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Weblog Entry

Ape Shall Never Design

April 12, 2004

Cameron Adams recently posted a link to Adam Greenfield’s old ALA article, The Bathing Ape Has No Clothes. I remember well when it was first published two years ago; it has made a tremendous impact on my work since.

While the article is on the older side (I haven’t seen a Bathing Ape shirt in quite some time) it has aged well. The issues raised haven’t been discussed nearly as deeply as Greenfield wished, and I see arguments on today’s weblogs that echo Adam’s concern. ‘The Bathing Ape…’ draws clear lines between those who are designers, and those who are something else. Greenfield labels them ‘Stylists’ and I’d call that an apt label.

When I started reading the design portals around 2000 something bothered me, and I could never put my finger on why. The sites linked were all very pretty, and very artsy, but aside from functioning as someone’s personal portfolio, they didn’t do much. Many of them aimed to create a false mystique by using random words and imagery that, when scrutinzed, didn’t amount to much meaning or even coherency.

Don’t misunderstand me — there was very good work being produced, and most of it was technically astounding and very good looking. But this design work suffered a fundamental problem for me that didn’t seem to ever be properly addressed. I could never find much justification for a lot of it to exist. It was there simply to be there, and to demonstrate the talent of the designer.

But that’s what a portfolio is all about, in most cases, so was this really a problem? To those looking to advance their careers, not in the least. The work was for a target audience (creative directors, those in charge of hiring) and that the general public couldn’t find use in it wasn’t something to lose sleep over.

In fact, this is a clear example of successful design — work done for a well-defined target audience, with a specific purpose.

The problem then, which Greenfield has highlighted with breathtaking insight as he compares Nigo’s work to that done for British Rail, is when this way of working spills over into design projects that have a totally different target audience. The focus of ‘design’ is lost, the project ends up becoming a stylistic dream but a usability nightmare.

Design is about assessing a series of visual problems, coming up with the best solution. It’s about applying the solution in a way that also lends itself to visual interest. It’s about making use of imagery, type, and colour to convey a message. It’s about making people feel something. It’s about communication.

But that doesn’t preclude the function of what’s being designed. (This is no form vs. function debate, which has been going on since three years before design itself was invented.) Quite simply, if you’re a web designer, you end up designing usability whether you acknowledge it or not (and, unfortunately, whether you’re good at it or not). The function of a site or application is increasingly a problem that a designer finds necessary to solve. This is no surprise to those of us doing it, and aligns nicely with Greenfield’s point.

It’s difficult to face continued dismissal that a designer is either a Picasso or a house painter without acknowledging that there is a far more useful application of design. There are plenty of people making good money as both house painters and Picassos; perhaps even the majority of designers are one or the other. But we’re not all easily categorizable into those groupings.

As Jeff Veen stated in his SXSW panel, “Accessibility is for everyone!”:

…when Web design is practiced as a craft, and not a consolation, accessibility comes for free.

The same statement can be made for usability, as can be made for content, as can be made for code integrity, as can be made for information architecture, as can be made for design. There are those of us who approach web design as a holistic strategy, and concentrate not just on how a site looks, or what it says, or how it functions. We look at a project from top to bottom, understanding the inter-relatedness of each element along the way, and assess its proper place in the site as a whole.

What is web design? This is. Nothing less.

(For even more classic ALA reading, hit up Curt Cloninger’s “Usability experts are from Mars, graphic designers are from Venus”.)


Reader Comments

beto says:
April 12, 02h

Right on - the web is littered with corpses of corporate sites full of design ideas that were deemed “hip” or “cool” back in the age (say, 3 years ago) but which failed to meet the ultimate purpose of the site -be useful- for its users. Make them get what they wanted from it, in short. What many failed to understand -clients and designers alike- was that, when dealing with sites that are conceived with a service in mind such as corporate sites and virtual storefronts, design (and clear, accesibility-oriented design, while we’re at it) is a means to an end, not the end in itself. This is the very same case of uber-coolness that killed boo.com, arguably the most infamous case of a site choking on its own coolness factor.

