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Landmark Web Sites, Where Art Thou?

Milton Glaser’s Dylan poster. Paul Rand’s IBM logo. Paula Scher’s Public Theater posters. Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway map. Kyle Cooper’s Seven opening titles. These are only a few landmark projects of our profession. Design solutions that, in their consistent use as exemplary cases of execution, concept and process, don’t even need to be shown anymore and that, for better or worse, (almost) everyone acknowledges as being seminal works that reflect the goals that graphic design strives for: A visual solution that not only enables, but also transcends, the message to become memorable in the eyes and minds of viewers. Whether these projects are indeed as amazing, relevant and enviable as we have built them up to be is cause for a separate discussion but it’s safe to say that, as far as designs recognized around the profession, there are a certain few that invariably make the list, usually without question. Myself, I could list projects in every category from logos, to annual reports, to magazine covers, to packaging, to typefaces, to opening titles that could be considered landmark projects… But when it comes to web sites, I can’t think of a single www that could be comparable — in gravitas, praise, or memorability — as any of the few projects I just mentioned. Could this be?

Perhaps it’s the short lifespan of the web that hasn’t allowed any specific web site to become a de facto choice for design immortality; but Seven was released in 1995, becoming an instant classic, so age is not quite an issue. Or maybe it’s the perennially ephemeral nature of the web, where web sites can change every year, month or week if desired, rendering the sense of commitment less ominous than that of printed or branded matter. It could also be the giant amount of crap that one has to wade through on the internet, but not much more than the amount of bad logos, brochures or signs found day in and day out. Or maybe I’m just thinking about this the wrong way.

Certainly, web sites are a different breed of design project than any of the above, but the same principles apply: How do you render information in a manner that is understandable, memorable and pleasing to the end user? Whether this happens on a single, large piece of paper, or across 200 smaller pages, or on a glass bottle, or on web browsers around the world should only serve to focus the intent and output of the designer. Yet, when it comes to web design it’s rare that all elements — functionality, clarity of information, and subjective beauty — come together to create a result that is widely admired, recognized or lauded in the same vein as anything resembling the likes of Saul Bass’ AT&T logo, or Susan Kare’s icons for the original Mac OS.

It would be easy to say “well, google.com” and add it to the Great Design canon but, really? Sure, as a search engine it’s not encumbered by the more-is-more malady that plagues Yahoo! or MSN, but aesthetically it is anything but pleasing: A logo made up of primary colors with a bevel and drop shadow, default blue links in Arial, two buttons and a few other sprinkled text links centered on a page. Doesn’t sound like a winner, does it? In its simplicity the statement is more manifesto than design. On the other extrene, information-heavy sites are a thing of beauty in the way they parse all that data, like nytimes.com, but I’m seldom moved or inspired by the design. Even graphic designers’ web sites seem to falter at the challenge — cool, pretty, typographically acute, and then not much else. Micro sites for Nike, Virgin or any other large brand are usually fluffy eye candy, gratifying for a couple of minutes and its biggest compliment is to win one of any interactive awards — and if you’ve tried looking at those on printed magazines like HOW or Print you might as well be looking at drawings made on rice grains.

As a designer who has made half of his livelihood and most of his (limited) notoriety online, I am by no means belittling the work of web designers or the relevance and influence that the discipline has, but as a “traditional” designer, obsessed with what has been done before and how that establishes expectations on the rest of our work, I am really interested in this lack of Pinnaclism (for lack of a better sounding term) in web design. And just to rectify, this is not an argument about print versus web, and the supremacy of one over the other. Rather, an honest question about what makes a great web site and, even more challenging, what web sites could be considered landmarks for our profession?

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ARCHIVE ID 4033 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Oct.30.2007 BY Armin
WITH 169 COMMENTS
Comments
Keenan Cummings / BYU’s comment is:

Ohh! The first comment!

I think the web is such an illusive form; commissioned websites, the kind with the budget to put a talented design team behind it, hardly ever get attributed to the designer(s) that create them. Personal and experimental work is often so temporary and evolutionary that it is either gone or imitated or evolved before we notice it. So much of what is on the web is also participatory. We hardly noticed what Myspace was; rather we notice what we, ourselves, can make of it. And finally, in the end, innovative web design is so entirely about function. When the function is intuitive and innovative, we hardly notice it—that is why it is so good. When it is bad, we leave and go somewhere else.

I had a friend that put together a list of "creative project permanence": The higher the barrier to entry, the higher the permanence, or the longer the project is around. A Frank Gehry building will be around, applauded, and remembered much more and much longer than Frank Gehry's blog. (He doesn't have actually have one.) The openness of the internet creates an ever evolving atmosphere where nothing is new for more than 15 minutes.

The question we should ask is not what are the landmark sites, but who are the landmark designers and innovators. And I would be willing to bet that these people are doing much more work outside the traditional scope of the world wide web. A landmark, by nature, must have some level of permanence, or timelessness.

Maybe the lack of Internet Landmarks is why I feel so lost when I log on.

On Oct.30.2007 at 10:25 PM
Keenan Cummings / BYU’s comment is:

Sorry for some sloppy grammar—I was racing for posting pole position.(here and henceforth known as ppp.)

On Oct.30.2007 at 10:29 PM
Dennis’s comment is:

My friend and I discuss this all the time. Is there anything done in interactive design that is actually "timeless"?

On Oct.31.2007 at 12:01 AM
Chad K’s comment is:

I think you raise an interesting question with numerous ways to look at it and find an answer, or find that there isn't one.

The web is extremely young in context to other forms of design media that we encounter. Even Kyle Coopers revolutionary work was able to build off of a century of experiments, developments, and styles seen in film before. I think here might be a good point to start to look why we have not seen anything truly notable from the web in terms of design–not because of the content we look at making up the design, but the medium itself.

When we think of great websites, whose importance is based totally on the users needs, a few of which were mention, we generally look at the wealth of information it gives us. We can search Google to be confronted with a million results, Myspace to keep in touch with avatar friends, and Wiki anything we want to be informed by seemingly credible information.

The common user, I feel it is safe to say, comes to the internet to obtain information (whether it is inspiration, entertainment, or socialization). A users intention to gain information when he surfs the web creates an immediate problem for conceptual sites who wish to create an experience that must be explored over time. Our appetite for instant gratification is satisfied by the ability to click to the next site when we see something that requires too much interpretation.

As mentioned above, the internet is also used for socialization and the sharing of ideas. It is a vehicle for collaboration whose content is melded the users. While a film, logo, or poster can be experienced multiple times in exactly the same way, it is almost impossible to experience a website the same way as there is always pressure for updating. We have control over how we experience on the web every time. What site did we see before the one we are currently on and where will we go next.

The numerous factors when making a site also makes it a hard medium to produce a revolutionary vision. Standardization, or lack of it, creates different experiences for every user based on operating system or browser. It is also a medium restricted by technological advancements that may not meet the creators vision.

So what might make a great website? I think it will be how the design of a website will facilitate the constant input from its users. When an update feels more like a new experience than just an addition to the previous one. The fleeting experience of a website is more like performance–it can bee seen many times but never in the same way.

On Oct.31.2007 at 12:37 AM
Ben’s comment is:

Maybe it would be more appropriate to compare websites to things like TV station identities / on air graphics...have there been timeless on air identities?

On Oct.31.2007 at 12:37 AM
Cal MacKendrick’s comment is:

It might be more appropriate to compare websites to blank sheets of paper. Have there been any timeless blank sheets of paper? Online is a medium, the content may or may not be timeless, but for something to become classic takes time.

The Dylan poster and IBM logo are decades old.

The pixel graphics of k10k will endure.
Firewheel's web 2.0 iconography will also. I'm sure with a little scholarship I could propose other candidates.


I'm also sure that in 2010 a mess of compendia on the subject of "websites that shaped the design world" will be proposed and published.

On Oct.31.2007 at 06:39 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

I think web "applications" over websites, are really where the web design of this caliber is hiding. Certainly there are more bad ones than good ones, but the great ones are pretty amazing.

37 Signals' applications are top notch and really dig into the inherent capabilities of core web techniques. They get a ton of clarity, usability, functionality and value, in a beautiful yet bell-and-whistle free package.

I don't feel like I'm going out on a limb to suggest that in 20 years we'd look at those apps like we look at Kyle Cooper's Seven titles.

I'd also consider Virb in that playing field.

No website's going to have the mystique or aura of a Paul Rand poster. There is so much built up around the man and his legacy, that even his so-so work we praise (and rightfully so, I believe). Maybe one of the first interactive designers we'll look back on like that is Rob Greenberg. While I personally don't care for much of what they produce, he's been leading a huge team doing things that are consistently ahead of their time for decades.

On Oct.31.2007 at 09:36 AM
graham’s comment is:

my classics might not be yours-and vice versa: and thats sheer wonder and joy (seven? what?)
with web?
plenty (just have a dig around):
wefeelfine.org (and other jonathan harris work-universe for example )
yugop.com (and anything yugo touches just about-trounces pretty much everything)
some of the stuff digglabs is doing
the arcade fire online vid - http://www.beonlineb.com/click_around.html
joshua davis
poke's work
check ars electronica

and on and on . . .
and yes-app stuff like virb
point is-most 'designers' treat web/reactive/generative/space (and film) like print, and they bear little relationship to each other
there is a lot of it out there though-
and there is no end to exploring

On Oct.31.2007 at 10:08 AM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

A landmark is a guiding element within a journey. (To get to my house, drive to Safeway and take a right). It's something recognizable that helps us make decisions about which direction we will go on the next step in the journey.

So what websites out there could be listed that have helped the world make decisions about the direction they are heading?

Amazon - The world was afraid of purchasing things online. Now we're all fine with it. Thanks Amazon.

Yahoo - When the world was faced with a task that required information, we used to go to the library. In the early era of Yahoo we changed. Now we go to the web and type our question into a little search box. Others have perfected this method, but I'd argue that the “world” started doing it with Yahoo.

blog (with a lower-case b) - Not one blog specifically, but the idea of the blog. Because of blog, anyone can find a conversation about any topic, and chime in their two cents.

I think it's really easy to look at landmark design in the world and get tied to the beauty of a design piece. The beauty of the piece is not what made it a landmark. The result of the piece is what makes it a landmark. It just happens that Dylan, IBM, and Public Theatre happen to be beautiful.

On Oct.31.2007 at 10:26 AM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:


I thought Keenan's comment was particularly interesting. The Web IS illusive. In many cases we applaud those websites that mimic printed design and poopoo those that look like websites. Is this because the design community (and their clients) is uncomfortable still with what websites essentially are? Do we perceive the web's constraints differently than we would consider the constraints of 4-color process or the size of the page? Interesting stuff to chew on for the day.

On Oct.31.2007 at 10:43 AM
C-Lo’s comment is:

I Agree with sheepstealer. Landmarks for the web I don't think are specific sites, but rather different sites that do different things. The search engine, The online community, You can start to say the first ones to use HTML4, OR when we started coining web 2.0. I can point to a bounty of amazing websites that are just beautiful and timeless, but is it a landmark? Is it lost, awash with the trillions of web sites out there? Technology of course has a hand with this. Imagine the first site you went to that used Flash or Shockwave. The first games. The first ascii based picture you saw. Those I believe are the landmarks. When I was a kid there was no true internet. I had a little black book with phone numbers to different BBS's that I made my phone modem call. That's how I got my information. I wanted to know whats up with paint-ball games coming up, call that number. In a sense you can say that was the first blogs. But also remember Blog used to stand for web log. As in a website that just listed a bunch of sites you liked. I digress. I would say sites that are landmarks are ones that really bring something new to the table.

On Oct.31.2007 at 10:52 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

I think it's less a question of the timelessness of specific web applications, and more a question of what constitutes timelessness? Are the IBM logo and Dylan posters good because designers saw them and interacted with them individually, and separately agreed on its worth? Or rather are they the focus and subject of countless compendiums of "the fifty greatest?" Design is subjective, and it takes time and a lot of people noticing to be able to call something timeless. Even the IBM logo hasn't achieved that plane, ask anyone outside an art building who designed that logo and your correct response rate is likely to be between 0-5%. (Asking inside an art building can produce its own set of dismal results.)

As far as the question of web landmarks, I tend to agree with the sentiment that it's far more helpful to think of landmark ideas than to try to come up with monumental delivery systems for those ideas. The search engine (Yahoo, Google), the commerce site (Ebay, Amazon) the social networking site (Myspace, Facebook), the chat program (iChat, AOL, MSN), and the social video site (YouTube) are all landmark ideas with multiple implementations that I think will stand the test of time.

On Oct.31.2007 at 11:01 AM
Jeff Werner’s comment is:

Yugo Nakamura, still a grand master. In the early 2000s (or was it late 90s already?) and his experimental flash work at yugop.com.

On Oct.31.2007 at 11:16 AM
Jer — ee’s comment is:

Amazon and Yahoo are landmark busniesses, not websites. Improved technology not design made it safe for people to shop online and easyer to search for information.

You can have landmark technologies, but not websites.

On Oct.31.2007 at 11:23 AM
Tom M.’s comment is:

I think the current climate of design (both print and electronic) is the real issue here. Using the original arguement, how many landmark print designs have there been in the last 10-15 years that can stand up to, say, Paul Rand or the Dylan poster? And I mean without doing a lot of research. Could it be that today's saturation of designers and visual media and the rate at which styles and techniques evolve make those types of comparisons obsolete? I believe design is looked at much differently today in the sense that even if there are hugely memorable pieces produced, they are immediately topped by the next innovation. Things are happening too quickly for a piece of design to be put in a glass case and admired. And that's good. Keeps everyone on their toes.

On Oct.31.2007 at 01:02 PM
Mike’s comment is:

I don't beleive that a website design can/will ever be timeless. The web grew up with a generation that wanted things "now"...and when they were sick of "now"...they wanted a new "now". Just my opinion.

Can a website design (not an acutally website) become timeless? Never say never. I think it is a great challenge that is waiting to be overcome.

On Oct.31.2007 at 01:09 PM
PaddyC’s comment is:

Tough question.

There are a couple problems with establishing "landmark" pieces of web design. One is that, as mentioned, the web isn't very old. Compared to other design mediums it is a baby. Perhaps too young to have anything of note yet.

