4: My thoughts on web design.

On 21 July 2010 by Derek J. Kinsman

My thoughts on web design. Lead Image

It’s actually quite simple and when I thought about it last night it went on and on in my head for what seemed like forever. That probably has something to do with me just having been angry or something. You’ll probably also notice the lack of updates here (if you’re still one of those folks who come by my web sites), for that I’m sorry. I’ve no excuses. Although this rant might clear some of that up. Hopefully. 1 – I don’t think they’re have been many new websites that’ve gone up since the Thinking For A Living site, that are wildly different from each other (problem the first). 2 – Actually those are all the points I have. Just one.

I apologize for this being a big angry rant. It wasn’t planned out. This is more of a drunk rambling. Without the drunk.

So let’s see, what new sites have come out that are fantastically different. Well everything that The Antenna Research Facility (Ben Wise) creates is freaking amazing. The new site for Build is great. Everyone Forever got a facelift… err… rather got some behind the scenes love. Studio Output got a new website that made me a real solid believer in what you can do with WordPress (built by Antenna, Tom Muller @ Kleber, Studio Output). Build & Antenna worked together on a few really stunning websites. So …yes… there have been websites that can be talked about, perhaps I’ll go back and talk about some of those sites, or do a whole post about why I love Ben. And Kleber. And Studio Output. And Build. And Suprb. Yeah, Suprb dropped a new site for David Bailey, who used to work at tDR. Andreas also relaunched his media sharing service Dropular. So yes, lots of stuff happened and I’ve just been neglectful. Moving on.

Some of you probably didn’t notice any of these releases because most of the big fancy pants web design blogs didn’t mention any of these sites. Which is rather upsetting. These are the guys who are pushing what can be done with nothing more than HTML, CSS, and Javascript (you know, the internet Apple wants, the internet that all the web design celebrities want). Every site Antenna builds should be immediately and instantaneously posted to every web gallery in existence. But nope. We’re just gonna see a two column WordPress blog that has content going down the left hand side and some advertisements going down the right hand side. Everything will have a grainy look. Buttons will be round and slightly textured. Websites are trying to look like letterpress objects these days. Not gonna lie, I’ve used the grain texture and letterpress look recently. Not for a blog or portfolio though. Not that that makes it any better. Fuck that. The best the web has to offer is a few blog style wordpress templates? I don’t think so (that’s pretty much directed to Smashing, Web Designer Depot, Abduzeedo and the rest of their inbred siblings). Now, I’m not ragging on specific authors. I’ve talked to some of the folks who write for those blogs and they’re all quite pleasant people. I just hate that all these top ten web design lists are basically modified versions of the default wordpress theme. With a fancy illustrated header and a fancy illustrated footer with all sorts of flourishes and swirls and flowers and colour splashes.

That’s my first big issue with web design. There’s a small group of self important people who seem to speak louder than the really important people. Probably an ego thing. Or maybe it’s a lack of confidence thing. And if you big up your 2 column blog layout with and use acronyms like CSS3 or HTML5 you’re instantly better than everyone else. Guess what I know HTML5 and CSS3 as well. You know why? Because it’s part of my job and it’s not much different than what I’ve been doing for the last few years already.

Speaking of HTML5, it’s not just the video tag. And that tag isn’t really all that impressive. You read Youtube’s view on it right? It’s only just okay. Actually I’ve come to hate video served through the video tag. There’s no buffering. I have yet to see a video where the audio is synced properly. Have you paid any attention to how much RAM it burns up. I mean, Firefox is already a RAM whore and trying to load in a HD video pretty much kills the browser. Chrome can handle it pretty okay RAM wise. Safari, well, I hate Safari. *note: you notice now in Safari 5 that every time a tab crashes it blames it on Flash? Even if there’s no Flash on the page. Apple can go… Anyway, if you’re using the video tag you may also want to look at your server logs. And see how much bandwidth it’s burning up everytime a user has to download a full video. Yeah, that’s a bit problematic when you can’t do any streaming right?