Something that contributed to making matters worse, IMHO, was how the image of usability guru Jakob Nielsen was highly caricacturized and misinterpreted beyond recognition in the design portal circles. True, Nielsen has some responsibility on this due to his draconian, black-or-white concepts of web design and usability, but a lot of common sense hidden between the lines was lost in the widespread demonization of the man as the arch-enemy of all what was deemed “good” web design.

Nowadays we do know better and have come to admit that, despite all of his radicalisms, Nielsen had some valid points to consider. People like Steve Krug, the folks at 37Signals and many others made them clearer to understand and showed how could you be “cool” and respectful of user’s needs at the same time. That, together with an industry that, I want to think, has matured and learned from its past mistakes, should finally bring us to a much-needed balance that can only be a good thing.

April 12, 02h

Your right on, but I think it applies to much more than just the design of webpages, it applies to the overall design of computers in general. To summerize the late Douglas Adams. The day computers are usable is the day we take them for granite so much that we buy them like we would a pencil, all know how to use them perfectly, and wouldn’t care if we lost them.

eris says:
April 12, 04h

thank you dave!

4
Matt Chaput says:
April 12, 06h

How does this post relate to mezzoblue which, as has been pointed out in commentary you linked to, is a mishmash of microscopic fonts, hidden and inconsistent functionality, unselectable rendered text, and weird controls? Is this the portfolio site that doesn’t need to be usable? Or do you disagree with the critique you linked. which seemed spot on?

April 12, 06h

I think that the web is going to be like this for a while. I think this has a lot to do with the immaturity of the web as a medium. People are really learning how their tools, and a lot of people don’t understand the consequences of what their tools do.

Remember back in the early days of web standards evangelism? People didn’t realise the problems table-based layouts were causing. I was certainly guilty of thinking “Uh well it looks good so it’s grand”.

I think a lot of people are like that when it comes to other important aspects of website creation. Things like: usability, accessability, good copy. They either don’t realise the harm, or don’t realise the importance.

I’ve seen a lot of portfolio sites that lack the functionality of zombo.com :)

Derek says:
April 12, 06h

Among the several things my business card says I do, one of them is “web design.” Sadly, though, I’m _not_ much of a stylist, and have only minor artistic ability. Hell, take a look:

http://www.penmachine.com

What people do find useful, and have paid me for, is to think about how people use websites, and how their content can be viewed on different devices, and how they will grow and fit into the Web of the future. For the art, I sometimes have to pay people. So am I really a designer? I don’t know.

But no one’s objected to the business card so far.

Dave S. says:
April 12, 07h

Well Matt Chaput, since you’ve asked, yes indeed. This post applies to mezzoblue as much as any other site.

Let’s examine your points one by one then.

1) “Mishmash of microscopic fonts” – well last time I checked, your browser had the ability to resize fonts, and no matter which browser you’re using, I’ve made efforts to allow that ability to function (read: no pixel-unit fonts). But of course, I’ve been involved in far too many arguments with those who have decided they shouldn’t actually have to *use* that function so I added a second style sheet which is accessible via your browser’s style switcher, or if it doesn’t have one of those, the buttons on the top right. So I’ve designed more than one solution around your problem with my font size, you just need meet me in the middle and exert the minimal effort it takes to click a button. Please feel free to do so.

2) “hidden and inconsistent functionality” – what’s hidden? That part I don’t understand, unless you expect an entire site map on the home page. Inconsistent? This site’s design has been evolving for more than a year as various functionality has been added and dropped. Keeping a moving target completely consistent is a high target to shoot for. If I scrapped it all and did it over would I do things differently? Yes. Are there bits and pieces now outdated after a year’s growth? Yes. Should I take it all down until I’m willing to commit to an absolutely perfect design? Not a chance.

3) “unselectable rendered text” – text, by the way, that also happens to be well-kerned and nicely anti-aliased. This one is just a judgement call based on one’s priorities. I feel proper typography trumps the ability to select a single word. It’s not that hard to type ‘link-ups’ now, is it? Were we talking about paragraphs upon paragraphs I’d concede your point. We’re not though.

4) “Weird controls” – see points two and three.