But IMO the main problem is one of memory. Web sites, web design, and web technology do not last. They come and go quickly and, what's worse, we don't have a permanent record of them (and no good means - yet - of preserving them). The landmark examples from other design mediums mentioned for comparison are all well known and many times over reproduced. A (general) design student today will be aware of these. A web designer starting out today will have no idea of how the web was when I started (1997). And he will have no way of accessing it. And yes there's the wayback machine but we all know that doesn't really work.

There was memorable work from those heady bubble days. Razorfish, Kioken come to mind. But we've moved on. That work no longer exists to us - it is forgotten. The technology and methods used have been supplanted. You can still learn from Rand's IBM logo. But from those early web sites there would be little to glean save some insight into what not to do today.

On Oct.31.2007 at 01:27 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I sort of agree with Jer-ee, those examples SS cited are innovative business models, not innovative design landmarks.

I should also point out that a landmark is not necessarily timeless. It can be dated almost immediately, and still be a landmark design. The Dylan poster is not timeless, for example.

Design, like architecture, succeeds when form and function work equally well together. I think the same can be said of web.

I agree with Armin, though, that there's a lack of great design examples -- but I do think they exist. Are they landmarks? Perhaps some of them, maybe very few of them.

One that comes to mind right now is the beautiful NYCtoTahitiNonstop.com site, which has since been sold, moved, and dismantled. It was a graceful use of Flash, and a beautiful design.

Another hallmark to me was the 2001 IBM Online Annual Report, done masterfully by VSA. It was well-written, well paced, well-designed.

Most sites are just plain, square buildings with crap inside. Or retail stores that are designed for ease-of-use and to expedite transactions, instead of relishing the experience. So is it any wonder that most e-commerce sites feel similarly pedestrian -- like nameless storefronts in a giant mall?

I think it's a copout to say that websites have technological merits that are separate from their design. While that may be true, that's like saying an ugly building has merits because its plumbing is particularly impressive.

On Oct.31.2007 at 01:46 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Landmark does not mean "timeless". There is no such thing. The Dylan poster is not "timeless". But a landmark it is.

http://www.donniedarkofilm.com/

This is the very definition of landmark in the web space. Highly narrative. Lush. Arguably difficult to use. But that was the point. It could only happen on the web. Enhances the offline experience. There are many other but this is one I still site as a prime example today. and its still live. And I bet its traffic numbers are still decent.

But I do think the appropriate focus on usability and functionality will make it harder for landmarks of design to form online. Most landmarks now are functional models rather than impressive graphics. Myspace, International Herald Tribune, etc…

On Oct.31.2007 at 01:57 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Funny, I said the exact same thing right before you did, Rob.

On Oct.31.2007 at 01:59 PM
pnk’s comment is:

This particular issue of Colors magazine always jumps to mind when I'm asked for superlative web design. To me, it's damn durable.

On Oct.31.2007 at 02:01 PM
ben..’s comment is:

I think community based web sites are the most influential as they involve interaction every day.

Two well designed sites that I frequent, are Flickr, and Threadless. I've been visiting threadless for years. The site is continually evolving and the owners of the company frequent the blogs and ask users what they would like to see improved on the site and implement suggestions on the fly. Basically you have one on one interaction.


On Oct.31.2007 at 02:22 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

ha oh shit. I guess I should have read more carefully.

On Oct.31.2007 at 02:47 PM
Laura’s comment is:

Impressions can be long-lasting, even if the site is redesigned every so often.

www.leoburnett.com made a lasting impression on me a while back.

On Oct.31.2007 at 03:34 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I'll probably have web designers flame me for this, but I think that the nature of the web doesn't allow for the creation of anything that is ever going to be remembered as iconic.

For one thing, a website isn't a singlar experience the way a subway map is (I'd choose the British Rail map over Massimo Vignelli's NY map as the iconic design, but that's beside the point). Looking at a website involves looking at the design of the browser window, probably some other open windows on your desktop, the desktop itself, the computer monitor, whatever clutter is on your desk, etc.

And web pages just dont look "iconic." There's nothing bold and graphic about them, like the Dylan poster. Someone with no knowledge of design could look at that poster and understand why it's considered iconic. Only a designer with some knowledge of the limitations of the web can appreciate good web design. In fact, I'm not sure I always appreciate good web design. There are a lot of web designers doing very good work, but I still tend to look at the web as a crude, generally ugly looking thing.

On Oct.31.2007 at 04:54 PM
Jason Santa Maria’s comment is:

I wonder if it's a bit premature to ask where these icons of the medium are. Though you cite some relatively new work above as landmarks, the biggest difference between these and the relatively new work on the web is depth of history. Print and film are both mediums a tremendous amount of history and theory built in to them, providing not just the practitioners, but the layman, the language and understanding to raise these things up to a higher appreciation and acceptance.

The general nature of web design has the pedal to the floor all the time, constantly moving and growing. What was considered new and hot one month, could be totally eclipsed by the next. I really think it's going to be very difficult to pinpoint anything as a milestone in web design until we are in a different place than we are now. There just isn't a time for things to slow down enough to look back for context and to see patterns that may emerge. We need to develop that backlog of history first.

On Oct.31.2007 at 05:19 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I would like to nominate, specifically the Metropolitan Museum Website it was designed many years ago (in web years) by Icon Nicholson, and it made a big impact when it came out. If I remember correctly we all went nuts over it, and from what I can tell it hasn't changed in navigation, structure or appearance, although I'm certain content has been added. And what content! This remains one of the most consistently beautiful and easy user experiences on the web. It's extraordinarily useful, entertaining and informative and at the same time it has a distinctive but—dare I say—"classic" look and feel. It was mindblowing when it came out, it's mindblowing today, what more could you ask for?

Oh yeah, there is one more thing you could ask for: a great url. www.met.org it just doesn't get much better than that.

On Oct.31.2007 at 05:39 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Some very interesting points have been brought up so far and, to my relief (in the sense that at least I know I'm not going crazy), not too many actual web sites have been declared winners.

First I wanted to address a snippy remark from Andy Rutledge, who linked to this post earlier: "Wait, did Armin just figure out—and lament—the fact that websites are generally more about conveying information than about artistry "Pinnicalism" or designer superstardom? Had to happen sometime, I guess."

I'm not sure I ever acted in surprise about web sites being more about information, so that bit is misguided; but I wanted to address the notion that "websites are generally more about conveying information than about artistry "Pinnicalism" or designer superstardom". Well, yes, but so is everything else in design: An annual report is about conveying information, a poster is about conveying information, a logo is about conveying information, a package is about conveying information, a piece of collateral is about conveying information. So web sites do not benefit from this singular characteristic. And there are plenty of examples in the above disciplines of design that are about conveying information in a way that is memorable and unique – so why can't web sites strive for it?

But back to those on board here...

> Maybe it would be more appropriate to compare websites to things like TV station identities / on air graphics...have there been timeless on air identities

MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, the latest iteration of AMC, even ABC a couple of years back had an engaging and memorable package (the one that was all yellow and black).

> It might be more appropriate to compare websites to blank sheets of paper. Have there been any timeless blank sheets of paper? Online is a medium,...

Hmmm... That's more of a cop out answer. Anything is a blank sheet of paper: Whether it's a 24 x 36 poster, or a an 84-page perfect-bound piece, or a 5 x 5 x 5 box... They are all a medium as much as the web. So, no, I don't buy the blank sheet of paper theory.

> there is a lot of it out there though-
and there is no end to exploring

(Graham, you are alive!). Indeed, I don't question the amount or the necessity to explore and dig -- something I may do too much off. But, I still feel that the There Is So Much Out There! theory is only good to point out the fact there is so much out there that is cool. What makes, or what would make, any of these, say, "legendary"?

> I Agree with sheepstealer. Landmarks for the web I don't think are specific sites, but rather different sites that do different things.

Well, this is like saying that the Mac, OpenType, digital-to-plate pre-press, polymer plates for letterpress are all landmarks. Technology enables design. Things of beauty and of clarity of information are done before and after any of these advancements.

...

My fingers are getting tired. It's been a long day of typing up stuff. More tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone for humoring me so far!

On Oct.31.2007 at 10:19 PM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:

There sure are a lot of disparate ideas floating around here and it's difficult to string the logic between them all. That's what passes for an apology for perhaps restating that which was already said.

A web presence is meant to be dynamic. Unlike a bluegrass festival poster or company logo, which is meant to express some degree of singular importance or permanence, most websites strive to do the opposite; create a sense of dynamic change. The value of a website is not in how many people it attracts the first time but rather how many people it attracts a second time. Right?

But then that subverts any notion that design serves a primary role. Instead, any device that delivers a steady stream of fresh content and, preferably, a record of one's visit or contribution. Isn't there a thrill when one of your blog comments gets riffed on by the contributing community? Isn't that sort of what "popular" sites are all about (at least partially)? As a professional designer and illustrator of several decades it's very difficult for me to reconcile that when it comes to the web, function trumps form bigstyle.

I equate sites a bit like parks. A park can be beautiful and uninviting all at once. A park can be ugly but very popular and functional! Which park is better? Which park could be considered a "landmark?"

On Oct.31.2007 at 10:42 PM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:

(Incidentally, as one who ALWAYS comes across the better way of phrasing an idea the moment it's posted, I sure would like an "EDIT" button.)

On Oct.31.2007 at 10:44 PM
Kris L.’s comment is:

While you talk about the IBM logo, and the Dylan poster, as landmark, they are landmark to designers. The average American doesn't relate. Within the design field you are talking about what designers find influential to the future of that particular medium.

What we have in web-design is individual's who inspire approaches. People like Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer, Khoi Vinh, and Dave Shea, just to name a few. Champions of CSS, standards, and grids in web design. These guys may not all be designers but they give designers the inspiration to create future design just as Paul Rand inspired by his work.

Speaking of Dave Shea what about The CSS Zen Garden, arguably one of the most influential websites in modern web-design. While the website has over a hundred versions, (not all beautiful) the impact on showing the possibilities of CSS have made a definite impact on the medium.

Think about how design is evolving. Design is now created to change. Michael Bierut's Saks Fifth Avenue Identity has hundreds of variations. The NYC logo (for good or for bad) was created as a container for future iterations, and so on...

(side note: while I am a big Kyle Cooper fan, when I think landmark and film titles I think Saul Bass.)

On Nov.01.2007 at 12:21 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> While you talk about the IBM logo, and the Dylan poster, as landmark, they are landmark to designers. The average American doesn't relate.

Correct. And on purpose. This discussion is about designers, not the average American.

On Nov.01.2007 at 07:25 AM
Kris L.’s comment is:

>This discussion is about designers, not the average American.

Yes, I understand, I was just using this point to set up the rest of my statement, that the concept of landmark design in today's design world is evolving, in print and on the web, we need to broaden the scope a bit.

On Nov.01.2007 at 09:52 AM
szkat’s comment is:

i think we need to move beyond the dylan poster... :) i second ben's comments of Flickr and Threadless, and if i had to pick only one it would be the latter.

Threadless is elegant, simple, universally loved and easy to use. it's one of the only examples i can think of that's the whole package - amazon, for example, is not beautiful, and doesn't make me feel good using it. it's strictly utilitarian. it's a shop, it's a bazaar.

Meanwhile Threadless is not only a heartfelt corporation, but it takes good things from offline AND online (community, democracy, hipster tees, cash prizes) and applies them deftly to a good idea. they've changed the model of small business and UGC culture and i think they'll be around for years to come. so... my $0.02... i could keep going.

they get my vote for landmark web design!

On Nov.01.2007 at 10:22 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

It hadn't occurred to me until just now that in the opening statement of this post, you referred to the designer first, project second. And I think the answer to the question "where are the landmark websites" is another question: Where are the landmark web designers?

I was talking to one of our web guys on break yesterday about the overall culture differences between his department and mine. He was telling me that when they brainstorm for a project, it isn't about who is in what job title, it's about the idea. Print, in my experience, doesn't work that way. Print designers frequently want to know who you are and what you've done before they want to hear about your ideas. (An aside: I'm sure that there are print design shops that are run more democratically, but on the whole, I don't think they are most of the time.) It leads to a culture of superstardom; you have to be a superstar to do good work, and you have to do good work to become a superstar. Print designers are also far more prone to worship than web designers (again, on the average). I asked the aforementioned web guy to name three or four influential web designers, and he said it doesn't really work that way. There's frequently no one person that can handle all the jobs it takes to do a truly big-name site that would be accessed by the general public, and therefore there's no one person who can claim credit for the idea.

To kind of sum up my stream of consciousness, it's about culture. Web designers don't think like us. They can't, and in a lot of cases, won't. I dunno. Thoughts?

On Nov.01.2007 at 10:59 AM
Kris L.’s comment is:

Threadless is a store and a very niche market. I don't know how much impact it has on the design community at large.

The question is really what constitutes as landmark print design in the last 7 years?

As far as influential web designers. I already made a case for Khoi Vinh, although Armin discounted nytimes.com already. But what about his beautiful A Brief Message.

I think there is a strong case for the guys at Coudal, I mean Armin himself is taking part in their Layer Tennis tomorrow.

What about the guys at A List Apart. Who not only educate, but lead by beautiful simplistic example.

All of these guys are all stripping down the web to it's essentials and working within the confines of the medium, using system fonts, CSS and images, all while teaching the community at large how to follow suit. Try that print designers.

On Nov.01.2007 at 11:21 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Threadless? Honestly? That's what you call a landmark example of web design?? Why? Because it's simple? Because it actually has legible type and clear navigation? Because it's not buried under layers of Flash tricks? And so that somehow makes it a landmark example of good design? Gimme a break.

Just because something is functional, or isn't ugly, doesn't make it beautiful. Or conceptual. Or communicative.

I think the fact that there are designers out there who think this is what defines the pinnacle of web work is rather sad. It's fucking tragic, actually.

I think it's also the root of the problem. People have become so accustomed to settling for poor design online that there's no longer any basis to define what is "good" design.

Threadless??


> Where are the landmark web designers?

This is a chicken vs. egg question that I don't think can be solved. You're suggesting that the reason's there's no good work is because there's no good designers. Well, duh. But both are inseparable problems, are they not?