ROUNDED CORNER’S YEAH!! ‘nuf said on CSS3. I actually enjoy some of the new CSS attributes. It makes life easier. Actually actually, I’ve no issue with HTML5, or CSS3. Provided you’re using it correctly. I welcome change.

Moving on, Apple vs. Adobe kept on battling. I’m still on Adobe’s side (I’ll get to that in a minute). I still love my iMac. I’ll most likely get the iPhone 4 when Apple is so gracious as to allow Canada to have units. If you follow me on Twitter you probably noticed all the Apple hate I’ve been sharing regarding the antenna problems. As well as all the closed wall development and content censoring that they do. I still respect Apple’s design sense. That’s all they’ve got left for me. Anyway, on why I still like Flash. When I decided I wanted to build websites it was because of two websites. The first was A Is For Apple by David Clark, Rob Whynot, Ron Gervais and Randy Knott. The second site was the website that Hi-ReS! made for Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream. Those two websites blew my mind away with what could be done on the web. Everything else became boring. I found similar work being posted early on by Netdiver, Newstoday (QBN), Dreamless, etc. Hi-ReS! kept releasing work that was awesome. A few years back I discovered THA Ltd. from the Uniqlo work. And I’ve been to every FITC event since the first. Actually I missed FITC 2007 or 2008. I can’t remember. I have yet to come across a web experience made in HTML, CSS and Javascript that has had the emotional impact that those early websites had on me. That is why I still love Flash.

Quickly changing topics, a few months back there was a big rant on web designers being specialists or generalists. Actually this was probably weeks before FITC 2010 Toronto. Jamie Kosoy of Big Spaceship did a presentation that I really enjoyed. I had a chance to talk to during the after parties and a bunch of us ended up at London Tap House after the party on the boat. He wrote this post about specialists and generalists. I tend to agree. I don’t think I’d be very happy with myself if all I knew how to program was HTML. That’s not even programming. I’m not a specialist. I’m not a generalist. I’m a designer. I do a lot of interactive work. Which means some of my tools include code. Some of my tools include physical hardware like Arduino. Some of my tools include a soldering iron. Some things even get printed. Or even fancy printed with silk screens or letterpress. Which I know how to do as well. I’d love to make wearable electronics. Augmented reality is awesome. I’m not a web designer. Being a web designer is just as pointless as being a flash designer. What happens when desktop web disappears. Don’t think that’ll happen? You might want to start looking at the landscape. Soon you’ll have to become mobile developers. Or you’ll have to learn Objective-C and make fancypants iOS apps. By the way, Objective-C isn’t the easiest thing to learn. I don’t even think I want to call myself a designer. Maybe Designer/Creative Coder. Or Interactive Designer. Maybe just Maker. Yeah, Maker. I like that. I’m a Maker. If you and your specialist friends think you’re better than me and my other Maker friends you can go fuck yourselves. Seriously.

I’m going to keep doing what I do. I just needed to vent some angers and this didn’t fit into a single tweet. For those of you that decided to read this, mostly I’m sorry you read this. I want the web to be a better place. I want the same emotional experiences I had when I came across sites like A Is For Apple and Requiem For A Dream. I don’t care how it’s made. I don’t care who makes it. Currently I’m getting that emotional experience from offline interactive installations. Work by UnitedVisualArtists, Universal Everything, Eyewriter, Design and the Elastic Mind, and tons of other things. You know, stuff that’s meanigful. Maybe I need to go away from web design for a while and rediscover what it was I drew me to it. But currently it’s not doing it for me. It’s full of fighting and conflict and elitism and mostly nothing I want to be a part of.

Again, I apologize for this being a big angry rant. It wasn’t planned out. This is more of a drunk rambling. Without the drunk.

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4: My thoughts on web design.

Written by Derek J. Kinsman

Published on 21 July 2010


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11 Comments

  1. RethinkFlash
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I love a good rant. I’d say, that this was a good post.

  2. Posted July 22, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. I think I got it all out of my system. My chest and/or shoulders definitely feel lighter. I also don’t want other people who work on the web thinking I’m throwing shit at them like a monkey. That’s not the case. I think we just all need a big group hug.