Now, Matt Chaput, please do an accessibility critique, a code integrity critique, and a visual design critique to follow up your usability critique, because otherwise you’ve only focussed on one discipline out of many, and missed my entire point.

Web Design is about weighing everything equally, and coming up with a solution that works. No site is perfect; all sites will have their own unique shortcomings. That’s what happens when you have to balance so many seemingly conflicting ideals and come up with a happy middle ground.

Eric says:
April 12, 07h

Dave, you saved me having to defend your site! I was a little put off by the “usability analysis” link you posted a couple weeks ago; it was not very well thought out and focused only on one aspect of the site, as you said.

It’s all about balancing many different priorities - don’t tell me as a designer that all my typography has to be done in plain text with whatever paltry selection of fonts I can assume shipped with your system.

If usability proponents are going to continue to insist that usable must mean ugly (and I have yet to see a “usability guru” site that actually caught my eye graphically), we are going to be at an impasse.

I have decided to compromise in one direction (e.g. using standard fonts for typography in paragaph text, marking up my code well so that any device can access it, using font-sizes that are resizeable even though I know the page will be ugly if they get to be too large, etc.), and Matt, you need to give a bit in the other direction. Let me use image replacement for headers and short text, let me use graphics on my site, let me set my text size to small by default.

If we all come halfway on our pet issues, the web will benefit. If we stick to our guns and refuse to compromise at all, designers will continue to scoff at usability and usability folks will continue to mock those of us with a more artistic bent.

9
Pete Trachy says:
April 12, 09h

I’m not chiming in to back up Matt here. But, I do think that there is a “graphic design” bias that affects a lot of the ALA standards oriented web crowd. I appreciate Dave’s post and I think most of the designers really try to approach design projects as a holistic effort drawing on multiple disciplines. But to quote Dave:

Design is about assessing a series of visual problems, coming up with the best solution. It’s about applying the solution in a way that also lends itself to visual interest. It’s about making use of imagery, type, and colour to convey a message. It’s about making people feel something. It’s about communication.

Design, I’m not sure if he meant graphic or web design, is about “assessing a series of visual problems.” In my opionion that point of view taints the web design process. Which to me should be start with looking at how the people who use the web site to be designed conceptualize it and do/want/can interact with it. The information design of the site comes first and then graphic design comes in to address the framework that has been developed.

To quote Dave again:

There are those of us who approach web design as a holistic strategy, and concentrate not just on how a site looks, or what it says, or how it functions.

I think that is great and it makes web design a lot better to approach it with a holistic strategy. However, I don’t think that the “graphic design” or “usability” bias is going to eliminated until people start discussing the process behind succcessful effective web design. It’s not enough to acknowledge and appreciate the disciplines involved, there needs to be a look at the sequence of events in which they are called into play to interact in the process of designing a website.

Dave S. says:
April 12, 10h

“I do think that there is a ‘graphic design’ bias that affects a lot of the ALA standards oriented web crowd.”

We’re graphic designers, maybe? That might be the reason.

“I’m not sure if he meant graphic or web design”

Graphic in that case, though it wasn’t clear. (by the way, it’s really wierding me out how comments on here are more frequently referring to me in the third person… still my site, yeah?)

“which to me should be start with looking at how the people who use the web site to be designed conceptualize it and do/want/can interact with it. The information design of the site comes first and then graphic design comes in to address the framework that has been developed.”

I’m not entirely at odds with you on this one. In fact, for 5 years it’s how I’ve started my design process. The key here is that effectively I *am* the information designer in this case. Holistic approach, once again. Budgets, along with results, may vary.

“However, I don’t think that the ‘graphic design’? or ‘usability’ bias is going to eliminated until people start discussing the process behind succcessful effective web design.”

I feel obliged to point out that that’s exactly what this community has been doing for the past few years, thanks to our respective weblogs and online mags. Go read Asterisk, Superfluous Banter, Signal vs. Noise, Digital Web, Boxes and Arrows, or innumerable others. I read ‘em too. We all have subtlely different focuses; that’s hardly a bad thing.

April 12, 10h

Hi Dave!

I thought I would set aside a little time tonight to comment on this article because I feel it marks what will be a growing debate among CSS designers.