>Web designers don't think like us. They can't, and in a lot of cases, won't.

This kind of statement is what makes people think print designers are insular and arrogant. I've worked with many talented web designers. Armin is a talented web designer.

Design is design. The medium may change, but the basic fundamentals and aesthetics of design doesn't. "Good" design can be print, film, product, textile, and yes, web.

While web designers may not understand print, and print designers don't understand usability -- the fundamentals of design, concept, and visual communications still applies.

On Nov.01.2007 at 12:51 PM
David E.’s comment is:

Maybe it would be more appropriate to compare websites to things like TV station identities / on air graphics...have there been timeless on air identities

It might be more appropriate to compare websites to blank sheets of paper. Have there been any timeless blank sheets of paper? Online is a medium,...

I was trying to think of an analogy when I made my initial post, but couldn't think of one. The closest thing, I think, would be a newspaper or newsletter – which may also be expertly designed, but never be looked at as a landmark.

Like newsletters and newspapers, websites are more about an invisible structure. While all design conveys information, these things have to convey many disparate pieces of information at once, and may change from day to day.

Designers are really just like everyone else. We tend to remember things that are simple, bold and impactful, with a form that always remains the same.

On Nov.01.2007 at 01:05 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"My friend and I discuss this all the time. Is there anything done in interactive design that is actually "timeless"?"

Google.

As other's have mentioned what makes a web site a landmark has more to do with the interaction design that visual design.

The ones that stick out...Google. Amazon. Craigslist. These are the timeless ones. Ugly? One could argue that. But it's the experience that these sites provide users that has given them their staying power.

On Nov.01.2007 at 02:10 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"I think the fact that there are designers out there who think this is what defines the pinnacle of web work is rather sad. It's fucking tragic, actually."

It's also fucking tragic when there are designers out there who think the pinncale of web work is full screen animated flash sites with background music.

Design isn't beauty. It isn't functionality. Its isn't communication. It isn't usability. It's all of that.

Sometimes one of those aspects of design can trump another depending on the context. Craigslist is ugly. But functionality trumps it. There's been some rather unusable sites mentioned in this list, but their beauty trumps it.

If we're solely debating visual design aesthetics, then fine, but then let's specify that. Otherwise, 'design' can be highly successful, even when ugly.

On Nov.01.2007 at 02:17 PM
Tan’s comment is:

So Darrel -- the yellow pages is a landmark design by your definition, right? What about the ads above urinals in public restrooms? Bus boards should also have a design hall of fame too, right? When they were introduced, they all offered new "experiences" for messaging and communications.

How exactly are the "experiences" of these so-called timeless websites any different than a Sears catalog or any of the examples above? Is it because you use a mouse to flip the pages? Is it because you select buttons instead of pulling items off shelves?

It's absolutely absurd to celebrate pedestrian-designed websites simply because they come wrapped in a new platform package. As Armin said, technology enables design -- no more, no less.

Have your design expectations really sank so low for web design?

On Nov.01.2007 at 02:28 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> But functionality trumps it.

Function has never trumped form to define good design. Historically, it has been the opposite that's been unfortunately true.

Too many web designers tout usability and functionality as justification for poor design and underwhelming concepts and communications. It's happened to the point now that there's an entirely new generation of web design graduates who believe that bullshit and use it as a crutch for shitty design work.

In my book, that's what's fucking tragic.

On Nov.01.2007 at 02:36 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"So Darrel -- the yellow pages is a landmark design by your definition, right?"

The first one probably was. But I guess now we're debating what we all mean my landmark.

(FYI, I love the yellow pages.)

"What about the ads above urinals in public restrooms?"

Sure, that's great design. Very practical location. New venue that hadn't really been explored until recently.

"Bus boards should also have a design hall of fame too, right?"

In the broad sense of 'design', sure, why not?

I have a hunch you keep meaning to say 'graphic design' or even more specifically 'good visual aesthetics', though.

"How exactly are the "experiences" of these so-called timeless websites any different than a Sears catalog or any of the examples above?"

A sears catalog just sits there. You can look at pictures.

Amazon interacts with you. It suggests items for you. It allows you to click one button to have it shipped to you. It gives you instant gratification with MP3 downloads. It allows you to keep a wish list. It integrates with hundreds of other retailers.

It's a fairly impressive piece of experience design.

Yea, kind of tacky looking, though.

"Have your design expectations really sank so low for web design?"

Amazon pleases my primary expectations for an online retailer: Search, Picture, Product Information, Easy purchase. The user reviews and comparisons and related items, etc are all nice bonuses.

It's good design.

I've been to plenty of beautiful looking online stores that either a) didn't even let me purchase or b) made it so difficult that I just didn't bother.

One could argue those sites succeeded at their visual design, but they failed at design in general.

"Function has never trumped form to define good design. Historically, it has been the opposite that's been unfortunately true."

Sure it has.

"Too many web designers tout usability and functionality as justification for poor design"

Usability and functionality *is* design. As is aesthetics, typography, visuals, color, etc.

"entirely new generation of web design graduates who believe that bullshit and use it as a crutch for shitty design work."

There are also new generations of designers who believe that "visuals are everything" bullshit and use it as a crutch for shitty design work.

It goes both ways.

On Nov.01.2007 at 03:08 PM
darrel’s comment is:

Maybe a bar graph would work better at explaining my point.

A web site can have any number of design success measurments: Aesthetics. Usability. Functionality. Typography. Color. Interactivity. Fulfills business requirements. Ease of maintenance, etc.

Let's make simplfy it for this discussion and let's focus on just two items; Aesthetics and Functionality.

Google's bar graph would probably look like this:

Aesthetics:
--
Functionality:
--------------

And, oh...let's see...let's look at whiteonwhite.com (an online retailer I recently wanted to use).

Aesthetics:
--------------
Functionality:
--

(For the sake of this argument, let's pretend whiteonwhite has really amazing aesthetics...they're not that great but we'll pretend).

Both sites get 12 points on my scale. Equal in design. One's certainly better looking, the other certainly provides more valuable functionality.

Now some folks may decide that aesthetics should be weighted and, as such, the emphasis should always rest there in judging design. I'd say CA/Print/Etc take that model, mainly because they are selling to Graphic Designers.

In the broad sense of design, though, I wouldn't weight any of the axis anymore than any other in general. It's all a matter of context and the specific project at hand.

Not that any of this should ever stop someone from striving to max out the graph in all aspects, of course.

On Nov.01.2007 at 03:17 PM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

You're suggesting that the reason's there's no good work is because there's no good designers.

Well, only incidentally. Actually I'm suggesting that print designers should look more at what they call landmark design. Is it landmark design because it has inherent greatness, or is it great design because Milton Glaser/Paul Rand/Saul Bass did it? Web designers frequently don't have such distinctions because it takes far more than just one person to produce just about any website, unless you're an expert coder and great aesthete to boot (which isn't the standard in my experience). I grant that a relatively simple code (HTML + CSS) is easy enough to handle but even that takes a lot of time and energy, and doesn't lend itself easily to the kind of notoriety that a lot of print designers crave. You're right, Armin is a good web designer, but he didn't build this site alone, nor does he claim sole credit.

Conversely, a single print designer can pretty much handle the amount of technical knowledge to produce a great printed piece as well as handling the aesthetics of said piece. He may or may not have the production knowhow to run a 12-color press, but he can set up the file for the press at least. Even so, it goes back to my point about web design culture vs. print design culture. The print designer claims credit for the piece even though the printer has as great or sometimes greater role in the final product. Web designers in general don't operate that way.

It just takes two very different minds, not that one is more right or wrong. Not to mention that I'm generalizing here, looking more at the trend rather than making a blanket statement. I fully agree that it's possible to be great at both web and print, but it's just not the norm.

On Nov.01.2007 at 10:58 PM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

By the way, Tan, it's good to have you back and raising a little dust around here.

On Nov.01.2007 at 11:02 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

(Late to a good brawl. Dang. Some of these points may have been hit on already, so I apologize in advance if I’m swinging at shadows.)

The graphic design landmarks that you’ve mentioned all have the advantage of having a singular iconic quality to them. They all have a visual burr that make them stick to the memory. Even with more complicated graphic landmarks such as annual reports (which I’d argue are not as common as—say—posters), we tend to remember them by an iconic cover design or a clever concept, rather than remembering them as a complete, multi-page document.

In that way, websites seem to be similar to wayfinding systems. Ease of interaction is a key to their success. The whole has to work above and beyond the individual parts. Individual parts may be iconic, but they have to serve the whole. And it’s hard to see the whole all at one time.

There are some landmark wayfinding systems (Lance Wyman and Bill Cannan’s work for the National Zoological Park comes to mind). Even with landmark wayfinding systems, however, there is still some iconic elements that stick in your head. Since most of the design community doesn’t actually get to experience these landmark wayfinding systems -- except through a few photos --we tend to remember a few visual, um...landmarks.

The good news for websites -- no matter how complicated they are to produce -- is that we have landmarks in other complex media such as the cinema. It should only be a matter of time for a few landmarks to rise to the top in web design, as well.

On Nov.02.2007 at 09:10 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Tan it's really good to have you back, roughing up the boards.

I feel this discussion starting to touch on a thought I have been contemplating for some time.

That is…

Is the intense speed at which our culture changes, morphs and moves, preventing it from establishing any sort of recognizable zeitgeist.

For much of our history, there have been "movements". Periods of landmark events, actions, and/or ideas that were pervasive in culture and thus their impact is remembered and almost measureable after culture has moved on.

But the duration of those movements has been getting shorter and shorter. During the dark ages, hey used to last century or two. At the turn of the twentieth century they might have lasted a decade. By the sixties they were 5 years max. By the time grunge music or the dot com boom hit (some the last real cultural "movements") they barely lasted a year or two.

This is vastly oversimplified of course. but the idea I am questioning is whether as a culture we are moving too fast to establish "icons" in any medium. Sure their are exceptions, like Google, or the BP identity or even Beirut's Saks identity (time will tell but I am betting it will be remembered for a long time) but I am just getting the feeling that AS A CULTURE we are less susceptible to the idea of an enduring ICONS. The urge to backlash and move on is just too powerful.

And that web design, (a very young medium that is still growing up) and it's lack of ICONS are just casualties of this hyper accelerated madness.

Ultimately I believe this is a good thing. It allows change to happen faster, and provides us with countless opportunities to "trial and error" our way through life.

In exchange for this opportunity for rapid change, perhaps we have sacrificed our reverence.

---------------------------------

As far as this whole UGLY vs. PRETTY argument, i don't get it. Is the ugliness of the Google logo really any different than the ugliness of the Dylan poster. Seriously I am tired to lauding that damn poster. I appreciate it sure, but not any differently or more than I appreciate the morphing nature of the Google identity (unprofessional as it may be, it cemented the flexible identity that we are so obsessed with at the moment).

An idea which starts to scratch at the surface of another HUGE conundrum. What is the role of QUALITY (i.e. Pretty) in SUCCESSFUL design? A role I am beginning to realize might be overemphasized.

---------------------------------

And if ultimately we are talking about ICONS of web design for DESIGNERS, then I would argue that you don't have to look much farther than this here blog. Do you? Really?

On Nov.02.2007 at 11:07 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>it's good to have you back and raising a little dust around here.

Thanks, gents. It feels good to be back.

You guys have been a little too quiet and polite around here it seems.

On Nov.02.2007 at 11:14 AM
graham’s comment is:

fundamentally, if you still think the web has 'pages' and that there is a 'fold' (ever tried folding a monitor?) then you'll never get it.

On Nov.02.2007 at 01:20 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Tell it to someone who cares, Graham.

Why don't you give us some more enlightenment on how to talk about technology -- and what that tells you about what we get and don't get.

The semantics of what to call web "pages" is all you've got?

On Nov.02.2007 at 01:28 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"You guys have been a little too quiet and polite around here it seems."

No kidding. It was nice to feel compelled to post again. Thanks! ;0)

On Nov.02.2007 at 01:48 PM
darrel’s comment is:

I think Graham makes a fair point. We (as in the graphic design world) still like to treat everything as a 'picture'. Part of that is practicality...it's hard to show anything but a screen shot in a design annual, but part of it is just our collective stubbornness.

I think any trained/experience designer (be it a graphic designer, architect, motion graphics creator, etc) can fairly and rightfully judge design aesthetics regardless of the medium. And if that's the sole indicator of 'quality' then all things are equal.

What some of us are arguing is that there's much more to design than the aesthetics. No matter how visually stunning the facade of an office building is, if the HVAC system doesn't work due to poor design, that building just wasn't designed well.

On Nov.02.2007 at 01:51 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Most of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings are structurally deficient -- yet they are unquestionably landmarks of designs.

What's wrong with making aesthetic -- or Form -- be an essential requirement of good design (Function)? If you can make a plunger, but Michael Graves can make one that looks better, then why not acknowledge the better plunger for being better designed?

Of course there's more to good design than aesthetic. But aesthetic is key.

On the other point -- I'm fucking tired of these so-called media digital artists thinking that their shit doesn't stink and that anyone who doesn't eat, sleep, and breathe motion media doesn't "get" it. Like the web is sooo goddamn new or something.

Get over it.

The web is still horribly inept. Streaming media and real-time interactivity is still an unfulfilled promise. Everything is still a facsimile of 3D on a 2D screen. So-called new experiences are still largely limited to archaic interface peripherals like keyboards and mice.

It's all talk so far.

On Nov.02.2007 at 02:16 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Oh, and I've missed you too, Darrel.

On Nov.02.2007 at 02:18 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

To your point Tan, if the pretty Michael Graves plumber doesn't work for a damn or even marginally "less good" than the ugly one, then it isn't good design. Plain and simple.

How is aesthetics key when performance is compromised? We as designers can officially be labeled douchbags if we actually believe that.

Similar to how Ellen Lupton recounted her frustration with the beautiful but completely unfunctional jasper morrison toaster in her lecture in Denver. The fact that something like that is even considered good design is offensive.

Which opens up another wound, the elitism of aesthetics.

Wait weren't we talking about the web. What I find really interesting is that a discussion about web design has turned into a form vs. function debate.

HMMMM

On Nov.02.2007 at 02:29 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I'm not saying that function isn't also key. I'm simply saying that since design is largely a visual discipline -- you can't dismiss aesthetics.

