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dot gone

The 1990s delivered a lot of business to graphic designers. Because of the internet, companies rushed to find somebody capable of giving them a presence online. Whether a logo, Flash animation, full-fledged site, or customer service management, the internet delivered us work—and work that paid well. Now, here we are… it’s 2004 and the internet is dot gone. The flurry of cash from internet-based design projects looms as a distant memory. Goodbye golden years.

Advanced users and surfergeeks still hail the web, “It’s on the brink—ready to explode once we have higher bandwidth.” Well, it’s been “on the brink” for over 10 years now and I expect it will be on the brink for another 10. Flash gurus continue living it up with contract work for Fortune 500 companies that need a revised “look and feel” on their site. But I’m not curious about where the internet still provides you with work. And okay, great, the internet is still “on the brink.” This isn’t a discussion about what designers can do to affect change in a medium which is still “on the brink.” And I’m not curious about whether the internet (and computer technology) will slowly rise to meet the polished beauty of print. The internet lost its golden appeal as a business prospect with uber-paying opportunities. Tell us when you saw the decline of the golden age begin, and cite examples of what you think triggered it. Where did design play a role in its demise?

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PUBLISHED ON Mar.16.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

The internet lost its golden appeal as a business prospect and design opportunity.

Speak Up is on the internet. I find it an incredible "design opportunity." The internet may have declined, but it's certainly not dot gone.

On Mar.16.2004 at 12:05 PM
Jason’s comment is:

True, Kiran, Speak Up is on the internet and it is a "design opportunity"--an opportunity to talk about design and stir up communication. I'll agree that the internet still holds promise, but nowhere near the financial promise of the 90s. This is about the past, the golden age of the 1990s when the internet was a rampant money maker for designers. Those are the golden years that are dot gone.

On Mar.16.2004 at 12:19 PM
KM’s comment is:

Over-spending, exorbitant overhead, waterfront offices, motorized scooters and no-minimum free delivery.

On Mar.16.2004 at 12:32 PM
Jason’s comment is:

KM, you just described Seattle in less than 20 words!

On Mar.16.2004 at 12:33 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

I know this will take the discussion away from your intended focus Jason but the internet direction just can't be avoided when discussing it's past. Forgive me just for a moment.

The internet will boom once again, not only when the bandwidth is in place (both wireless and fixed), but is also accessible by white and blue collar folk alike. Let's not get into futurist speak I agree, but I truly believe that as communication technology evolves and TV and internet merge (or don't) and PDA's and smart-phones become ubiquitous - the Internet and all it's needed design - will once again fill our pockets.

Real business models and technology aside, I think I saw the internet begin to decline when I realized the big waste of time it really was. Intro this, playground that... Enough! I wanted information and that's it. So this second phase came about that I really enjoy now. The blogs, the ebay, the amazon, the maps and recipes. It was all there before, I just appreciate it now along with the smarter design it's brought with it.

On Mar.16.2004 at 01:04 PM
Sam’s comment is:

The Internet is dot gone indeed--I don't know anybody for whom the Internet is a daily part of their life. Like the movie industry and pop music, if it's not making cajillions of dollars, it must not exist.

On Mar.16.2004 at 01:21 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

Agreed with Kiran. Once the lust for bells and whistles was gone, the internet became what it was meant to be: instant access to information and products/services. I personally don't feel the need to integrate it so tightly into my life that I need a Blackberry or web-enabled cell phone. The thought of TV and the 'net converging freaks me out, frankly. I fear the days of Minority Report, when billboards will know who I am and begin to pitch me on the spot. I might just become a recluse.

I think the real internet design opportunities are the non-glamourous types: information design and order. Swift and efficient e-commerce sites, online banking, library archives. Stuff like the Nutrition Facts label. Nobody says it looks cool, but most agree it's one of the best pieces of design in existence.

I saw the folly of the 'net boom from the other side. I stayed in the print world, never buying the hype that print was dead or that everything in the "analog" world could be 'neticized. So maybe it was a combination of prescience and luddite resistence. Whatever. When it came to the bust, I still had a job, and a vast majority of my acquaintances did not. Greed for high salaries led them astray, and they paid for it.

On Mar.16.2004 at 01:24 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I see where Jason is taking this, I mean, the internet was lauded as the promised land for any possible business venture and we, as designers, were right there to dress it up. (In fact, I think those 5-7 years no designer ever complained about just being a "decorator" since so much money was being thrown around to the different vendors of dot-com companies).

