I’m a Star Wars kid. No doubt about it. I’m not as fanatical about the franchise as some are but the films left a huge impact on me (ask me some other time about my application essay to NYU about Star Wars — ahem). Subsequent science fiction films did the same thing — the Alien films left a mightier impact aesthetically and to a lesser degree, the Star Trek franchise and once I worked my way up to it, 2001. Science fiction since then has been about trying to imagine what the future would be like and as technology starts to catch up with the flights of imagination of those early auteurs (and now, multi-millionaires), we’re embracing existing technology with the high-tech look that these films, book, radio shows and comics that looked to the future presented.
Deep down, somewhere, web designers and developers all want to live out their childhood dreams. We looked to the future, unaware that reality and being a grown up didn’t really live up to the hype of the culture, environment and the surroundings we grew up in. Those films, books, radio shows and comics all presented something to aspire to, something that perhaps one day we could work on, design and share with other people.
Because web designers aren’t industrial designers, we want to design dashboards, widgets, tangible looking items that are not flat and have depth and dimension to them. We try to imbue them with a sense of realness despite being on screen.
Who doesn’t want to design an application? Or a car? Or a piece of machinery, furniture? Something tangibly real?
And therein, lies a bit of a problem.
Websites are looking like web applications that look like websites that look like science fiction that look like Apple that are quickly looking like a design trend of the late 2000’s. That will undoubtedly date this period of web design as the early 2000’s did with bitmaps and pixelated everything x grunge-Carson-NakedRaygun. I’m beginning to see many swell-looking websites that while pretty in that very Apple-way — there’s no way to not mention Apple with regards to web design at the moment, they forged an aesthetic — disregard the tonality, feel and values that a client may have and more importantly, the audience that they want to serve.
I am guilty of the same thing of course.
I pay attention to web design trends, to who’s doing what and how. What can you learn, what can you take away from it?
But I like to think that I use it in moderation and where appropriate — where it makes sense to use it as something to drive the function rather than an aesthetic to start out with and mold the rest of the content to. Content comes first, content is king.
I design to a client and their audience. We design for them. I’m — and perhaps, unfortunately so — not one who has a particularly strong design aesthetic that I lean on. I’m not known for a “look” and there’s nothing wrong with either side of the coin. I try to push each project in the direction it naturally should fall into — this isn’t always easy, this isn’t always profitable. I’ve done an identity, an initial web design direction and gone through with a small beta site before getting the nagging feeling that it just wasn’t right for the client and therefore communicated with the client about it, who was too polite to tell me that they too, while content with what they were seeing, just didn’t feel all there. So, we re-started. Not entirely from scratch but in a new direction from what we originally had. At no extra cost because it wasn’t right. And sometimes, doing the right thing is much, much more rewarding and satisfying than worrying about the bottom line (i.e. profit margins, and terms like that which make me squirm a bit). This isn’t the rule nor is it the exception, it was something that made sense and was appropriate. There was room in that project to do work that we were both happy with. Not all projects can end this way but sometimes, honesty and communication can go a long way.
There are plenty of projects that are looking for — in fact, need — a designer or studio to drive the aesthetic look and feel for them and that is the biggest responsibility one can have. What you design defines the first impressions, the experience and hopefully, the lasting impression that your client gives to their audience.
So, get to know your client well, do the research, do what is right, not what is now and trendy and because Apple/Facebook/xxxxxx does it. Listen, communicate, design well.
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in a look, a design or an aesthetic. The science fiction of my youth left those impressions but ultimately, it was the human element — the stories that mattered the most, that left the lasting impression. In the end, we’re all trying to make machines more rounded, more curved, more organic, more human.
A website needs to be, more us too.
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