Greenfield’s article started out quite reasoned and gave a good account of the factors that led to the punk movement. I was also happy to see him question whether we may have overstepped a boundary. However, the article later turned into a bashing of those who he consider’s stylists.

I found this to be a rather disturbing direction for an otherwise well reasoned article. One interesting point I came across was when he compared Neville Brody AND David Carson. Interestingly, both Carson and Brody knew each other quite well and have collaborated on presentations about the state of graphic design. One would think that these two designers must have had respect for each others work in order collaborate, no?

I was a little puzzled by his dismissal of Carson’s work because, as a designer, Carson demonstrates a technical mastery that very few achieve (perhaps the author does not recognize the technical nature of Carson’s work?). I would be careful to so easily dismiss such work if I could not create at that level myself.

The relationship Carson explores is between, most notably, the visual language of typography and human emotion. Over the years, his work (for me anyway) consistently demonstrates a profound understanding of emotional connection in the audience/demograph for which he designed. No, I would not say that he took into account the factors Greenfield shows an interest in. I would not go so far to say that Carson would consider these factors if he was given an assignment to design a railway’s logo.

Most of us can agree that Paul Rand is a rare gem in the design world. The hotly debated UPS logo, for instance, is a near perfect balance of symbolism and utilitarian functionalism. Minimalism is a term I tend not to associate with design because the minimalist movement of the 20th century dealt with an emotional connection that was rare to find beforehand - they were not necessarily concerned with function (unless you consider emotional connection to be the function of a piece).

Here is a question, when designing the logo for the British Railway, did the designers attempt to, through the language of the logo, question the fast-paced nature of modern life? To the historian, the logo might represent the pains our society took to preserve this lifestyle. Perhaps far into the future, such logos will be purposely DESIGNED to be difficult to read from a distance in order to remind us that we needn’t be in such a hurry when going from place to place.

Form always tells a complex narrative and powerful design doesn’t necessarily follow one movement or another. To realize the beauty of all these works is to be introduced to a full narrative of our time.

Our commercialized society demands that designers imitate real movements in order to sell their products. Why does McDonalds use graffit to market their services? Graffiti has been an attempt for people to say something about their lives and society, but when these images are juxtaposed with a corporate logo, what does it say? McDonalds is saying, “We want you to accept us.” - This is a profound statement, as far as I am concerned.

The people who design for these entites are also making statements through their work. They are giving us a clear glimpse into their direction. Is this a direction we want to go?

Shepard Fairey, through his work, is speaking out against this direction of designers. His visual narratives, however, are complex and not always following the sort of functionalism about which Greenfield speaks.

The reductionist (who I consider Greenfield to be) would cut a clear distinction between art and design while the holist would deny any significant distinction between the two. I believe that many factors need to be weighed before such distinctions should be made.

Here is an interesting discussion…is Joshua Davis an artist? Most don’t consider him to be. I find much of it to be a very experimental visual exploration without a very clear statement or meaning. This genre of work will evolve in the future and we will begin to see similar works that demonstrate a very impressive articulation of meaning. Might Davis’s understanding of his work develop into this? We may see.

I am not worried about either artists or designers who do not understand principals of semantics. They may develop such an understanding and they may not. I am always, however, glad to see them trying their best.

12
Pete Trachy says:
April 12, 10h

“We’re graphic designers, maybe? That might be the reason.”

I know. It’s not a bad thing. I think that this group has the most provocative and interesting set of sites on the Internet.

“Budgets, along with results, may vary.”

That’s a good point, and perhaps I’ve just been exposed to process on the low budget end. Even there though I think there is room for web designers to encourage their clients to incorporate more aspects of testing and an iterative design process into the workflow. I recently shopped around and found that a “waterfall” process that doesn’t evaluate progress throughout is very common.

I do/did read at least a few of the sites you mentioned. I even contacted and individual behind the site in one case to inquire about contracting them. I wanted to know if they would incorporate usability testing into the process. I was told, “We don’t do usability testing.”

“I feel obliged to point out that that’s exactly what this community has been doing for the past few years, thanks to our respective weblogs and online mags.”

I disagree with you here. I have read tons of fascinating stuff about css, html, accessibility, usability, information design. I rarely encounter something about the process that ties them all together.