    Antonio Carusone of AisleOne said it pretty good this morning on Twitter: “In any creative field, the tool isn’t important. It’s what’s behind the tool that counts.” Even though I know how he feels about Flash. He still nailed it.

  3. Posted January 12, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Well, let’s pretend there are 2 types of web designs:
    1. Purposeful, for presenting information and services in a usable and accessible manner.
    2. Experimental, for the sake of exploration of leading technologies and artistic expression.

    You may try and combine the two types, but in your examples of wildly different websites (and your own), usability is not present. In most cases information is either hidden behind the design or a piece of /interesting/ interaction and readability and hierarchy of information is commonly neglected.

    So, those Experimental websites may invoke positive reactions for other Designer’s, but they are most likely annoying to use for average users.

  4. Posted January 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Hey Adrian, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I mostly agree, but would like to provide a counter. I would argue that most of those websites had/have a purpose. They’re either promotional or a design studio’s portfolio. Yes the interaction could be considered experimental. And code wise they’re reasonably accessible (maybe not the older Flash stuff), and maybe there is a cognitive impact on the usability.

    And as for the average user… well, I suspect the average user of a design studio website is a designer, and people looking at the seriously artsy ones are probably art students, or in the art/design field already. So just thinking about it that way, the average user isn’t that typical user to begin with.

    In a less ranting version (perhaps I’ll expand in a longer post) I think what I find missing from the industry is context. It’s all about technology, platforms & frameworks, social media, sharing, and content (even if it’s just reblogging someone else who reblogs someone else who reblogs …). But not having context for that content is meaningless. The minute your content has a narrative and you give it the right stage and setting to reside in you can do the most experimental interaction design in the world and it will feel comfortable to the people who’ll end up using it.

    So, I agree with you that there are different types of sites. I might rename Purposeful to Informational. Than you have Informational vs. Experimental (I do agree that there are lots of sites for exploring new technology, I do that often), but I think when you add the context all these types of sites can live together. I wouldn’t do promo work with a wordpress blog, but I also wouldn’t create a blog that looks like an art experiment. Right?

    But, I’m also the type of person who thinks it’s okay to let the user work a little for the information. ;)

    Thanks again for the feedback.

  5. Mark
    Posted January 19, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Web is getting shitter and shitter by the day in my mind because anybody now can access code and develop it and change it and do things to it whenever they want to. It’s all too open. Derek what would you propose we do to stop this shit design?? I know one thing…if someone creates extremely amazing work on the web there should be copyright on the code, invisible watermarks so people cannot take the code and re-use it in their own work, that would stop shit web design. But wait I hear all the web developers shouting hey but if you stop us taking snippets of code then how are we to go about developing and changing code to make things better. That for me is the catch 22 situation with web.

    The other thing that is not mentioned in here that is about how a website communicates to its audience and how they perceive something on the web. Yeah its all okay creating amazing buttons that jump around every where and speak to you and having backgrounds that animate like another world or having really intricate systems to get around your site that create tunnels of information that jump out at you wow amazing. Its not about that all the time, there is a time and a place. Don’t forget that before w3c was set up it was a bunch of guys trying to push web on their own making standards for web and they spent years making it what it is today so there is every reason to keep some standards but I do agree with what you say about wordpress blogs. I mean some of them are pretty crap. If your gonna use cms at least use drupal or joomla or ruby on rails.

  6. Posted January 19, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Mark, I have no good answer for dealing with copyright. Personally I’m comfortable with people reusing my code. I learned by looking at other people’s code. I also use tools like Processing, openFrameworks, and frameworks/CMSs like Django and WordPress which are open source projects. They give their code and tools away for free which allows me to freely use them and make a living off of them. All the while they never ask for anything in return. I feel giving my code away helps the new people who want to learn these different tools.