I think we're arguing over the same point, simply with slightly different emphasis.

On Nov.02.2007 at 02:40 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"Most of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings are structurally deficient -- yet they are unquestionably landmarks of designs."

Agree 100%. They're definitely landmarks of design because of their unique and refined aesthetics. Are they great pieces of design? Many of the original owners of his houses would probably say 'no', as structurally, a lot of it was pretty bad. But they are definitely landmarks.

"What's wrong with making aesthetic -- or Form -- be an essential requirement of good design (Function)?"

Absolutely nothing.

"Of course there's more to good design than aesthetic. But aesthetic is key."

That's the only thing we really disagree on. I'd say aesthetics are *a* key component. Not *the* key component.

Great design would max out all components of design. Good design can maybe max out some but not the other. Bad design would fail in a number of the key components.

My frustration, as a web designer/developer is when projects focus on the visuals too soon. Yes, they are important. But when a project focuses on the visuals, we soon eat up most of the budget on just the aesthetics. Great aesthetics without some actual usable functionality and purpose make for a rather unremarkable product.

Granted, so does great functionality that looks like poop.

BUT, all things being equal, I, as a user of any particular web site would usually prefer a site that accomplishes something useful for me, even if it's ugly, than the prettiest visuals in the world that don't actually give me anything tangible in return.

Wikipedia is rather ugly. But everytime I go there I find information on something I was looking for. I come away happy, even though it maybe wasn't pretty.

I was recently looking at Todd Oldhams' La-Z-Boy products on La-Z-Boy's web site. visually, the site isn't stunning, but you can tell they put effort into it. Unfortunately they couldn't a) tell my how much a product was or b) where I could to to physically look at it. As such, the site left me with nothing tangible at all. Visually I can give it credit. As a total package, however, it failed miserably for my needs and would call it an unsuccessful design.

(Speaking of which, if anyone knows where to see these sofas in the wile outside of Manhattan, let me know!)


On Nov.02.2007 at 04:00 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> Wikipedia is rather ugly. But everytime I go there I find information on something I was looking for. I come away happy, even though it maybe wasn't pretty.

I feel the same about eBay, and dozens of other everyday-useful, well-functioning sites. But I don't consider them as landmark models of designs, which goes back to Armin's original point.

This reminds me of another memorable quote. -- from the head of design at Audi.

"It costs just as much to build an ugly car as it does to build a beautiful one. We simply choose to build the beautiful one."

On Nov.02.2007 at 04:17 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Agrayspace,

Your comments about the speed of design or art movements are framed by the cognitive bias of historical position. Movements cannot be accurately measured nor described while one is in them.

Using the hoary "art as mirror" metaphor, the visual culture of a society reflects larger philosophical and cultural trends. And if you subscribe to writers like Oswald Spengler, our culture of willful directedness has been in a protracted decline for over a century. In such an environment, we don't have styles or movements, but tastes. The visual culture, no longer "becoming," presents varieties of ornamentation.

Armin's original thesis also suffers from the same cognitive bias. Every single one of his suggested landmark projects indicate tastes, and are debatable as ideals of graphic design. Each of us has our own panoply of design gods.

Then there's the fearful need to even have an established ideal. If you follow the design blogosphere, it seems that the design press is turning into variations of People Magazine : Proust questionnaires, BFFs, list of design heroes, gold medals, ad nauseum.

So the responses to his question are 1) it's too soon, and 2) why do you need one?

On Nov.02.2007 at 04:27 PM
Tan’s comment is:

So everyone keeps saying that it's too soon..

Why? How long should it take?

And Mark, I don't know if the question is one of need. The question is whether or not they exist.

At the heart of it, this is afterall, an existentialist question of self-determination and choice, n'est pas?

On Nov.02.2007 at 05:04 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

The quote from Audi's head of design isn't quite congruous with the reality of web design/development. "Beautiful" and "ugly" are much more subjective than "useful" and "functional", so in this case it often *does* cost more to make something beautiful, on top of being functional. Especially when the process gets hung up on aesthetic details that are in no way related to function.

On Nov.02.2007 at 09:39 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Your argument makes no sense, Tom. It sounds like you're suggesting that functional always means ugly, and that to "beautify" something always takes more time when it comes to web design.

There's just so many things wrong and defeatist with that statement -- I don't even know where to begin to respond.

On Nov.02.2007 at 10:26 PM
graham’s comment is:

Heartbreakingly clueless
Try talking about yugop.com for a bit
Might lead somewhere

On Nov.03.2007 at 12:02 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, that was fun. A nice little playground, beautiful type, simple interface.

Your point, Graham?

On Nov.03.2007 at 12:08 AM
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

Landmark web site is yet to come.

But there are freindly, functional sites
that we always wanted to re-visit on a regular basis.

Code versus design argument is not going to reach anywhere.

Code(functionality, information architecture etc) is design.
But Design is not code! Sigh!
Aslo you will not find landmark or classics here. Check out the link
http://www.webbyawards.com

On Nov.03.2007 at 04:37 AM
Tom M.’s comment is:

Tan, I never used the word "always" in my post. It appears you're the one making this defeatist. I love when people imply that a post isn't worth the time to respond. Makes for healthy discussion ;)

I'm not saying that we should ignore aesthetics in web design. It's hugely important to the overall experience, and I'm all for taking the time to make something beautiful and functional. My point is that the Audi quote is not necessarily true for web design. You can achieve beauty on several levels, and it means something different to each and every person. To some, simple and light is beautiful, and you may arrive at that stage sooner than if you are doing something graphically-intensive (just based on the amount of production work alone). So it, in fact, takes longer and is technically more expensive, unless you don't track your expenses.

That is all I'm trying to say. The quote is kind of a nebulous, self-important one, kind of like Dyson's "I just think things should work properly". Duh...

On Nov.03.2007 at 10:24 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Fair enough, Tom.

And I didn't say your post wasn't worth a reply -- I just simply didn't know where to begin.

I'll puts some thoughts later today in response. But for now, I'm waiting for another short little snide remark about how clueless we all are from Graham.

Plus, I've got a soccer game for my daughter to go to. It's a busy day.

On Nov.03.2007 at 12:39 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

Tan, I appreciate your ability to both give and take in these "give and take" discussions. Because likewise, I know where you are coming from, and I admire your passion, to boot. No harm meant at all. And I did misconstrue your "don't know where to begin" comment. Sorry :)

And regarding our brief impasse, I admire Audi for making beauty a standard feature of their product, along with innovation and function. It's kind of a perfect storm, they roll it all into one.

On Nov.03.2007 at 01:56 PM
Nathan Derksen’s comment is:

Sorry, I'm late to this discussion, but I thought that as a professional web designer/developer/architect for 9 years, I would chime in.

I find it interesting here how web design is put side-by-side with print design. Designing for one is entirely different than designing for another. The thought, taken from the print world, is that people come to the web to find information. That thinking mistakes the Web as a read-only medium, which at one point was the case, but certainly is not now. When designing a web site, we don't think of people as coming for information, we think of the broader case of people coming to perform a task. That task might happen to be to find information, but equally likely it might be to purchase an item, to print out a boarding pass, to upload photos to their Flickr account, or to communicate with others over a blog or forum.

That brings me to what constitutes design on the Web. We have visual design, we have information design, but because this is an interactive medium, we also have interaction design. Tools such as Flash and Ajax are now in designer's arsenals, and allow for considerable improvements in usability as well as range of expression. In my opinion, the best uses of these technologies are the ones where you can't tell they are there, they just get the job done. The "best designed" web sites then are the ones that are both aesthetically pleasing or interesting, and that allow individuals to achieve their goals with a minimum of effort.

I know that others will see design on the Web differently, and that's ok. I just thought I would add a dimension to the discussion.

On Nov.04.2007 at 04:07 AM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

I'll bite, Armin.

http://www.wefeelfine.org/

Why? Its attractive, it does something print design could never do, and it satisfies my voyeuristic needs. Those are some arbitrary values I assign to websites I like.

I'm fully expecting flaming (and by all means, feel free, I'm sure this site is rife with problems from another designer's standpoint)—but I have never really loved the Bob Dylan poster, and identities do nothing for me personally, designed by Paul Rand or not—so perhaps we can all just agree to the complete subjectivity of this "canon"-making process.

On Nov.04.2007 at 04:56 AM
Su’s comment is:

Does nobody see an inherent bias(whether intended is irrelevant) to the initial question here that fed directly into the discussion?

Has anybody though to ask this in a web-centric forum rather than one that while situated on the web, is still print/traditional/whatever-focused?

On Nov.04.2007 at 05:35 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Su, you are somewhat right about the bias or discipline preferences. However, that's why I've also been bringing up things like identity, packaging or movie titles -- both disciplines that as a print designer are mostly alien to me, as the production and technology behind them are different from those of print. So, even if the web (also as Nathan above notes) is different in how it functions or how it gets done, the principles of design still apply: Information + functionality + production + aesthetics + a few other variable things. These apply to anything from a Sears catalog, to a bottle of wine, to the interactive guide of your cable provider, to an e-commerce site. Excusing web sites from the same criteria simply because it's a "changing" medium seems too easy.

> So the responses to his question are 1) it's too soon, and 2) why do you need one?

One decade is too soon? I think it's very viable to look at the last ten years of web design and figure out what works and what doesn't and establish some clear representatives of what constitutes some of the best work. And if we were to arrive at something like "Yugop.com and Amazon.com are the best", then that's fine.

And why do we need one? Well, we don't, just as much as we don't need any more "Best Magazine Covers of all Time" but as ways to measure what designers think could possibly be the most relevant web sites is an interesting exercise that, if done right, could be revealing, retrospective and even therapeutic. Web design has grown at such a frantic pace that a little reflection might not be a bad idea.

On Nov.04.2007 at 08:51 AM
Joe Clark’s comment is:

When you say landmark, clearly you mean “able to be photographed and reproduced in some canonical textbook,” presumably (co)authored by Steven Heller.

You can take a screenshot if you want, but Web sites are experiences, not artifacts. And they have a lot of invisible components, like markup, which are no less important for being out of sight most of the time, as I’ve been trying to explain to Armin Vit for years now.

On Nov.04.2007 at 11:52 AM
Su’s comment is:

(Well, that took longer than I expected it to.)

Armin: Your response is fine for the context it's in, but go back and also think about the first part of my comment more literally: You said "where are" the landmark sites, not "what are."
There's an important shift of implication there, that was reflected in the discussion rapidly ignoring the actual question and switching over to questioning the validity of the medium at worst, or trying(and necessarily failing) to define it at best, never mind that the question was also heavily couched in comparison to other media. And the reason I said it was irrelevant whether you intended to do it or not is that I'm not delusional enough to think it wouldn't have happened eventually anyway.

You must be able to get at someone who runs a more web-centered forum of some sort. Ask them to pose this question there in isolation(ie, not referencing this discussion) and see what happens.
It might also be interesting(or terrifying) to see how they respond to a question about what they think important print pieces are. Small bet on how many comments it takes for someone to say magazines will be gone within 5/10 years?

Overall, while I can think of some sites that have been important, I side with the people who think it's still too soon to formulate a proper list.

The ugly/pretty thread I find interesting because when you go back far enough, you're barely looking for anything most of you would likely feel comfortable calling "design." Some of the sites I'd put up for consideration(which is separate from me liking them) were absolutely hideous from any sort of visual approach, and unusable from any sort of functional approach, but still important for fucking with the limited possibilities of the time. Potatoland and Entropy8 were actively trying to crash your browser with bizarre Javascript. jodi.org was ugly, meaningless, and irritating until you viewed source and saw the ASCII art hydrogen bomb. Bianca's Smut Shack(shut up) was never—and still isn't—anything to look at except it was one of the first to embrace the idea of a web site being a "place" to move around in. It actually ended up being referenced in a book on information architecture.
And nobody ever knew what the hell to make of Dextro.

On Nov.04.2007 at 12:50 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"Your argument makes no sense, Tom. It sounds like you're suggesting that functional always means ugly, and that to "beautify" something always takes more time when it comes to web design."

Not, Tom's makes a lot of sense from the pragmatic standpoint of clients and budgets.

The single biggest failing of most web projects that I've seen is putting the visual design mock-ups as the first step of the projects. People are visual. They like pretty things. Pretty sells (to the client). As such, way too many projects get hung up on the photoshop mockup and stock photography choosing stage. Then the budget dries up and they slap together an ad-hoc solution that's iffy at best.

I agree that it SHOULDN'T cost more to build pretty, but in the world of committees, if often does. Apple pulls it off because Jobs abhors committees and focus groups. I wish more companies did. ;o)

And I think Joe summed it up well. We're trying to use the definition of 'landmark design in print' and apply it to another medium. Of the examples given in terms of being landmark 'designs', they were merely highly iconic visuals. That's fine, but that's all they were.

If that's the criteria, then I agree with Joe, all we need to do is look at a bunch of screen shots and find one that feels iconic enough to be repurposed and copies well into the future. Perhaps some 'pixel art' site or maybe one of the original 'must see' flash animations.

On Nov.05.2007 at 09:17 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

I think Darrel and Joe have really hit upon the crux of the problem. The criteria of what constitutes "landmarks" in print, broadcast and identity (all being UNIDIRECTIONAL mediums) is completely useless in evaluating the "landmarkness" of interactive experiences.

Also its too soon. On top of that I think it might always be too soon. Let's say 5 years is the absolute minimum it would take for a particular design to become so ubiquitous and "loved" for it to be considered a landmark (arbitrary I know, but let's pretend).

Well it's just NOT the nature of the interactive medium and web culture to be contemplated five years later. We will have undoubtedly moved on and improved upon the conceits of any said successful design, making any reverent discussion of it kinda moot.

As these 5 year old sites will have undoubtedly become antiquated, inefficient and clumsy by our evolving standards. Which again feeds my thought that the medium of interactivity is evolving too fast for any kind of "canonical" precedent to be established and remain relevant.

And with that said I have to comment how wonderful this discussion has been. Everyone is bringing relevant and respectful thoughts. No flame wars. I find it refreshing. Thanks all.