Finally, I’m not trying to fault your site or many of the other quality design blogs out there. I just think that process needs to be addressed more.

April 12, 11h

I should add the whole bit about usability. Dave, you bring up a good point about usability. More research needs to be available to the public. We need to keep developing stategies for overcoming some of the web’s greatest usability challenges.

One area I believe has recieved far too little attention is in hypertext literature - the interactive and nonlinear narrative. Where are commission do such projects?

In saying this, however, I do not believe that we should not discount the web as an exploratory medium. All these elements need to thrive as they all play a role, to varying degrees, in all of our projects.

The last thing I want to see killed on the web are the web-specific arts. Articles like Greenfield’s have a tendency to fuel the disregard toward such projects. This is dangerous. It is a diverse community and we all need to recognize its needs.

14
daedlus says:
April 13, 07h

“Design” and “designers” employed in this kind of context and under such light actually appears to me a LOT more like “engineering” and “engineers”. You’re building a solution to a problem, everybody has to like it, if not it doesn’t fly. One of the major concerns in engineering design is ALSO esthetics, but not MAINLY, and that I think is something seem to have trouble understanding. A site can be as nice as you want for the eye, if you can’t FIND anything or make it DO anything, it’s useless.

I know “designers”, at least the artsy-fartsy type, probably won’t like being labeled as engineers, but the fact is, we all are in some respect. And whether you like it or not, creating a usable product for a target audience while taking into account technical concerns is generally called engineering, because designers don’t have to worry themselves with these technical concerns. Engineers do.

April 13, 07h

Daedlus, this appears to be another simplistic dichotimization in ignorance of the field’s breadth. I especially enjoy how you establish the characterization of a stylist as “artsy-fartsy.”

Even mezzoblue has come under attack from such “usability purists” as noted earlier in the discussion. Dave’s work has been, and continues to be an inspiration for what is possible with CSS design.

The medium must cater to a wide diversity of needs. I suppose we could call these engineering issues. Why do people resort to using image files when they want greater typographic control? What technologies can be developed to accomodate these needs? We cannot just pretend these needs don’t exist or disregard them as “artsy-fartsy.”

Is usability an important concern? It depends upon the project. Sometimes a plain UL isn’t quite enought to make a significant connection, but in other places, the “hidden navigation” commonly seen on flash sites can get quite annoying when you are trying to look up information.

I am assuming that you are speaking of information databases that are used on a daily basis. In order for people to find the information they need, one would need to do a little research of what the user base’s needs are, then perform tests to ensure that the end product actually meets those needs. I have designed sites that don’t need much graphic treatement and would like to learn to produce sites that excel at these tasks. These are valid concerns, and I suppose most valid concerns are laced with reactionism.

I have difficulty understanding the fragmentation. In my post I tried to point out this fragmentation and why such developments are dangerous. This website is quite interesting because it brings people from both worlds into one space.

April 14, 01h

Wonderful entry Dave, I love the mentions of it being a holistic process.

“There are those of us who approach web design as a holistic strategy, and concentrate not just on how a site looks, or what it says, or how it functions. We look at a project from top to bottom, understanding the inter-relatedness of each element along the way, and assess its proper place in the site as a whole.”

Absolutely spot on, too many people get too caught up in one aspect of web design, like flashy graphics or search engine ranking, without realising you need a bit of everything.

Thats the main ethos we try and get across at www.cre8asiteforums.com and is the subject of a bit of a rant on my own site at www.camaban.co.uk/rant_holistic.php from a little while ago. I’m very pleased you’ve brought the idea to attention of your audience.

Georg says:
April 14, 01h

Among all the good points made her, one caught my attention:

-12- *The process that ties everything together* ?? *needs to be addressed more*.

The process itself seems to be hard to find something substantial written about - on the web - and everywhere else.
Bits and pieces pop up everywhere, and that??s good, but they look isolated. Just as I think Dave is trying to point out (and are doing something about).

Do people really read all the bits and pieces and SEE that they ALL have to be included in web-designs? Personally I think most are happy just to have found that small part needed to solve their own problems for today only, and they may even *sell* them as solutions far beyond what can be solved by using them. *One problem at the time, please* seems to be the norm.

