Sunday, 26 October 2003

New Years Resolution!

A couple of years ago I was confronted with a very different web. Granted, a slightly quicker – less virus and popup laden web – but one where every day I used to find websites which inspired me with their creativity, use of technology or innovative methods. Sometimes all of the above!

Since then, however, things have gone downhill, and while the number of new websites continues to expand at an alarming rate, it seems people have foregone innovative design, relying on abstract 3d, pixel fonts and futurist interfaces to get their message across.

There could well be a number of causes for this…
“Community Syndrome”
Symptom: Design communities are, in principle, a wonderful thing. They give existing and upcoming creatives the opportunity to showcase their work, interact with other designers, and see what’s “hot” and, inevitably, what’s “not”. The problem occurs, though, when you realise that a relatively small group of individuals seem to manage the wide majority of communities, and their view of what deserves praise becomes the gauge of what’s “hot” in design. It’s important to consider also that, in the same way as for many disciplines, upcoming entrants to “design” hone their skills and style on those who are already established and the outlets of “opinion” and “recognition”.

Outcome: Over time, therefore, you slowly see the output of unusual and innovative sites dwindle as designers fear the repercussions of breaking the mould, instead sticking to the established “cool” design methods promoted and demonstrated within the various news boards, forums and content areas of these community sites. For upcoming designers, this simply does not encourage them to follow their “own” direction instead developing variations-on-a-theme, or “same s*** different colour” as one of my northern friends so eloquently puts it.

“Key Agency Syndrome”
Symptom: Web design (a four letter word nowadays) is a disgustingly competitive industry with few (if any) barriers to entry and one where an “agency” is rated more on its client list than quality of output. It is still perceived as an industry where anyone can “make a million” and thus attracts the hoards setting up shop, emulating the “key players” in the na├»ve hope that “by doing what XYZ do, we’ll get the business too!”. On the flipside of this, the specifiers and buyers of websites are presented, overwhelmingly with “similar” looking presences, leading them to believe (however rightly or wrongly) that since “a” prevailing look has been adopted so much, that is the way their sites should look.

Outcome: The majority sites released by designers for themselves, and specified by their clients, look unnervingly similar to the output and marketing materials of the “market leaders” such as 2Advanced, Kioken, Blastradius and the “mass market” of those who chose to copy them.

“Lack Of Interaction”
Symptom: Ironically for an industry built on the buzzword of “interactivity”, there seems to be surprisingly little communication and interaction between the web media and the arts. Whether through the perception of “web media” by the arts community, or some form of technology driven elitism within the web community itself, the two seem – apart from infrequent exceptions – to be separate worlds. The arts grow and develop through interaction between the disciplines and the ultimate verdict of the end public. This creates feedback and creative interaction, and, ultimately, a culture that thrives on innovating and working together to create ever more inspiring end “products” for the viewer.

Outcome: By holding itself in pseudo-isolation from the arts and the “general public”, the web community only gets feedback and influence from “itself” resulting in the phenomenon of “mutual backslapping” (where designers simply complement each other on producing similar work, without any onus critique or innovation). The “internet” is also a very new environment for the press to commentate on and, as has been the trend for years, magazines and newspapers search for idols within the market to become the representatives of the industry. Unlike the classic arts, where new talent is sought and idolised, “e-media” creates idols of those who run the communities, the “key agencies” and are the best self-publicists.

So, to conclude…

The “digital era” has created a toolset, granting those with the wish to innovate, an almost unimaginable degree of creative freedom across a wide range of disciplines.

Rather than being scared to be different, designers should make their new years resolution, “to be more creative”, taking influence and direction from the arts, and a multitude of media – creating sites which inspire and impact and not just more of the same.

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