    I’m not knocking standards. I’m all for them. Provided they don’t get in the way of context. Which is what you’re referring to as the “how a website communicates” and “how they perceive” the content. If as the designer you’re going to design an unconventional interaction method (like the Requiem For A Dream site by Hi-ReS!) there should be a reason. In the case of the Requiem site there’s an unfolding narrative that follows some of the movie. But it also stylistically resembles the way the narrative of the movie works. And like any story, you dont’ want to give up the end right away. You can still build these largely complex websites and still keep up with accessibility standards. That’s just up to the guys coding it to make sure they’re doing their job.

    I think as far as usability and “UXD” and all that stuff are important provided you understand the context of the project. I’m really glad a site like the Studio Output portfolio (linked way at the top) made me think a bit more. We’re always told by some omnipotent force to design something so it registers in its entirety within about 6 seconds. Cause that’s the average time spent on a website. Apparently. Well, it’s not a billboard. It’s barely a portfolio. It’s a representation of their design belief. The ‘average’ person visting that site is probably a designer or a developer or a art/design student. Probably their clients as well. And maybe some Agencies. Those folks aren’t your ‘average’ Jacob Nielson lowest common denominator folks. Aesthetically designers can ooh and ahh it. And all the standards people can ooh and aah the perfectly accessible and usable code. The point is, they built something that says ‘this is Studio Output.’ That’s what we need more of. We should all be building websites that way.

  7. Mark
    Posted January 19, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    You are bang on there I do agree 100% with you there. Its almost the only way in which people learn isn’t it? The studio output site nearly made me cry it was that good but not in a obsessed sort of teenager way but in a I need to do things like this more. Its so well put together similarly to the http://letskiosk.com site. I was gobsmacked with this too. I think one of the other arguments that could also make things mess creative is bloody budgets being screwed down and all the so called designer developers who were car mechanics and bought a pc learnt how to code and now advertise themselves as develoers under cutting real designers and making clients think they can get real design and development that cheap when its a craft.

  8. Posted January 28, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Hey Derek,

    Completely agree that I was wrong is naming sites as “Purposeful” as I’m sure all things are created with some purpose in mind; informational vs experimental seems to be a better way to lump things.

    As for context, I mostly agree. Yes, there are lots of shitty places on the web–mostly Tumblr, WordPress, Posterous blogs reposting other peoples shitty content without adding anything. Why is this? Because the barrier to put shit online is so low. But, it has been for years! Geocities was an incredibly low barrier to put shit online! And, that is great! Geocities is how I got hooked on making shit for the web! And, I’d like to think I have improved greatly since then, but the low barrier of entry allowed it. So, perhaps the majority of people whose first foray into web publishing and creating shit for the web will be a pile of shit Tumblr, but maybe they move on from it one day and start experimenting.

    Dear Mark,

    I disagree with you. One example that I may be wrong about but you will be familiar with: suprb. I’ve been following his adventures for years now. And let me tell you, a lot of his code was shit, and probably copied or blindly followed a tutorial. But that’s how you learn! Now look at him, he writes all of his on Javascript and PHP, and though I could point out some bad practices, it doesn’t matter because it’s his execution of the code and the ideas behind it.

    In conclusion, there will always be shit. You can try to control it as much as you want (re: Apple) and there is still shit in the app store. It’s all just ideas anyway; a piece of code doesn’t make a cool website great, it’s the fucking team behind it who conceived it. And, I think the web community is pretty good at recognizing the good, and pursuing the thieves.

    As for budgets and clients thinking they are getting real design+development. This does cause a misconception with ignorant clients. But that’s our duty. It’s our place and choice to educate clients on what is needed from the to provide thoughtful, effective design. Just as much as developers need to educate clients (and other team members) that jsut because a project can be built in a week doesn’t mean that’s the route we should take.

    And, personally, my goal is to be at the top of both designing and developing. I have a thorough interest and love for both, and plan to continue with both areas.

  9. Posted January 26, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

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  10. Posted May 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

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  11. Posted October 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    “My thoughts on web design. | The Invisible Institute” ended up being a incredibly pleasant article, .

    I hope you keep publishing and I’ll try to continue viewing! Many thanks -Lisette

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