I wish I could add something really constructive here, but even after close to 25 years of “human interfacing” in software (and hardware), I still cannot describe the process itself. The closest I come to a description is: *do not leave anything out of the equation*. Now I am using that process on the web, and it is starting to work here also (a slow process it is - sigh).

It takes me at least twice as long as others to produce results in the first place, because I am not satisfied with just solving the problems. I have to understand them also. I have to understand *why* and *what for* and put that into the equation as well, and I am not avoiding anything. It takes time ?? and that seems to be the problem. Don??t people see that the time it takes to learn, is time saved forever after? Of course, one cannot stop learning if that is to be true.

Sorry, but I am not a good teacher. The only thing I can bring up at any turn is something like: *this is not it ?? this is just a small part of it*. Not much, but that is about as much as I can put in writing about the process of putting all the bits together.

I hope that I can add something more substantial at another crossroad. At least *the process* is on the agenda. That is good.

18
daedlus says:
April 14, 03h

Kevin,

I wasn’t simplifying at all. Engineering is a VERY broad term. Merriam Webster defines it as: “the design and manufacture of complex products” [Section 2b - m-w.com]

By making a “design” for the web, you are in effect manufacturing a product. This product is usually supposed to be a whole that answers to a wide range of criteria, as in quality, portability, esthetics, usuability, usefulness of content, and a LOT of other things. A “100%” artist or stylist CANNOT fulfill all of these criteria, simply by definition. He can try, but he isn’t a designer, he’s a stylist, his job is to make things look good and be semi-useful, his job ISN’T to make things “portable” or “accessible” or any of those other complex things. His job is to make a nice, high-quality product for a target audience and do a damn good job at it. An engineers job in this respect is slightly different.

I didn’t encompass the entire stylist comunity into the “artsy-fartsy” class, if you read closely you’ll notice that I said “especially the artsy-fartsy” ones. That, in effect, implies that there ARE some that are not artsy-fartsy.

What I was saying is that NOBODY is 100% artist in our field, unless you work for a magazine or something of the sort where there is actually heavy task-division. But for non-corporate projects, such as mezzoblue, ALA, or half the website on the internet, this task division does not exist. And the fact is, if you wrote a webpage which is accessible and portable, like it or not, you ARE an engineer. You aren’t some sort of “über-web stylist”, although you might also be that, but you are primarily an engineer. Making things portable and accessible signifies that you understand the underlying construct of the web, how it works, and how you can make it work for you. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a fact many people often overlook.

The web isn’t a medium by which we were supposed to make great works of art. The web is there for information first, esthetics last. Forget that, and you loose all sense of purpose.

[If you don’t believe me, look how, why and where it started ->http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa091598.htm
]

April 14, 07h

I liked the Douglas Adams quote about computers/pencils.

I think it takes a long time for usability (to that extent) of any product (real or virtual) to develop.

As an example. Staff at Xerox Parc, Microsoft and Apple spent 1000’s of man hours between them developing user interfaces for windows type environments. They spent long hours asking questions about the minutest details of, for example, the simple drop down box (or combo box). Things like: should the user click once to show the items, then click a second time to make them disappear, or should it disappear after a set amount of time and if so, how long should it wait before it does so? What happens when you mouse over it, but don’t click. Should that behaviour remain the same when you mouse over, but the items are visible? Even making the buttons have a 3d appearance so that the button actually looked like it was being pressed when you clicked it (real time feedback to make the user feel like they are doing something). Also, they would consider whether the mouse icon changes over particular items or not, and many other questions.

Each change/addition would be tested and re-tested on users and their feedback would be taken into acount, the model would then be changed and tested again.

We now have the humble drop-down box, which even a newcomer to computers can learn to use after one or two clicks (almost as good as a pencil).

I have yet to see anything that serves the same purpose, that has been designed in a better way. I have seen a lot of sites that have their own dropdowns, ie they have a selectable list with a scrollbar, but they ignore a large amount of the functionality of the standard windows/osx/x-windows scrollbars.

