I’m tired of looking at websites. I want to use them.

The world isn’t getting any simpler. All of us have woken up this century to find ourselves tied down to computers. Our work and life depend upon them. And now, even in light of our privacy being continuously violated, we’re (for the most part), unable to disconnect. So in this uncomfortable space, our relationship with technology, computers and ultimately the Internet, is pushing us to find better ways to ease our new found digital lives. And yet, each time we visit a website, even a new website, we bang our heads against the sheer idiocy of the experience.

“Why are they making me do this? Why so many clicks? Can’t they just give me what I need?”

simple tram

Who they are in this equation is lost on me, and I develop and build websites. For a long time, I’ve advocated principles of content first and a general de-emphasis on design. We don’t need more amazingly stunning websites. We need far simpler web experiences, that allow us to do what we want. And rather than turn everything over to some company to trust our private data, our address books, our personal surfing experience, we need to just learn how to build websites that allow a clean path of choice.

Don’t do everything for me. I can figure out what I need, if you can make clear what it is you offer.

The greatest insight I have had recently as a developer is that we don’t need to do much. We just need to get out of the way. We don’t need to provide deep hierarchical menus to allow someone to traverse our site, we need to produce our content well and allow the people who want to find our information half the chance.

So, although I can appreciate beautiful things, I cannot appreciate them when they come at a cost.

the role of design in a website

Design is not as important as usability when it comes to web development.

I’ve been trying to articulate this idea for some time now. It may be unpopular and many may disagree. I also don’t mean to disrespect designers or downplay the importance of their work. Rather, I am trying to impress upon future clients that content must come first, before we work on the design of a site.

Now I think I’ve finally found a good way to make this argument.

Design for a website is more like a book than a poster. The goal of the design of a poster is to attract attention, to draw someone’s eyes to the poster and make them take in the details. Whereas a book’s design is almost entirely about usability. Certainly character can be expressed with the selection of a font or colours used, but this is a playful element of design and does not function like the design of a poster. This, of course, does not address the cover of a book, which acts more like a poster. It’s aim is to attract attention. But I would argue that a website does not have a cover. When you visit a website, you are already there. It’s as if you are within the book, not looking at the cover. Only posters and promotions for a website can act like a cover.

Again, I make this argument because I’ve worked within organizations that have a lot of creative people. When discussing the development of a web site, they are always focusing on the design and they experience great dissatisfaction with a site if it has no strong design or simply looks bad. This may be appropriate at some point, but certainly not at the beginning of a project. Not when the content is still being gathered. Not when the social media strategy is still be developed.

Finally, to hit the point home. No one will leave a site if it has a bad or no design, but they certainly will if it is confusing and does not function well. They also may never find your beautifully designed site if you don’t spend the appropriate amount of time and effort improving the content and the way it is accessed. So content first. Design second.

toronto’s interior design exhibition

1000camels went and checked out the Interior Design Show in toronto today.  i wasn’t expecting much, since i am so narrow when it comes to so much design.  but there was some nice stuff there.  ald’s exhibit was great.  it was a massive wall of extruded plastic, white with ripples.  we forgot our camera, so there’s nothing to show.  a nice testament to their new materials lab.

we primarily went to see Winy Maas talk.  he was quite good.  i liked the way he spoke and many of his designs were quite engaging.  however, i still walked about cursing architects.  i can’t help it.  i guess i’m very defensive of melissa’s work, and her field.  i just think architects are walking into the territory of landscape architecture.   and what makes it particularly awesome is that they all seem to think that they’ve discovered these ideas.  anyway, i’m just reacting – my dislike of architects is not really worth exploring.  instead, what is interesting is the kinds of spaces that these architects, like Winy Maas, are beginning to envision.  i think it’s the city of the future, one in which buildings disappear (like the porosity of Stephen Holl).  What remains is one thing – our public space.  All private are dead ends and so, in some interesting way, public space becomes our corridors.  At least when we design for everyone.  The problem with private space design is that it necessarily excludes some, which means, if we want to be paranoid, there may come a time, when we cannot afford a certain path we’ve taken our whole life.  what happens then?

i guess that is where my thinking is really directing me.  i want to explore systems that actually program us.  It sounds devilish, until you consider that that is what space is.  in fact, that is a property of any cultural asset – it pushes back – it provides feedback.  A sign is not benign.  it aims to influence and in so far as it has influence (which we all know it does) it ‘programs’ us.  so, since we live in a world which is programming us, it would seem that it is important to push back.  what do we want to encourage in this world?  our space delineates that.  therefore, we must be careful what space we do build and how we build it.