On Nov.05.2007 at 10:35 AM
graham’s comment is:

The experience and understanding that many have brought to the web from other modes of making/representation (print, film, literature, archtecture, the sciences, photography, music etc etc) seem to me to have aggregated exponentially towards wholly specific 'narratives' that could only exist in this space-which is a marker, for me at least, of beauty in every sense: structure, aesthetics, rhythm, depth; yes, and the notion of a taxonomy that no less evinces the ineffable whilst simultaneous the sublimely practical and business-like
One example-on yugop there is an archive; on the archive is one of the earliest iterations of yugo's essays-monocrafts. The scaleable timeline there takes on from maedas structural and spatial notions and gives them representation in fluid and attractive terms. This work is still a foundation for the possible and (now) possesses in equal measure relevance and nostalgia. Its structure is its beauty and so is its passing-it was built in 97/98 and is no longer updated i believe: but there it is
Yugos site-at least the 'experience' part-for uniqlo meanwhile breathes present and alive as a marker of another sort; an aggregator of products that is both playful and attractive-it is a catalogue online, simply. But could it exist in any other realm?

On Nov.05.2007 at 12:12 PM
Doy’s comment is:

I looked through but didn't see anyone mention the work that Joshua Davis was doing on the web in the late 90's. once-upon-a-forest.com was a statement of his design ethic, using the programmatic language of flash to create art pieces that were unique each time the page refreshed. Later, the praystation.com site picked up where that site left off.

I remember reading that the average visitor to onceuponaforest spent some 30 minutes at the site, playing with the gadgets and interacting with what were essentially small interactive art pieces.

The sites there now in a different incarnation, but it seemed to push web design in a much different direction than it had been before.

My two cents, anyway...

On Nov.05.2007 at 03:54 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"Well it's just NOT the nature of the interactive medium and web culture to be contemplated five years later"

And maybe that's why I just don't have the same passion for this medium as I once had. Its lack of permanence is a bit daunting. I know that no matter what amazing web project I build now, it will all have been forgotten 5 years from now. Along with the likelihood that there won't be any record of its existence.

In that climate, it's hard to make a landmark.

On Nov.05.2007 at 05:04 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> I agree that it SHOULDN'T cost more to build pretty, but in the world of committees, if often does.

Creativity, concept, and good aesthetic takes no more time to produce than the alternative. There's a chance for good design in everything, from a simple banner to a complex e-commerce site -- you just have to strive for it, instead of thinking that it's an option.

Believe me, I've worked enough with Microsoft to understand that you can't achieve good design no matter the amount of drive or money. But that's the shortcoming of the client, and not the platform or the budget.

Many of you embrace the small achievements of the web, but when asked if they are significant when seen in global context -- you proclaim that it's too soon.

Yet Graham wisely acknowledged that "many have brought to the web from other modes of making/representation (print, film, literature, archtecture, the sciences, photography, music etc etc)."

Design, concept, images, and motion imagery wasn't invented 10 years ago. The web is simpy a new platform built on new technology -- it didn't start from nothing.

I still think 10 years is plenty of time to have achieved something of more significance.

On Nov.05.2007 at 06:43 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

I've been thinking about this question now for a couple days and like a lot of others I don't have one site that transcends to an object that I might one day see in a museum. Websites aren't physical. In terms of graphic design I think a better comparison is between wayfinding systems. When the directions work it almost seems invisible. A lot of those functional sites aren't super sexy but achieve what they set out to accomplish. I suppose it depends what rates higher in your book under the definition of design - something that looks pretty as a thumbnail or something that just works.

On Nov.06.2007 at 12:31 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> When you say landmark, clearly you mean “able to be photographed and reproduced in some canonical textbook,”

> I suppose it depends what rates higher in your book under the definition of design - something that looks pretty as a thumbnail or something that just works.

Sigh. No, this is not about pretty thumbnails of things in a book. Any of the things I have mentioned so far ENDED as thumbnails in books because someone saw the real thing, or experienced the real thing and deemed it good/pretty/usable enough to say "here, this is a good example of design". Not because someone thought it would make a killer 3 by 5 inch 4-color reproduction. A web site is as much an experience as flipping through a book, opening a package, sitting through the first five minutes of any movie, finding a restroom in a museum, or being handed a business card. I find it a little to stubborn to keep saying that web sites are experiences and as such, not one, can be pinpointed as great or exemplifying of the medium.

On Nov.06.2007 at 08:12 AM
Lucien’s comment is:

I don't think it's been long enough.. nothing really even happened until 1995. I'd say 2advanced had a flash site a while back that made a lot of noise. I think it's more about functionality then design. That's what the landmarks have been. Still such a young and changing profession there's so many claims. I would associate the landmarks with the advent of Flash, the ajax trend, PHP, stuff like that. Give it 30 years and the landmarks will be obvious. I think then we'll associate the trends and inventions with particular websites and they'll get all the credit. It's out there we just haven't decided who gets the credit.

On Nov.06.2007 at 08:36 AM
darrel’s comment is:

"I still think 10 years is plenty of time to have achieved something of more significance."

There's a lot of significance out there. Amazon.com is an amazing design landmark. Now, I'd never claim that it's an aesthetic/visual design landmark by any means, but it's certainly a functional design landmark that's going to stick around for quite some time.

For better or worse, it's going to the the FUNCTIONAL design aspects that will stick around on the web for a long enough period of time to be considered a landmark. The visuals come and go. In print, visuals come, and tend to stick around...such as the Dylan Poster example.

On Nov.06.2007 at 09:53 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

"I still think 10 years is plenty of time to have achieved something of more significance."

Well, if we are still somewhat in consensus agreement there aren't web design "landmarks", (which judging from the amount of pontification on this thread and lack of real examples, i would say yes) then I would have to conclude that something is wrong with our criteria.

Because this absence of "landmark" design is not for lack of trying. Aesthetic vs. functionality argument aside.

Tan are saying it is?

On Nov.06.2007 at 12:04 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

> I find it a little to stubborn to keep saying that web sites are experiences and as such, not one, can be pinpointed as great or exemplifying of the medium.

Armin,
In that case, and following in Greg Scraper's path, I propose RapidShare as a landmark website which "exemplifies the medium." It was, and still is, the premiere sharing site where all the bootlegged mp3, avi, and pdf files are found. Since files are only hosted there, the file-sharing community is absolved of legal responsibility by just pointing to the links.

Upon arrival, one has the option of waiting an hour between downloads, or buying an all-you-can-eat premium subscription.

Because of that and other sharing sites -- as well as a head-up-the-ass mentality which prevented them from taking action in the face of change -- media consumtion is changing. And on a more personal note, many of my clients are either out of work or hurting, and I can no longer say that I work mainly in the music industry.

On Nov.06.2007 at 01:39 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Sorry, I hit the Post button too quickly, The "them" with their heads up their asses are the music industry, television networks, etc.

But we all knew that anyway...

On Nov.06.2007 at 01:42 PM
Jim’s comment is:

We also rely heavily on historians to help us agree on those landmarks—and that hasn't really happened yet for the web. Print magazine and Communication Arts have always helped us see the great stuff that we may not have had access to (if you weren't in NYC when the Dylan poster was pasted up for example) and then Philip Meggs culled through all the great design in the magazines and created the history that we all, in general, agree on.

Soon, many books of great websites will be published, and eventually we'll all agree that one of those books is best (by purchasing) and that process will raise some of those great website to the status of landmarks.

Websites are fleeting but no more so than magazines (how many have read an actual copy of "Beach Culture" but we've all heard of it).

My nomination: Hillman Curtis' Metropolitan Opera Met Opera

On Nov.06.2007 at 07:37 PM
Chris Gee’s comment is:

> Design, concept, images, and motion imagery wasn't invented 10 years ago. The web is simpy a new platform built on new technology -- it didn't start from nothing.

> I still think 10 years is plenty of time to have achieved something of more significance.

I think part of the problem is that the web is still too much like print. Most web sites are still far too static and too linear, largely because designers and clients are mostly familiar with those visual metaphors.

So instead of reading my Wall Street Journal in printed form, I read a very similar version of it plastered onto my screen?

Yaaaaawn!!!!

I'm hopeful that as huge portions of monies formerly earmarked for traditional advertising and print continue to make their way onto the web, we'll have more opportunities to innovate and push the medium beyond what has become the comfortable "norm".

Today, even the most conservative, luddite-like clients out there are desperate to figure out the digital landscape and how their company fits into it. The firm I work for has made some strides in pushing the envelope with clients who would have fired us a mere 5 years ago for simply suggesting some of the solutions we've recently implemented for them!

In the last 10 years, all we really did was take print and slap it up onto the web, similar to the way the first TV shows were very much like popular radio shows, only with moving pictures.

In the next 10 years, I hope we break the mold and create something that is uniquely different than print or TV. As that happens, it won't be a question of "where are the landmark web design sites" but "how can we possibly choose?"

Should be fun to watch!

.chris{}

On Nov.07.2007 at 12:35 AM
darrel’s comment is:

"Websites are fleeting but no more so than magazines"

We're redoing our basement this winter. I hauled out about 4 metric tons of old magazines. Still living a few tons (had to keep all of those design annuals and Ray Guns for posterity, right?).

My back would say magazines are a lot less fleeting than web sites. ;o)

On Nov.07.2007 at 09:42 AM
akatsuki’s comment is:

I think you are being myopic about it. There are plenty of landmark designs, just look at blogging and the whole theme templates. I would argue that Kubrick, as ubiquitous as it is, was a moment of design clarity and that Hemingway was definitely a landmark. I know it is easy to deride them now, but frankly they are ubiquitous for a reason.

The whole Web 2.0 reflections and rounded corner thing? Someone started that too. Just like Mies, a bunch of copies doesn't mean that it wasn't brilliant the first time.

Future possibilities for landmark status?

I personally like the AIGA design by Happy Cog. Excellent work there. I think it will stand the test of time.

Also the original Morning News was pretty good, the first "newspaper" style website that understood that low resolution meant less info (unlike the NYTimes, which I still find too busy and trying to ape the print edition). Coudal manages the style quite well also.

The whole ugly, simple thing by Google and eBay? They may remind us that design can intimidate people and drive them away from a product because people expect products with that level of refinement to be powerful and usually overkill.

On Nov.07.2007 at 11:35 AM
Tan’s comment is:

> They may remind us that design can intimidate people and drive them away from a product

So it's the lowering of expectations for design for mass consumption.

It's the same attitude that unfortunately, some designers on here also believe about web work -- that good design takes more effort and more money. The corollary to that belief is that if something is functional, it's cheaper and is sufficient. So why strive for more when mediocrity will do?

That's a rather sad mantra for a platform with such high potential.

Mediocrity sells quite well in most things. It doesn't mean that it's a benchmark or deserves recognition.

A Microsoft product VP once said that "Our products would have much better design if only they didn't sell so well."

...

I'm disappointed that it's the same argument and justification over and over again.

"It's too soon. There's not enough innovation yet."

"Print designers don't understand and are responsible for keeping the web like print."

"There's not enough money or budget to do better work."

"Functional and usability trumps all. If you want design, then you don't understand."

"It's like nothing that has come before -- so no one is qualified to judge here. Ask a web forum."

I don't know, but this still all sound like a lot of dancing around and bullshit excuses to me.

On Nov.07.2007 at 12:41 PM
ralph’s comment is:

I don't really believe in this idea of "landmark" design nor do I consider or value any notions of timelessness.I just don't think that way at all. It's valuable to know how, when and why something was done, but I don't really see any point to creating a cannon. It takes YEARS to undo the baloney they teach in school.

On Nov.07.2007 at 12:45 PM
Chris Gee’s comment is:

I don't know, but this still all sound like a lot of dancing around and bullshit excuses to me.

@Tan: If the question is "why do we think there aren't any/many web design landmarks?", can there really be a wrong answer? Seems like it's really a matter of opinion based on individual observations and analysis.

To suggest folks are "dancing around" or "bullshitting" kind of implies that everyone knows the answer (and perhaps quietly agrees with it) but doesn't want to say it.

I'm not sure I buy that, actually. It seems like a lot of well-thought out opinions have been expressed by folks who seem to know very much what they're talking about, to which the reply has been very dismissive.

I guess I don't necessarily expect us to agree -- to be sure, I love a healthy debate -- but maybe I expected that intelligent, rational, reasonable discourse would elicit more than "that's bullshit".


.chris{}

On Nov.07.2007 at 12:58 PM
Su’s comment is:

Tan, I think you're combining separate arguments for the purpose of building easily-dismissed straw men.

It's too soon. There's not enough innovation yet.

No, just the first part, at least as far as I'm concerned.


It's like nothing that has come before -- so no one is qualified to judge here. Ask a web forum.

This one seems like it came from me, and if so please cite where I said anything about anyone's qualification to judge here.
I suggested it would be interesting to observe the difference in attitude of the entire discussion(and likely the huge list you'd immediately get) were it placed before a web forum. I don't particularly think their list would be especially valid(currently), either. But the discussion here is pretty well-rooted in a negativite approach, so I really wonder how the hell any of you expect to come up with anything at all.

I'm curious: Is anyone aware of such a list having been initiated or created by a web-centric group as a static document? Every design showcase, etc. I can think of either references "current" design, or is effectively a continuously-updated blog(as a descriptive term; the design may look otherwise).
Think that's indicative of anything?

This entire discussion is poorly framed. Refocus on producing a 10-, or even 5-year review of web design, and you might actually get something other than a bunch of breast-beating over whether web design is valid or too transitory or whatever. Once a few of those have been compiled, then maybe you can try and figure out which is Best. Design. Ever.

On Nov.07.2007 at 01:19 PM
Mike Green’s comment is:

My immediate response was to reference Daniel Eatock , or better yet the indexhibit application. I don't necessarily think of Eatock's site as a landmark, and the indexhibit is an open source application, but I feel both have played a huge roll in the web world, specifically for graphic design portfolio sites. This frame-based, easy-to-use, archetypal structure has quickly become one of the most ubiquitous methods for designers (more print-based than web) to display their work on a highly functional platform that does not detract from their work. Indexhibit's infamous manifesto can be viewed here as well as a list of participants here.

On Nov.07.2007 at 01:21 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"Mediocrity sells quite well in most things. It doesn't mean that it's a benchmark or deserves recognition."