I think it’s OK to experiment (and a lot of the portfolio sites are doing that) but good experiments need feedback. A lot of the “cool” sites try out new interfaces, but don’t test them to see how effective they are, whether users find them easy to use etc…

Anyway, good discussion. This topic needs to be visited and re-visited all the time, to try and improve the user experience on the web.

jgraham says:
April 14, 11h

Quoth Zeldman:

“Design is not just about surface appearance; it is also about smooth, easy, intuitive usability. If you can’t eject a disk from a non-booting computer without invoking a non-intuitive (non-guessable) keyboard or mouse sequence that you’ve committed to memory after reading about it in a user forum (because the company that makes the product doesn’t tell you about it) that is not smooth, easy, intuitive usability. Therefore it is bad design, even if the product’s visual design is inspired, inspiring, and award-winning.”
http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0404e.shtml

Whch is more or less exactly what I wanted to say. If your ultra-pretty site is impossible to use then it’s bad design. If you repeatedly create atrtractive but unusable sites then you’re a bad web designer. That doesn’t mean you’re not talented, it just means that you don’t work well in this medium.

The fliip side is that good visual design can make a site a pleasure to use in a way that Nielsen-esque usabilty alone cannot. In this sense, web design is more like architecture than graphic design.

April 16, 10h

As a graphic designer with a formal education in product design, I can wholeheartedly agree with you. I guess the web was in its infancy a few years ago, is rapidly growing up now and will hopefully become a self confident and promise-delivering adult in the next few years.

For all the designers out there who do not at once have a clue how to put Dave’s point into practice, I have a small reading tip:

Norman Potter, “What is a designer?”, 4th edition. (ISBN 0-906259-16-2, Hyphen Press, 2002). See http://www.hyphenpress.co.uk/titles/what_is_a_designer/synopsis.html

This is one designers’ bible in the good sense of the word. Buy with confidence.

April 17, 08h

Regarding process, I recommend the following:

MTIV: Process, Inspiration and Practice for the New Media Designer:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0735711658/qid=1082258910/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/102-7395144-8355359

Making the Web Work: Designing Effective Web Applications:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0735711968/qid=1082259018/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-7395144-8355359?v=glance&s=books

Val Casey’s Notes on Process:

http://www.valcasey.com/webdesign/prod.html

and last, but definitely not least, is this archival classic from MetaGrrrl:

http://www.metagrrrl.com/metagrrrl/design/overview.htm

s t e f says:
April 18, 02h

Dave, thanks for the oldie-but-goodie link. I had never read this article and now the schock of revelation has dawned upon me. (say it Cecil B. DeMille-like).

The question had been nagging me for a long time but I had not found exactly *what* question and *why* it was nagging me, although on a subconscious level I thought there was something wrong with, for example, flashy ‘design’ websites, which obviously were beautiful but not really usable.

That’s it. Stylist is not Designer. Right on.

24
Matt says:
April 20, 06h

The stylist vs. designer dichotomy is being taken a little too far, I think, at the expense of good stylists.

Granted, Bathing Ape was a frivolous and extreme example of a styled product that solved no problem. But plenty of stylists approach their work as a set of problems to solve- certainly more nebulous than web accessibility but still in need of solutions.

To get away from the Bathing Ape example, think for a minute about the work Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson did for various Pixies albums. These guys (stylists) faced the challenge of visually communicating the essence of the Pixies’ music, and their work was an inarguable success.

The fascinating thing about the Pixies was the way their music seemed to be set in some strange-but-familiar alternate universe, progressively becoming less sweaty and claustrophobic as time went on. Nearly every album’s artwork reflected this evolving vibe.

Dave, you’ve certainly gone out of your way to argue for a holistic approach that incorporates aesthetics as well as practical concerns. I know you’re not trying to understate the significance of style as part of the total package.

But don’t discount the fact that a good stylist, within his sphere, approaches his work with many of the same rational, empirical tactics that you use in the design process. A good stylist, whether David Carson, Vaughan Oliver, or Pablo Picasso, sets out to solve a problem according to certain rules and within certain parameters.

They deserve better than to be grouped, even implicitly, with the Bathing Ape approach to frivolous ornamentation.