Flash is responsible for the Internet’s most creative era

Vice Magazine have an interview with Rob Ford of FWA about his new book that documents how web-design trends have changed. Vice make a case for the early 2000s being the sweet spot for web-design and especially the use of Flash as a tool for pushing the boundaries for what was possible.

[Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990-Today] makes a compelling case through its general structure that the sweet spot of creative web design came during the late 1990s through the mid-2000s—periods in which major brands were willing to invest a whole lot of money in a website intended for show, not just tell.

For me this era was always one of style over substance; sites took so long to load, were difficult to use and were often totally inaccessible. I don’t think the death of Flash was why this era of design ended, but rather that the web grew up. The tools we have now allow for more complex animations but the focus is elsewhere. Content, usability and high conversion rates are king, and the fact that attention spans are measure in milliseconds means we can’t afford to make users wait to access our content or storefront. Still, that intro by TokyoPlastic is very hard to beat.

Exploding the myths of web design: Only use web fonts

This is a reproduction of a boxout written for the ‘Exploding the myths of web design’ feature in .Net magazine, issue 189.

Have you ever been handed a design for a website and wondered what font the designer has used for the body copy? Because I can honestly say I never have, and this certainly isn’t down to web designers having a love for Georgia and Arial. Instead, it’s down to a common misconception that the only fonts that can be rendered in a browser are the old ‘favourites’. The thing is, a modern web browser is perfectly capable of rendering any font that a user has installed, and because of the popularity of particular software packages, the list of relatively commonplace fonts includes some beauties.

On 24 Ways, Richard Rutter showed that if you take into account fonts installed by Windows and Mac OS X along with those from Microsoft Office and Adobe’s Creative Suite, the resulting list includes some rather lovely serif and san-serif fonts that a designer can use to bolster their designs. With some carefully selected fall-backs, there’s no reason why a good developer can’t provide users with Caslon or Jenson in place of Georgia, or Helvetica Neue in place of Arial. By using the CSS font-weight property, you can even use differing weights to further enhance your work.

Most websites are launched to a specific audience or demographic, and if they aren’t then your marketing team is missing a trick. If you have a good idea who will be looking at your site, it’s then easy to treat them to some nicer typography. For example, Panic achieves this on the company’s website for FTP client Coda by using Helvetica Neue Light, after surmising that the majority of visitors will be Mac OS X users, who have the font installed on their system by default. Even if you don’t have such a targeted audience, you can still play the percentage game, and in doing so, you can at least treat a portion of your visitors to a more refined, unique look. Call it typographic progressive enhancement!

Branding the London 2012 Olympics

The logo for the 2012 Olympic games was yesterday unveiled on the London 2012 website. Wolf Olins, the firm tasked with creating the branding, have avoided any kind of cliche, (I was thinking the Thames, London Eye or Big Ben would feature prominently), and instead have opted for a new-rave/eighties themed device that looks to be focused more on it’s ability to be co-branded than as a stand alone logo or mark.

Bryan Bedell of Coudal has written a fantastic piece on the inevitable furore that has erupted from the usual short-sighted media outlets. While I think it may be dated by the start of the event, I agree with almost every other point and especially with regard to complaints about the pricing – the fact that every tabloid in the country is questioning the cost of the design without understanding the processes involved is disgusting, ill-informed and exactly the cause of much of the poor, generic and uninspiring design of recent times.

The dangers of customisation

In the past few years emerging techniques have allowed web site creators to customise their user’s browsing environment to an increasing extent. Cascading style-sheets have allowed authors to modify form elements and scroll-bars to more closely match the aesthetics of their sites, javascript can be used to alter window size and shape and the behaviour of toolbars, browser buttons and mouse actions.

This amount of control is embraced by traditional designers who enjoy maintaining strict control over every facet of their work, and who in the past have struggled with the unpredictable nature of the Internet as a medium of design, but many web developers are wary of the damage this customisation could be doing for the user experience and the effect it could have on how web sites are currently being used. Is there a point at which you can ‘design’ and control too much of the users browsing environment?

Before the growth of the Internet, users would generally only be exposed to user interface elements that followed their platform developer’s Human Interface Guidelines. These guidelines regulate the behaviour of widgets, buttons, mouse clicks and other interactive elements to achieve a level of consistency across applications, allowing a user to become familiar and efficient when using their computer.

With the growth in usage of the Internet, and web sites that do not follow such specific guidelines, it is important to achieve as much consistency with a users native platform as possible, so that familiar interfaces are present where possible, especially for the more important tasks such as inputting data and navigating information. While it is always important to create a tight and integrated visual style when designing for the web, (or any interactive medium), the demands of the user that the interaction can occur easily and efficiently are equally important. With regards to specific elements or behaviour on the web, the user will have more experience with the elements and behaviour of their own operating system than with your site specific customised controls and mouse actions. If you want them to interact with your site more efficiently, it may be wise to let them use what they know.