Meeks

    I like the barbershop analogy a lot. I feel like all of you Paravel guys do a great job of opening up and being available as people as well as professionals. It is one of the qualities that separates all three of you from the hordes of web professionals in my eyes. I know your intention in acting that way isn’t to get noticed, it is just a side-effect.

    Also, I know Baytown all too well. My grandparents have lived there for their whole lives :)


  • Terry

    Very thoughtful and timely. Thank you for the TLC you give to the industry and her practitioners.

  • Jan Paul Koudstaal

    Well said, and a lovely design too. Thanks!

  • Nate Klaiber

    I have a list of people in this industry - digital friends I have made along the way - that I want to meet in person, just to shake their hand and say ‘Thanks!’.

    Life is about the relationships. The work may come and go, in the end it’s the people I care about and want to invest in.

    This is an excellent reminder.

  • Nick Jones

    It’s easy to recoil at anything that sounds like prescribed behavior but I only found myself saying, “Right on Trent!” Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the “like” button so I wrote this instead.

  • Fictive Cameron

    Hey Trent,

    This is really something special.
    Thanks for making my night.


  • Gedy

    What a great reminder. I really enjoyed this post.

    I think we’re so blessed to be working for one of the best industries that has ever existed. I love the sense of community and friendships that evolve from simple appreciation for one another.

    It can only get better!

  • Jelleke

    Trent, I loved this post. I enjoy your writing as well. It is very easy, clean and cohesive. The typographic geek in does have to say something about how lick-able light and orange-reddish coloured FF Meta looks on this marvellous ‘noisy gunky’ background. I hope you do realise you make me want to individually style all (three of (!)) my existing blogposts. And how you on top of that make me feel quite inferior to your many talents. I suppose it’s a hazard of the job, isn’t it?

  • Chris

    Great post, Trent. Among other things, it was a good reminder to thank the people who write and share things for us on the web. Like you said, we all have avatars and I certainly do forget that there are people behind those little icons and twitter accounts. A prime example would be the fact that I’ve been following your blog for quite some time, and this is my first time thanking you. So, thank you.

  • Gilbert

    Great article. I love that our industry does have people like yourself in it, remembering that there are real people with real feelings behind all the avatars. This made me smile :)

  • Greg Melrath

    Great article, Trent. Reminded me why I truly love being a designer. Thank YOU for the goodness you spread. Mahalo!

  • Zachattack


    Your posts definitely speak the truth. I know that I have been challenging myself to vote for the developers and artists that I love with my dollars on small projects. I like seeing the success of people who really are pouring themselves into making a better interactive artful landscape.

    Great post :) Paravel <3

  • Dan

    @Trent: Maybe SXSW next year :)

  • Paul

    Very well put Trent. I’m reminded of a chick-flick (that I ashamedly, but not really, admit to liking), “You’ve Got Mail”, there’s a great line that applies: “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

  • Jesse

    Wow, what a great refreshing read. Trophy’s reminds me of my hometown barbershop, Womack’s. My barber, the only barber, was Charles Roy Womack. Sounds like the same place really. Old men telling stories, old dusty mounts, old cracked leather chair, old clippers, old everything.

    I hope to build and enjoy such a close network of friends and colleagues one day. Thanks again for sharing this. Always enjoy your posts.

  • TJ Taylor

    This is a truly outstanding article, and a perfect representation of your kindness. Thanks for all that you do and share.

  • Meredith

    Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing them!

  • Maggie

    Wow. I feel happy and hopeful and warm after reading this. Seriously – I’m not being a smart-aleck. Your words are true and excellent reminders. Very well said, sir. Thank you.

  • Andre

    You’re a good dude. This post is a much needed reminder to say “thanks” to the curators of my favorite websites. They inspire me everyday and I should never let them forget that.
    Here goes...

  • Brandon Durham

    It’s nice to see how much the web design community has changed since the days when I was starting out in the late 90s. Back then, projects like May 1st Reboot were created to bring the community together but really just created something of an unspoken competition.

    It’s nice to see how much things have changed for the better. Thanks for sharing and being a great example.

  • David

    Great post, Trent! I’m a younger designer (experience-wise, not age-wise) and I couldn’t agree more. Can we create a Farmer’s Market experience on the web as opposed to a Wal-Mart experience? I hope we can move in that direction. Thanks for the thought!

  • Zachary Johnson

    What a great article, Trent! I love the spirit of it, and I hope it is contagious!

  • Connor Montgomery


    This is a fantastic read, and just made my day a bit better. Hell, all of your stuff is great to read. I know I don’t comment much, but please - keep ‘em coming.


  • Joel Glovier

    Good words man. Thanks for the encouragement, and for sharing your vision of a real web community. Also, great practical suggestions. Esp think the cutting of slack to be important. Grace is always understated and rarely underappreciated.

  • Robin Jakobsson

    Nicely put, Trent!
    And thank you for the great article on Smashing Magazine! On that specific topic on CSS 3 vs ordinary CSS I’m very curious regarding the CPU load that each is triggering in each browser. However, love the design on your site, challenges me to come up with something better. Also, do you live in a small town? Feels like it, while reading this.
    Best wishes from Sweden!

  • Julian

    It’s the obvious things in life that are most overlooked, most importand and most worthy writing writing about.

    Well written and very well designed. By the way, would you mind telling us the font you used for the headline?

  • Trent

    @Julian: Thanks & sure—it’s Vinyl.

  • Sebastian

    Wonderful essay, which I randomly came across while reading about responsive design and new possibilities. Last night I had dinner with David Karp, some other guys from tumblr & soundcloud, and - as you mentioned in your text - we talked about the now (and the last weeks) instead of being totally new to each other, because we are connected online. Although we never met in person before.

  • Martin Varesio

    On that specific topic on CSS 3 vs ordinary CSS I’m very curious regarding the CPU load that each is triggering in each browser!!

  • Martin Lapietra

    Would you mind telling us the fonts you used for the headline?

  • Peter

    Trent, you are my hero. Thank you so much for your amazing articles. Especially this one.

  • samson Adah

    Good Day sir, i am a motivational poet and a youth development speaker. reading through your articles today was like getting enrolled for ‘webdesign and internet-culture’ studies at Harvard University. i appreciate you for becoming a seed to your work in order for others to reap fruits of internet solutions by your work. i am inspired by you.

  • Jon Bukiewicz

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing! I am often surprised at how easy it is to gloss over helpful people or ideas on the web, when it takes so little time to reach out in support of said person/idea through suggestions like yours. Thanks to you!

  • Ian

    A fine post Sir.

  • Johnny Martin

    And you mustn’t forget the gif sharing! Though I haven’t met the vast majority of the people I follow in the industry, I feel like I work with them every day. Drinking jokes and awkward humor included.

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