Are we talking about benchmarks or landmarks? I'd say those can be entirely different concepts.

On Nov.07.2007 at 03:00 PM
darrel’s comment is:

And, Tan...I'd love for a full discussion on what you brought up...the fact that mediocrity sells. That's also a fascinating topic. Good idea for a future post.

On Nov.07.2007 at 03:08 PM
darrel’s comment is:

And, finally, upon re-reading Armin's original post, I now see it definitely had a focus on the aesthetics, specifically, rather than the broader term of 'design' in general, so I can see why this conversation took so many twists.

And, based on that, I really have to agree with all of the way finding comments. A site that sticks around will likely have a very specific functionality that a lot of people find useful. As such, the aesthetics, while important, really do step aside and act more as a way finding device more than anything.

So, the landmark sites...the ones that stick around, likely don't have amazing aesthetics. There just isn't a whole lot to 'aestheticize' OR, as you state, Tan, the need was just never evident.

The sites that truly do have amazing aesthetics, tend not to stick around...not because of any fault of the visual design, but rather that they are just temporary in their existence. Sites come and go.

Unlike real-world landmarks, it doesn't take much effort to tear down a site. Just unplug the server or change the DNS entry. In some ways, it's way too easy to plow down the internet.

On Nov.07.2007 at 03:15 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Chris, don't take the bullshit comment too personally. It's just my opinion. But I do see most of the responses as answering a design question with other issues that I find misdirected and purposely avoiding the issue. Or perhaps more accurately, justified excuses.

I'm not dismissing -- I'm disagreeing. Well ok, maybe I'm a little dismissive too. But we're just talking here, right?


> I think you're combining separate arguments for the purpose of building easily-dismissed straw men.

You're right, Su, but it was unintentional. They are related, but separate arguments that have developed through our discussion.

And my paraphrasing wasn't intended specifically at your comment, Su -- but I'm glad you clarified further. The word "qualified" was admittedly my interpretation.

You have a valid, interesting point, though I still think we can collectively decide what's design-worthy and what isn't on the web. It's a mass media after all -- not just something that only web designers use and can appreciate.


>Are we talking about benchmarks or landmarks? I'd say those can be entirely different concepts.

Agree. Good question.

On Nov.07.2007 at 03:52 PM
dave’s comment is:

The trick with webdesign I think is that you can never seperate the technology from the visual design, or the copywriting or the concept. I think these all make what a good web design is. In the same way product design has to take into concideration trying new things with materials and pushing the envelope structurally. I don't think web design is a medium that stands still long enough for you to stick an award on it or hold it up as great design, I think you do focus on the thinking of the individual involved as opposed to the specific work.

I concider there to be an abundance of landmark websites, as I concider the concept as part of the design. I don't believe you should nail down web design as a visual medium at all, it is something totally different.

There are far too many articles recently trying to shoe-horn web design into the parameters that judge print design. That is a waste of time I believe.


On Nov.07.2007 at 04:30 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Again, no one is saying that web should be judged as print. But it can't and shouldn't be judged solely as function either. But if we're talking judging web work in terms of "Design" then what parameters would you use?

And if web isn't a visual medium, what is it? Auditory? Come on. Now the rhetorics on the "uniqueness" of web design is getting ridiculous. This is what I mean when I used the word "bullshit" earlier. It's moving pixels on a plasma screen. Can it be more? Sure. But right now, that's what it is.

On Nov.07.2007 at 05:01 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> I concider the concept as part of the design

I agree, but just to be clear -- what do YOU mean when you say "concept"? Because by that criteria, I find concept wholly lacking in heavyweights such as Amazon, Google, etc. Which is why I don't see those sites as particularly amazing examples of good design?

On Nov.07.2007 at 05:14 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I find concept wholly lacking in heavyweights such as Amazon, Google, etc. Which is why I don't see those sites as particularly amazing examples of good design?

I tend to agree with Tan, but then I'm not a web designer. Part of this depends on how you define "good design" or even just "design." Print designers generally don't have to deal with things like functionality. To a print designer, concepts and aesthetics are most everything. But to a web designer, function is first and foremost. Even the word "concept" is different to a web designer, because it's a different problem that has to be solved.

This isn't meant as a defense of bad asesthetics, but I can see where people could be talking about two different things here.

Nice to see a heated discussion here again. And I thought Speak Up's bottle-throwing days were over.

On Nov.07.2007 at 07:21 PM
Chris Gee’s comment is:

Chris, don't take the bullshit comment too personally. It's just my opinion. But I do see most of the responses as answering a design question with other issues that I find misdirected and purposely avoiding the issue. Or perhaps more accurately, justified excuses.

@Tan: Why would someone read a blog post and be moved to respond and craft a well thought-out comment only to "purposely avoid the issue"?

It seems that those two actions are at odds with each other. People who are forced to respond to uncomfortable questions -- think politicians in a televised debate -- will likely purposely avoid a question but folks who take the time to inject themselves into a discussion not aimed at them typically do not.

Some have stated some very viable theories in answer to the question "where are the landmark web designs?" Others have provided examples to be either agreed with or disagreed with.

Either way, I don't see avoidance of the issue. Agree. Disagree. Your choice. It doesn't seem like avoidance is going on though.

If someone asked me "what are some landmark songs of 1997?", I would hesitate before anointing anything at this point in time. Sure, I have some candidates. But I think it's a question better answered after those songs have stood the test of time and are still relevant to multiple generations, not just mine.

There are many "landmark songs" or "landmark movies" that I remember when they were new in the 70's and 80's that I had NO CLUE would still be relevant in 20-30 years. Yet still, there were others that I thought were "instant classics" back then that couldn't stand the test of time.

I think the premise that there should be a certain passage of time before people or things are anointed with greatness is a generally accepted concept and far from "bullshit" or "avoidance". Even in sports, the greatest players must wait several years after they stop playing before being considered for the Hall of Fame, just to prevent feelings of the moment from coloring their historical perspective.

If baseball writers can get this right, certainly design writers can too, no?

.chris{}

On Nov.07.2007 at 07:23 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>It seems that those two actions are at odds with each other.

They aren't at odds with each other at all. It's happened several times already. Armin asked where the landmarks are -- and many have responded with things such as "print designers don't understand web," or "web is about usability, and landmarks are about aesthetics," or "the web is about technology, not about visuals."

I don't know about you, but I think those types of responses are avoiding addressing the issue at hand.

>moved to respond and craft a well thought-out comment

I think you're giving too many of the responses too much credit. I disagree -- some of them don't sound like they're very well thought out arguments at all. Lots of it is BS imho. For example -- saying that web design isn't a visual medium comes to mind.

Nice try on the baseball metaphor -- but web design isn't baseball. It's a technology platform measured in nanoseconds, not a sport with decades of history.

On Nov.07.2007 at 08:08 PM
Chris Gee’s comment is:

@Tan: Nice try on the baseball metaphor -- but web design isn't baseball. It's a technology platform measured in nanoseconds, not a sport with decades of history.

You say "web design is not baseball" but maybe it's the other way around? Baseball, perhaps large today but was unquestionably larger in history. The web, perhaps large today but unquestionably larger in the future.

And baseball is not now, nor has it ever been as relevant on a global stage as the web is. You're right, it was probably a bad analogy but only in the sense that baseball probably had no business being compared to the web, rather than other way around (and I'm a big baseball fan).

But I digress.

I said before that web is too print-like and I firmly believe that. The challenge for us web design professionals is to adopt new visual metaphors for this new medium. It can't be like anything we're used to from our analog past. With huge amounts of monies formerly earmarked for the analog world rapidly shifting online, it's on us to come up with newer, innovative uses of this new, innovative medium.

IMO, that's what will truly lead to web design landmarks in the eyes of designers as well as unique interactive experiences in the eyes of users. Let's see what the future holds. One thing is for sure, web designers won't be able to say they didn't have the opportunities, the client buy-in or the financial resources to do so. Not any more. Those days are long gone.

.chris{}

On Nov.07.2007 at 08:58 PM
Mike Green’s comment is:

In response to David E's comment:

Print designers generally don't have to deal with things like functionality.

Wow... speechless.

On Nov.08.2007 at 03:03 AM
dave’s comment is:

Yes, I'm saying google IS a fantastic piece of design. Absolutely.

Again I think where the change in thinking has to come in is to stop seeing a website as closer in relation to print design, just because it happens to use typography, text, and imagery. I believe it should be thought the same way we think of product design. Function is an inherant part of the design. Yes, a stereo or other product may have type on it but that is not the essense of it. How it works is wrapped up in that too.

On Nov.08.2007 at 07:23 AM
Tom M.’s comment is:

I'd like to go back to my original question, since the web as "design medium" is around a decade old:

How many print design landmarks have there been in the last 10 years? rabble rabble

And Tan, I know, I'm not addressing Armin's original question. It's because I don't have an answer, but there's more to this than the surface discussion.

I'll offer yet another tangent on the discussion: could it be that in Rand, Glaser, et. al.'s heyday, we weren't as saturated with media as we are now, hence good work tended to stick out a bit more?

On Nov.08.2007 at 10:16 AM
Tom M.’s comment is:

Perhaps we haven't had any web design landmarks yet, just an organic evolution of the medium. More along the line of collaborative iteration than award nominations and idolizing. Would that be so wrong?

On Nov.08.2007 at 10:21 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

no one is even addressing the point of the discussion anymore. It's the one general thing i think we are agreeing on…

Why hasn't the web in its 10 fucking years of being a cutting edge design medium, produced any unquestionable landmarks? Or has it?

From there we have a basis from which we can hypothesize the causation of an outcome.

Tan I have heard how you think most of the opinions regarding the "differentness" of web are generally "wrong". Thats all fine and good. It's a compelling discussion but it's belaboring a point that is one step beyond the crux of the discussion.

I am interested to hear thoughts on the CAUSES of the original phenomenon (web designs missing landmarks) that Armin originally sought to discuss.

Answer this:
Is the causation of this phenomenon NOT a result of the web's "differentness", be it temporal, functional or cultural or all of the above? For now skip the discussion of what it's differentness exactly is

If it's not a result of its inherent differentness, then what is it a result of?

A lack of talent executing great design?
Do we really fucking believe that? There have been a ton of amazing work being done on the web every year. It's brilliant stuff. Whether is highly aesthetic, (http://www.bigspaceship.com/archive/nikeair/), highly and elegantly functional (http://www.reisenthel.com/) or culturally mass accepted (google, amazon, etc)

A lack of time for a design to enter the mass culture?
I don't buy that it's too soon. We have had plenty of time and plenty of talent whacking away at this medium to accomplish it. The Seven titles became part of the zeitgeist within a couple of years. And they are still referenced today. So time is not an issue.

A lack of permanence in medium?

A growing lack of reverence for establishing landmarks at all?

Or is there not a phenomenon in the first place?
Then perhaps Su is right, and we should just start compiling a list. But our hesitation to do so in the first place makes me think it's not possible.

Why?

On Nov.08.2007 at 10:46 AM
darrel’s comment is:

"And if web isn't a visual medium, what is it? Auditory? Come on."

It's a semantic, interactive information medium. A well designed site can work equally well visually or aurally.

On Nov.08.2007 at 02:43 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> A well designed site can work equally well visually or aurally.

Ok, give me an example of a good website that doesn't depend on any visuals -- and is purely auditory.

Music sites don't count. They're the products of transaction, not the online vessel itself.

>It's a semantic, interactive information medium.

Yes, but it's visual semantic information. Which is just a fancy way of saying words and symbols displayed on a screen. You gotta see them to do the interactive part.

On Nov.08.2007 at 04:01 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

Hmmm...auditory... Well, sites that don't want to lock out the visually impaired will be programmed in a way that screen readers can interpret. That's pretty damn important. See, there are considerations here that go way beyond jpegs, gifs and .swf files.

On Nov.08.2007 at 06:19 PM
Jim’s comment is:

I like Tom M's idea. Many sites are designed to allow for the visually impared to access the information that was originally designed to be visual. But are there any sites designed specifically or primarily to be auditory for the visually impared? it seems that someone would have done this, but i haven't heard of it. and who knows, maybe that would be a landmark site.

On Nov.08.2007 at 06:38 PM
Consin’s comment is:

Maybe in ten years time, we will look back a these two as the Dylan poster and IBM logos of the early web.(maybe HiRes too)

Yugop

Joshua Davis

On Nov.08.2007 at 06:55 PM
Mike McDowall’s comment is:

Thing is, I see a bunch of print designers judging webdesign. Ask a webdesigner what a landmark print design is and (s)he'll probably won't know either. Being a webdesigner in the 90s, I know sites like 2advanced (the blue one), gmunk, k10k, etc. were sites we idolized and still remember fondly 10 years later.

On Nov.09.2007 at 06:40 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I nominate the website for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics designed by Clement Mok and his Studio Archetype. Most of today's "designers" aren't old enough to remember that site and how astonishing that website was.

Joshua Davis' Praystation (not his once-upon-a-whatever site) would make another great candidate.

On Nov.09.2007 at 09:14 AM
darrel’s comment is:

"Ok, give me an example of a good website that doesn't depend on any visuals -- and is purely auditory."

*any* site, if well designed (holistically) should be completely usable by anyone using a screen reader.

Or anyone using a text browser.

This is a major difference between the web and nearly any other medium...it's information/content focused. The presentation layer is, as always, important, but not tied to a specific medium.

"Yes, but it's visual semantic information."

No, it's merely one form of how the semantic information gets presented to a particular end-user.

So, again, this is why it's important to use a much broader definition of 'design' than merely visual aesthetics when judging the quality of a particular web design solution (unless, of course, we are just talking about the visual aesthetics).

On Nov.09.2007 at 09:56 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Mike McDowell

MANY of the commentors on the thread are very qualified interactive designers. Your assumptions are noted.

On Nov.09.2007 at 10:44 AM
Tan’s comment is:

> it's information/content focused.

Pul-lease, Darrel. The web isn't the only thing that's info/content focused. Do you really believe that? Think about what you're proclaiming.

I think you think of the web in its potential, not its reality. You talk about peripherals to adapt, and broader definitions that have yet to be applied. I'm surprised you didn't delve into telephathy as a "broader definition".