Like many things, greed brought the dot-com golden age down. Anybody with little patience could launch a web site to schedule an appointment with a gardener (this is fact, I worked on such a site) so any yahoo (no punt intended) could dig into venture capitalists' money and put up crap. The infrastructure of many of the places that sold you stuff (Kozmo, web van) was in place until they got greedy and wanted to do everything from selling you condoms to renting you videos. For me, the day Kozmo went under was the day when the internet as we knew it was gone.

Luckily, it resurfaced, like Kiran says in a more focused, information-driven way. And this new iteration is absolutely great.

I also love the more niche services that are offered on the web. We get our groceries from Peapod every saturday, we get our subway fare cards from CTA's online store every month, we do our banking online, we rent DVDs with NetFlix, sell our crap on eBay. And it's all much more streamlined.

> Where did design play a role in its demise?

Well, I doubt design played much of a role in its demise. However, design for the web in dot-com era was absolute crap, perhaps because of the newness of the medium but the majority (I'm not saying all) of the branding created for dot-com start-ups was poorly developed and badly implemented. Of course there were exceptions, but as a rule of thumb design done by all those big branding places sucked.

On Mar.16.2004 at 01:32 PM
kev leonard’s comment is:

i agree with jonsel. the designer who thought print was on the way out paid a lofty price. i think the end of the dot com bubble for designers was helped along by individuals who were able to use a computer and software to build sites but couldn't "design" their way out of a paper bag. the non designers were not alone. clients who were willing to pay those individuals to make a "pretty "site void of good content and sound navigation helped demise of the web as a cash cow for designers.

On Mar.16.2004 at 01:40 PM
Patrick Bennett’s comment is:

I have to say that this is the one post I've most disagreed with since I've been coming to Speak Up.

It seems extremely impatient and short-sighted to say that the golden age of the Internet is gone. This is an extremely young medium. Would anyone

say that the golden age of anything happened within the first 10 years of its life? The golden age of cars? The golden age of print? The golden age of theatre?

It's not a question of being "on the brink." It's the reality of the medium's infancy. When we are old and grey and this medium, in whatever form it becomes, is still around, maybe then would be a good time to look back.

Also, am I the only one who has become disenchanted with Speak Up since all the posts have become almost twice as long as they used to be? The previous brevity was appreciated and fit into my workday well. Now, I must admit, I don't visit much.

On Mar.16.2004 at 03:42 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> This is an extremely young medium.

Patrick, you do have a point. But, the internet is one of the few "things" that kind of started with the running instead of the crawling, then walking and then running. In its first few years it expensed pretty much all of its (and our) energy, time and resources.

> The previous brevity was appreciated and fit into my workday well.

Thanks for the feedback, we'll all take it into consideration for future posts.

On Mar.16.2004 at 03:44 PM
Mr. Kahn’s comment is:

What is the question? Oh...

Tell us when you saw the decline of the golden age begin, and cite examples of what you think triggered it. Where did design play a role in its demise?

mid 2000 in the US

mid 2001 in Europe

Designs role in its demise? Maybe if I were to do it all over again I would be more honest with the dotcoms. I would tell my client this is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

"You are going to spend $40 million in advertising on a product to compete against ICQ? A product which is free and better than yours? You have a user base of 0, they have a user base of millions"

No, I guess I wouldn't. Nor should I have. That is not my role and it is not a moral dilemma.

The dot coms did themselves in. Only a couple of my dot com clients survived. And those who did are doing well.

However, my non-dotcom clients who made use of the web during the "Golden" years did very well. They made money off their websites quickly and continue to do so today.

The internet lost its golden appeal as a business prospect with uber-paying opportunities.

The internet still holds appeal as a business prospect. If you want ´┐Żber-paying opportunities maybe this is the wrong line of work.

I hear deep sea welding jobs pay quite well though. But that is a bit trickier than making an annual report, but no less dangerous.

Besides I am opening a Graphic Design school in New Delhi. Soon all graphic design will be outsourced.

Don't laugh. I have worked with graphic designers in Vietnam. They were not good then, but they will be soon.

On Mar.16.2004 at 04:52 PM
Mr. Kahn’s comment is:

Patrick, you do have a point. But, the internet is one of the few "things" that kind of started with the running instead of the crawling, then walking and then running. In its first few years it expensed pretty much all of its (and our) energy, time and resources.