You've painted yourself into a corner you can't prove or talk your way out of, Darrel. I asked for specifics, and you give me esoteric answers on information design and communications that could be applied to anything.

But in this instance, we're talking about the web as it currently stands, not some futuristic or theoretical application dreamed up in Wired or seen on Minority Report.

The web is a visual medium.

On Nov.09.2007 at 12:41 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"Pul-lease, Darrel. The web isn't the only thing that's info/content focused."

Did I say that?

"I'm surprised you didn't delve into telephathy as a "broader definition"."

I'm not surprised you leap to such slippery slope concepts in your arguments (it keeps it fun, to be fair!)

"You've painted yourself into a corner you can't prove or talk your way out of, Darrel. I asked for specifics, and you give me esoteric answers on information design and communications that could be applied to anything."

Uh, no. Show me how a blind person can read a printed newspaper.

The fact that web content does not have to be tied to a specific presentation medium *is* rather unique to the web.

There's no corner here, Tan.

"But in this instance, we're talking about the web as it currently stands, not some futuristic or theoretical application dreamed up in Wired or seen on Minority Report."

Nope. I'm talking about right now. Today. You do have to look beyond the pretty-picture web sites that get printed in the design annuals to see them, though.

On Nov.09.2007 at 02:04 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

Tan, text-only browsers, screen readers, and mobile phone browsers are hardly theoretical and "futuristic". That is the "now" of the web.

The web isn't really about "artifacts". Which is evident, because there isn't a definitive list of landmarks. Honestly, it doesn't need landmarks. The here and now is infinitely more important than nostalgia. Web designers are busy innovating, not making top 10 lists.

What the hell are we all arguing about again?

On Nov.09.2007 at 02:18 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> Did I say that?

"This is a major difference between the web and nearly any other medium...it's information/content focused."

To me, I read that as "nearly any other mediums differs from web because they are not information/content focused." So what did you mean by "major difference" then?

> Show me how a blind person can read a printed newspaper.

It's called a braille newspaper. They have them now you know.

Now how does this relate to the web not being a visual medium?

How did we get to talking about peripheral technology for the blind?

They have these lights that blink when someone's at the door for deaf people. Let's talk about that as it relates to web design.

On Nov.09.2007 at 02:26 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Tan, text-only browsers, screen readers, and mobile phone browsers are hardly theoretical and "futuristic".

I'm not an idiot, Tom. I know what a screen reader is.

But the screen reader is technology for a number of applications for the visually impaired, from ATM machines to computer applications, and yes, to web sites. But beyond basic ADA compliance, most general websites are not designed and optimized for such specific peripherals.

That example is a case of technology for the blind that's adapted to be applied to websites, and NOT the other way around. So Darrel bringing up that issue is largely irrelevant.

In fact, large-print screens, and adaptive screen readers are in fact, proof that the web is a predominant, visual medium.

Sorry for the tangent.

On Nov.09.2007 at 02:42 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"What the hell are we all arguing about again?"

It's Friday. We're just winding down the clock. ;o)

"So what did you mean by "major difference" then?"

Ah, yea, bad wording indeed. I was trying to communicate the fact that web content doesn't have to be specific to a particular presentation layer. Be it auditory, visual, machine readable, what-have-you.

Form and function are intertwined, but on the web, it's rather easy to 'untwine' them and reattach them. Or, I should say, it CAN be rather easy when that's considered during the design process.

"It's called a braille newspaper. They have them now you know."

But they are entirely separate design processes. On team does the visual paper, another team does the braille. They're not one and the same.

"Now how does this relate to the web not being a visual medium?"

It's News vs. newsPAPER or news CABLE CHANNEL or news TALK RADIO.

On the web, it's just NEWS. Whether a person digests it visually in their browser, as text via RSS, reformatted on a cellphone, aurally via a web browser, or read later via a machine-read Google archive. It's all the same.

I've never said the web *isn't* a visual medium. It's not JUST a visual medium, so it's rather silly to judge web DESIGN based on just the visual aspect. It's find to judge visual web aesthetics on the visual aspects.

I'm not convinced you've separated those terms in your arguments yet. It's hard to tell when you're arguing about design vs. visual aesthetics.

"How did we get to talking about peripheral technology for the blind?"

It's a key component to a well designed web site.

"They have these lights that blink when someone's at the door for deaf people. Let's talk about that as it relates to web design."

No, let's not. Let's stay on subject. =

On Nov.09.2007 at 02:46 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"But beyond basic ADA compliance, most general websites are not designed and optimized for such specific peripherals."

Yep. That's because there's a lot of shitty web design.

Nothing has to be 'optimized'. One just has to have a basic knowledge of the medium they are designing for.

Too many people equate "cool looking photoshop mockup" = epitome of web design.

"That example is a case of technology for the blind that's adapted to be applied to websites, and NOT the other way around. So Darrel bringing up that issue is largely irrelevant."

The web was designed with this basic premise from day one. It, first and foremost, is a text based medium that is not tied to a particular display device. Everything branches/expands off of that. Obviously, there's all sorts of very specific exceptions...many justified, many not, but that *is* the basic premise of the web.

"In fact, large-print screens, and adaptive screen readers are in fact, proof that the web is a predominant, visual medium."

All that proves is that a lot of people have bad eyes.

But, either way, not really a big deal. Doesn't matter what is the primary digester of the web content. That's the beauty of the medium.

"Sorry for the tangent."

I wouldn't called it a tangent.

On Nov.09.2007 at 02:52 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I think this topic has perhaps run its course.

I think you and I are coming up with things to argue about, Darrel. But all we're doing is slicing from both sides of a single loaf of bread.

You're saying that web design is information rich and structurally complex. I agree.

I'm saying that it's a visual medium where the discipline of visual communications, aka design, has lots of relevance and a primary role.

I think we're both agreeing on the point that good design is more than just aesthetics -- it's form and function, information design, and conceptually driven as well.

I think the irreconcilable gulf lies in how we each define that, as well as whether or not aesthetics is key in defining "good" web design.

On Nov.09.2007 at 03:22 PM
darrel’s comment is:

"I think we're both agreeing on the point that good design is more than just aesthetics"

Damn. But it's not quitting time yet!? ;o)

Have a good weekend!

On Nov.09.2007 at 04:26 PM
Chris Gee’s comment is:

I agree that everything likely to be said in this discussion has probably been said.

I wonder if anyone here attended the Future of Web Design conference here in NYC and if any of this came up during those discussions?

I desperately wanted to go myself, however it just so happened that this week was a pretty big week for the firm I work for, on the digital front.

.chris{}

On Nov.10.2007 at 05:50 PM
Joe Clark’s comment is:

Another vote, even more plausible, for the Zen Garden.

I believe we have now answered your question.

On Nov.11.2007 at 07:38 PM
Derek’s comment is:

How about most of the stuff that Hi-Res! & Nanika do? Or We Feel Fine, A Is For Apple, or all the for presenters from OFFF, FOWD, FITC, etc, there's hundreds of websites that have been published in best of the web books, and at all the different online showcases.

I don't mind the Google logo either. It works for them. Perhaps you should stick to comparing old logos and their newer versions instead of comparing old logos and new websites. Of which make no sense to compare.

On Nov.15.2007 at 10:06 AM
Jody’s comment is:

This is a great thread! There are some interesting arguments/ideas about “landmark” print vs. Web design floating around in here:

ugly v. pretty
form v. function
permanence v. malleability

I thought I'd share my personal point of view. Not trying to ruffle anyone's feathers - simply sharing!

I see Web design as having 2 primary schools:

1. experimental (few, if any, constraints)
2. corporate (business/tech parameters)

Rarely is there a gray area, and the two are often mutually exclusive (unless, of course, you're dealing with a design-minded organization in the latter case).

Most of the “landmark” examples mentioned in previous posts (yugop, praystation, etc.) fall into the experimental category. And when I say experimental, I mean a snapshot in time, since technology changes all the time. What's memorable about these sites CAN’T be separated from the technology that drives them and shapes the experience. Would we laud their design without their technological underpinnings? Probably not.

Corporate/business sites are usually subject to parameters set by content management systems, technology benchmarks, usability, accessibility (W3C), globalization strategies, user testing results, timeline etc, etc. When you factor ALL of these things into the design, it's a miracle that ANYTHING attractive ever comes out it. It's design for the least common denominator.

There are certain design fundamentals by which both print and Web design can be assesed: use of color, use of typography, grid/layout, use of imagery, etc.

Of the millions of sites our there, a small fraction use these elements in fresh and attractive ways. But my argument is that you can't separate the aesthetics of Web design from the technology that drives it - it's a symbiotic relationship. Print (technology) has sustained fewer changes in 100 years than the Web (technology) has in the last 10. Web design must be agile enough to respond to the technology that drives it.

I think the reason we can't come up with “landmarks” of Web design is because we haven't defined what a landmark of Web design is. And due to the constantly evolving nature of the Web, I'm not sure we ever will.

On Nov.16.2007 at 05:11 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Jody -- that's one of the most neutral, intellligent response in this entire thread.

Bravo.

On Nov.16.2007 at 05:39 PM
TD’s comment is:

All of this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the web. It is now increasingly apparent that the web is not about design or images; instead, it is a compendium of processes, and the site is merely a rough stage where those processes take place. "Standards" and the like are irrelevant, except for one looming standard: does this sell dogfood?
With print or even TV, this was impossible to determine. It's pretty easy online, and getting easier. Once you do that, you can quickly find out how expensive and inefficient old media is. You also find out that much, perhaps most, "design" *does not work*. It doesn't make people buy things or do what you want. Maybe it makes them feel fuzzy about your company, but it's also apparent to anyone with half a brain (such as CEO and accountant types) that there are much, much cheaper ways to do this.
Google and Amazon are incredibly ugly. They work. Both are "designed" by changing on-page elements based on records of user behavior, leading to a site that is as evolved to do what it does as a velociraptor was. They don't win any self-regarding, worthless "awards," but they will also continue to be around.
I think this debate will be academic within ten years. Top firms are beginning to realize that it's all about metrics, search placement, and copy, and that many "design" elements (Flash in particular) will destroy your results for insurmountable technical reasons. I'd be afraid if I were a designer. If you don't equip yourself with an understanding of user behavior, metrics, and ROI, your job is going to be in trouble.

On Nov.19.2007 at 04:12 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Top firms are beginning to realize that it's all about metrics,


*sigh* More grandeur statements.

I'm not quite ready to shake in my boots just yet.

It's true that lots of websites depend on analytics to tweak and mold their websites. Expedia and Amazon, for example, change or redesign little parts and pieces of their sites 5 to 10 times daily based on constant analytic returns. They have to -- their e-commerce existence depends on it.

But most of the changes are so minor, or they're mostly for specific sales metrics that no user would notice the change.

I, personally, don't care if the "buy" button is 10 pixels bigger and slightly higher on the browser. Just as you probably don't care about space allocation per item based on sales volume in an Eddie Bauer print catalog or on the retail shelf at a Gap store.

The web didn't invent metrics, analytics, or consumer usability study. Those business tools are decades old, just adapted to a new platform.

I can assure you that a designer's job is quite safe without requiring a master's degree in web usability.

On Nov.19.2007 at 07:51 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Web sites come and go. The examples in Armin's introduction of (dare I say) 'landmark' design such as Glaser's poster are concrete. A poster is printed, sits to collect dust, and lasts longer than most website designs. Even Cooper's Se7en titles had to get printed to film, making it a 'final' product. The web's malleability makes it difficult to pin down and even more difficult to remember anything 'landmark' (quotes mine because what the hell makes something as Armin calls landmark). In all, I believe in Su's statement that this discussion is poorly framed; although Armin has stirred up a great beginning discussion. And at least Jody has taken the time to frame all of the above with her experimental / corporate boundaries. For what it's worth, the experimental sites (those with lose [or no] context, and sometimes without a client) tend to be the prettiest—but that's what I'd call design for designers, or even plain old 'net.art'. I have a bigger question, what website has stood the test of time, with minimal (or no) updates, and still holds up to Armin's tenant: A visual solution that not only enables, but also transcends, the message to become memorable in the eyes and minds of viewers. Hell, maybe we're going about this all wrong, and should have a more defined metric, since this enabling, transcending, and memorable business is quite subjective—and for christ's sake, there's that design for designers business again.

On Nov.19.2007 at 08:56 PM
Christopher Fahey’s comment is:

Many people are using Armin's article to contend thaty graphic design is not what makes a web site iconic. Which is besides Armin's point that web sites lack iconic graphic design.

I wrote way more about the sad fact that many interaction designers, and indeed many graphic designers, don't think of graphic design as a discipline in which greatness should be attempted. Check it out at graphpaper.com:

http://tinyurl.com/2yxah7

On Nov.19.2007 at 10:00 PM
edrayne’s comment is:

Just a little point, its not Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway map that's cannonical but Harry Beck's 1933 London Underground map.

On Nov.20.2007 at 05:14 AM
darrel’s comment is:

"I see Web design as having 2 primary schools:

1. experimental (few, if any, constraints)
2. corporate (business/tech parameters)"

Substitute 'any design discipline' for 'web design' and 'pragmatic' for 'corporate' and I think I'd agree. ;o)

On Nov.20.2007 at 10:05 AM
Jody’s comment is:

Touché, darrel.

And Jason, regarding your question:

"I have a bigger question, what website has stood the test of time, with minimal (or no) updates, and still holds up to Armin's tenant: A visual solution that not only enables, but also transcends, the message to become memorable in the eyes and minds of viewers."

I still maintain that a site "with minimal (or no) updates" is destined to die a painful death. I think a more appropriate question would be to ask, "What Web site has successfully EVOLVED with changing technology and CONTINUES to transcend the message to become memorable in the eyes and minds of viewers?" THAT would make it timeless, in my opinion.

On Nov.20.2007 at 10:59 AM
darrel’s comment is:

It appears that Jeffrey Zeldman has read through this discussion:

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/understandingwebdesign

On Nov.20.2007 at 01:18 PM
Eric Gauvin’s comment is:

...also a similar discussion going on at:
http://www.graphpaper.com/

On Nov.20.2007 at 10:59 PM
ps’s comment is:

unfortunately, landmarks on the web get destroyed constantly. remember the coffee pot? that was up for years? i think it got demolished in 2001. for me it was more of a landmark than a dylan poster. certainly more impactful. and yes, it was just a stupid coffee pot, but without it, perhaps there would be no speak up.

On Nov.21.2007 at 12:01 AM
Marty S.’s comment is:

I have to agree with all of the above in some way or another. All of the questions bring up valid points. The newness of the web, the transient nature of the web, etc. But when I thing of something like Milton Glaser's Dylan poster, I think of the nature of the times and the social context in which it was created.

Web aesthetics are so diverse and the nature of web function is so much in flux, that I would have to agree that maybe the web just hasn't been around long enough tto produce the right site at the right time, representing the right issue, product, service, performer, or whatever.

On Nov.21.2007 at 02:09 PM
Chris Gee’s comment is:

> Jody said: I still maintain that a site "with minimal (or no) updates" is destined to die a painful death. I think a more appropriate question would be to ask, "What Web site has successfully EVOLVED with changing technology and CONTINUES to transcend the message to become memorable in the eyes and minds of viewers?" THAT would make it timeless, in my opinion.

I agree 100%. While a prolonged, unchanged design is unquestionably a tenet of print design excellence, it results in staleness on the web. Most web users will stop coming to a site where nothing has changed in a long time. To be sure, this site's own readers would stop coming of 4-5 weeks went by and there were no new entries or comments.

We never council our clients to publish the sites we create for them but never update them or make changes. If we recognize the value of change when counciling our clients, we cannot disregard this understanding when judging quality in websites.

I think that Zeldman's very articulate reply to this topic from ALA probably answers this whole topic far better than any of the comments written so far. I think actually understanding web design would be the first step to figuring out which "web design landmarks" exist -- if any -- and will also help us figure out how they should be regarded. Clearly if many -- or any -- of us are using criteria such as "which sites have had minimal or no changes", we'll need to really bump up that understanding significantly before we can really begin to have meaningful discussion.

.chris{}

On Nov.21.2007 at 04:27 PM
Sophie Dennis’s comment is:

Armin's original post asks not (as the title suggests) where the landmark websites are, but where the websites are which are landmarks of aesthetic design. This is an important distinction.

Armin's question is similar to confusing "where are the landmark films?" with "where the films are which are landmarks of photography?". No discussion of 'landmark' films would see examples dismissed solely on the grounds that every shot isn't as perfectly composed and lit as a great photograph.

A landmark film can certainly contain landmark (cinema)photography. And a film can be a landmark of cinematography. But the two do not have to co-exist for a film to have greatness. The overall quality of a film is a sum of many parts - acting, direction, writing, editing - and can be great independent of any purely visual quality.

A film can also suck like a Dyson, but still have great cinematography. So it is with websites. 'Beautiful' websites - those admired primarily as aesthetic design - can easily (and all too often do) suck on any criteria other than the purely aesthetic. And many websites while not iconic examples of visual design, are nonetheless landmarks of their medium as exemplars of other qualities which contribute to making a website truly great.

The analogy also supports points made by Jason Santa Maria and others about the longevity of the medium. Landmark films from the early years of film-making would probably not be judged as such if released as 'new' today. They were landmarks often due to a particular new technique - of acting, direction or sound - but they were not yet perfectly formed.

So it is with many websites today. Today, landmark websites by and large introduce a new concept - be it Google's minimalist search interface, the Zen Garden's CSS gymnastics, or 37Signals AJAX interfaces. They are seminal, in the literal sense, even if they are not always beautiful.

It is completely valid to suggest that websites can and should be more beautiful, just as it is valid to ask that a film be beautifully shot. But neither can be judged as iconic landmarks on those criteria alone, nor dismissed as such because they are deficient in them.

On Nov.22.2007 at 07:30 AM
Kaspars’s comment is:

Armin, you have written an excellent and thought provoking article! I think that it is important to define what exactly we want to find when looking for a landmark in the field of web design.

Here is my full reply:
How Graphic is the Web Design, and How Web is the Graphic Design.

On Nov.23.2007 at 09:33 AM
X. Zhang’s comment is:

The websites like those Sheepstealer and C-Lo mentioned are landmark websites, but not in the sense of Paul Rand’s IBM logo. They are websites that first exemplified new ways of communication, or new applications of existing technologies. They are landmark websites in a technological sense.

But I’m not saying a landmark website in the sense of Paul Rand’s IBM log dose not exist or will not come into being. It is a matter of time. On one hand, both the “standard” against which a website is judged as “landmark” and a website that meets the “standard” may take time to be commonly accepted as “landmark.” On the other hand, new web authoring technologies will endow designers more freedom in their website design.

What makes Paul Rand’s IBM logo a landmark project? And what will make a landmark website?

On Nov.25.2007 at 09:27 PM
Jia L’s comment is:

I believe there are many factors in judging if a website is a landmark one or not, such as its function, its aesthetical value. But as an interactive media, the usability and functionality are always some of the priorities the creator has to concern.

A good design will survive even decades have passed. We will see some landmark websites with the time pass, just like AT&T and IBM logos, which have survived the “natural evolution”.

On Nov.26.2007 at 03:12 AM
jenn stucker’s comment is:

What is the great desire for noting the landmark websites now? So we can all copy them and stop being innovative? Let the experimentation runs its course. Then like postmodernism we can sit back and try to figure out what it all means. Have we even ascertained the landmarks of postmodernism yet?

On Nov.26.2007 at 10:57 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

Here it is:

Landmark Web Design

On Nov.26.2007 at 02:27 PM
tadzia_z’s comment is:

I have tried to design a few websites and they all were crap in the end. I felt like everything I had learned about type and graphics just decided to disappear from my mind. Everything I tired looked like I had no concept of hierarchy.

On Nov.27.2007 at 08:19 PM
Christina Wodtke’s comment is:

I think the problem is we have short memories: http://www.lab404.com/dan/
All are canonical
Did we forget the beautiful and surprising original 37 signals site? K10, Raygun, the delicious entropy 8, the playful future farmers?

I'm more worried about blogging killing the design star. Blogs just look alike, and now non-blog sites look like blogs. When did we trade in architecture for interior design? When did we trade in graphic design for paint-by-numbers?

http://www.csszengarden.com/ ... is that all there is?

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On Mar.11.2008 at 03:06 AM
Jonathan Hayward’s comment is:

There is a story of a man who found things too noisy... so he went and asked the village elder how to escape the noise. The elder told him to bring more chickens into his house, and after mystified protest, the man obeyed. Then, when the man still said things were too noisy, the elder told him to add a screeching monkey. And when the man complained that things were only worse, the elder ordered an ox and an elephant. And when the man returned to complain, the elder told him to remove all the animals. And then the man found he no longer had trouble from the noise.

The standard for landmark web design appears to be:

  • It should be simpler than the AT&T logo,
  • more usable--and yet more powerful--than Google,
  • have visuals that outclass Industrial Light and Magic,
  • be better written than Shakespeare, and
  • contribute something as deep as Plato or Aristotle did.
Perhaps we don't need the exercise we think we do. Perhaps we have shown that, as good designers, we have finely honed the proclivity to look at a web design we really want to be satisfied with, and find room for improvement. But perhaps we need to be sensitive to what has been achieved as well as what more could be achieved.

My own site represents some achievement in usability/IA, graphics, and content. It might be a landmark if it were done better. But more to the point, it is some achievement, and if you visit it, see what is good in it and look around, then you might be able to look around and appreciate landmarks a little more.

On Aug.20.2008 at 07:23 PM
Daniel Schutzsmith’s comment is:

There are some sites that have stood the test of time. You could say that Google's homepage is one of them, having changed very little over the years. You could say Burger King's Subservient Chicken, which still gets about $30k hits per month since launching in 2004.

Both of these websites are good examples of being the foundation upon which other sites have spawned. Google showing that simplicity in search can be superior over the whiz bang abundance of Yahoo or AOL. Subservient Chicken showed that Flash and Video could be used to interact with the user, rather than just talk to them, it made the interaction a conversation.

These are only two examples, but for those of us who've been around in this industry for the past 10 years, it becomes clearer to recognize the websites that are the core of what we would call a website to stand the test of time.

* it should be noted though that the very nature of a website is not always to remain constant. If you think of a website as a marketing piece, like a brochure, then it's expected that it would change yearly or even seasonally.

On Nov.15.2008 at 07:37 AM
Golden Krishna’s comment is:

I wish I knew the answer. I really do. I don't normally post comments here, as much as I love this blog, because I have work to be doing, which is what I should be doing now, actually. But this post in itself is a minor, defining moment in web history, somehow garnering the interest of a few great print and web designers.

Things become immortal when they die. Now that we don't have the Vignelli maps, we can talk about how much we miss them. Now that we've moved decades beyond Glaser's Dylan poster, we can use it as an icon, as a defining window of that movement.

Two days ago I went to our school library to find an answer to this question, unaware at the moment of this post. I found a book that was a design annual for Interaction Design. I opened it and laughed. Websites from 1995 and '96 were displayed in thumbnail fashion and it was hard to take any of the serious writing about how great they were seriously.

I am surprised no one has brought up Archive.org. This appears to be our only web design museum. I have tried many times, unsuccessfully, to store portions of great sites on my computer before they disappear. Like ripping a poster from the wall, my own web design museum.

Although my own amateur work (graciously linked to on this site a few months ago) does not yet reflect it, I have fallen into the standards-compliant, CSS camp of web design because it seems like the intelligent thing to do. But there are still many ad agencies that do exclusively Flash work. And others that push alternate technologies.

But are those coding movements, graphic design movements? Is the person who builds an all flash site really visually story-telling differently than the clean CSS, HTML person?

Zen Garden is a defining site of the CSS movement. YouTube, Facebook and MySpace define social networking.

But these appear to be technologies, not advancements in visual language, and I think that's where we run into trouble. Few look at the original cellphone and say, "that's beautiful." That invention would make a timeline for technology, but I doubt, a timeline of product design.

On Nov.15.2008 at 01:59 PM
nick_chipas’s comment is:

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On Dec.24.2008 at 10:59 PM
tinabeans’s comment is:

Initial thoughts: I think the author of this post is spot on, that we ought to look for landmark designers, not landmark websites. Because a website, even a skillfully designer'd one, is fundamentally unlike other products of design such a poster or a logo or a package, in that it is not just a designed object. It is a designed container for content. We therefore can't easily judge the design merit of websites because that is like trying to judge a painting based on its frame alone. Are there any landmark picture frames out there? Hmm... I don't know that there are.

(This is not to denigrate the thought and attention put into "constructing the frame" - as a student of design and particularly the web, I have nothing but respect for the resident experts in this field - but the fact still stands that a site design cannot be isolated and "objectified" in the same way as, say, a brilliant logo.)

In general, there seems to be a continuing trend in the designer community of applying traditional design foibles and analytical methods to new forms of media which do not operate via the same rules. (An astute commenter noticed above that we might as well be judging TV broadcast stations.) To some extent, there is much we can learn from still treating it like designed objects like a chair or a magazine spread. After all we have to start somewhere in self-evaluating what we design, in the hopes of improvement, innovation, and transcendence. But, ultimately, it is the nature of transcendence itself that it nullifies old ways of processing and understanding our surroundings.

Long story short, perhaps the question shouldn't be "what are the landmarks of web design?" but "how should we, as designers, look at web design?"

On Jan.01.2009 at 04:30 PM
Chris Gee’s comment is:

Golden wrote: But are those coding movements, graphic design movements? Is the person who builds an all flash site really visually story-telling differently than the clean CSS, HTML person?

Interesting point. When I started my career in the late 80's, the rapidograph, t-square, ruling pen and flexible curve were the tools of the day. Today, those tools are no longer useful to the way we do business and have disappeared altogether. At the time, however, there were similarly passionate schools of thought as to which conventional tools and methods were best for the job at hand.

As quaint as those tools seem today, at the time they were considered "design technology". 10 years from now — or even 3, for that matter — the tools we use now and think of as cutting edge will seem every bit as quaint and outdated as the ruling pen and t-square do to us today. The only thing that remains are the results and the methodologies.

Part of the issue of thinking about "landmark" websites is underscored in Daniel's comments:

* it should be noted though that the very nature of a website is not always to remain constant. If you think of a website as a marketing piece, like a brochure, then it's expected that it would change yearly or even seasonally.

I think we have to exit, completely, from our print mentalities when thinking about the web experience. Dan's point is valid. Some of the richest and most successful web experiences are not constant nor may any two be similar to one another. Daniel cited Google as an example, however I'd be willing to bet that of all of us on the board, few of us has an iGoogle start page that looks anything alike. To be sure, those pages are customized to each of our individual information/design tastes. Even then, some of those graphics are likely to change with the time of day or even current weather (if you have the "Bus Stop" theme).

So exactly which Google snapshot should be judged and evaluated as being worthy of awarded as a "landmark"?

Is it possible that the experience, rather than static still of the site, should be evaluted and judged? And if so, is it also possible that the result would be 20 million landmark iGoogle sites, Facebook sites, YouTube pages, etc.?

Also, as many of us know, websites are no longer confined to the desktop. Not even close. Do we evaluate the quality of the experience when flowing from desktop to mobile device to integration with social capabilities?

I guess an even bigger question is whether or not we're concerned that there is a bit of a disconnect between what clients consider a "landmark" web design and what the collective design industry, particularly the traditional print-based design media, considers "landmark"?

The traditional print-based design media looks and evaluates web design purely and exclusively based on the moment in time during which the screen grab was taken. Pretty much just like a printed piece. Some even go through the curious step of requesting that submissions be printed out for submission.

Clients evaluate websites over time, evaluate the freshness of content over that period and pour over server statistics to evaluate the growth in user engagement as well as how nimble the website can be in revising site content/design in order to best give users what the statistics and user feedback shows that they want.

Just as we in the design community have had to completely change our approach to designing from a print mentality to an interactive mentality when before taking on the complex interactive projects of today, is it possible that we should also change our approach to evaluating those complex interactive projects and not approach them as print projects?

Not only is the logical answer "yes", it would probably be a good step in general.

.chris{}

On Jan.01.2009 at 05:05 PM
Story’s comment is:

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On Mar.19.2009 at 03:38 PM