The above is referring the the Web, not the Internet. I doubt many of us put much energy or resources into the first few years of the Internet. I wasn't even born then.

I think it is very important to make a distinction between the Internet and the Web.

The Web is a protocol and service working in the Internet.

Email, P2P, Usenet, voice-over-ip, instant messaging, etc are not the Web but other protocols and services working in the Internet.

Why is this distinction important? If you think of the net as the Web then it limits you ability of invention and innovation with that narrow protocol.

On Mar.16.2004 at 05:16 PM
marian’s comment is:

What Armin and Kiran said. These so called "golden" years were actually the Terrible Twos. Baby Internet was running all over the place grabbing everything in sight, throwing stuff around and demanding it all at the top of its lungs. Phew! Glad that's over.

The internet seems now to be in the equivalent stage of a preteen child. Growing, curious, surprisingly articulate at times but still playful, and yes, still immature. I like the web better now than I have in years. Part of me wants it to stay this way forever, part of me wants to see what happens when it grows up.

Are the dreaded Teens ahead?

On Mar.16.2004 at 05:25 PM
Patrick Bennett’s comment is:

I would still stand by the idea that the visual medium of the web is too young for this discussion.

In fact during the high at the end of 90's, I was working at Bigfoot.com. Remember them? They were huge, but ultimately run by inexperienced people.

That was the norm at many of the rapidly growing companies. But before these people became in charge of over valued properties, the properties became over valued because of the idea that the web could be an end in itself for almost everything rather than a tool to sell a service or product.

I think the misunderstanding of what the medium was for and people's adamant feelings about retaining anonymity and freedom online is what brought on this lull in the medium.

More people will begin to come up with truly innovative uses for the web (and no, selling stamps for emails isn't one of them), technology will in fact advance allowing more freedom in the visual representation and things will improve... then maybe we'll be able to see a true "golden age."

On Mar.16.2004 at 05:31 PM
C McMahon’s comment is:


Honestly, if the first 3 months of this year are any indication this is gonna be a GREAT year for me and my Internet design company.

On Mar.16.2004 at 05:34 PM
Andre’s comment is:

I think that there is a fundamental mistake with this post. Asking if "the internet (and computer technology) will slowly rise to meet the polished beauty of print" sounds like the author has a bias towards print design. It’s immature to me to claim that a web site can't be just as polished as a book. Maybe I'm miss interpreting.

There are still great opportunities on the web. There are countless firms which continually push the boundaries of the web. Users (print designers in particular) often undermine the fact that the web is a new medium, who's potential is still to be explored. I don't believe that there is going to be a golden age of the web, it will be constantly evolving into something new. Mobile technology is a perfect example of that.

On Mar.16.2004 at 05:40 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Asking if "the internet (and computer technology) will slowly rise to meet the polished beauty of print" sounds like the author has a bias towards print design. No bias towards print design, Andre. The print vs web topic had already been done and I'm simply avoiding old posts with that statement. dot gone is all about the web's peak moment(s) and how designers hauled in the gold during that heyday.

On Mar.16.2004 at 06:42 PM
Christopher May’s comment is:

I disagree with "dot-gone", I work primarily in the internet industry, and I make a comfortable living. Clients still are spending, but spending wisely. People are starting to understand the medium for it's differences and advantages these days. In the early years there was a "forced consumer demand" that led a lot of companies to pay big bucks to people/companies that didn't really know what they were doing. The tech crash was a much needed way to "Darwinian" out the hopefuls from the hopeless. I think along the same lines as Patrick; the medium is still very young. I don't think we have even started the golden years - we just got over the growing pains.

On Mar.17.2004 at 08:27 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> dot gone is all about the web's peak moment(s) and how designers hauled in the gold during that heyday.

Also, web companies were (intelligently) charging for R&D time. Most of what they were doing technollogically required a lot of trial and error, testing (or Quality Assurance, a term more likely to be taken seriously in an invoice) and implementing. Web developers were cashing in on uncharted territory and they deserved it. You don't see a lot of that anymore; of course there are people still developing web applications and such but not with such fervor and demand.

On Mar.17.2004 at 10:18 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Just to echo others, the internet is far from gone. The ability to start a business with a faulty, illogical, and irrational business plan and still get insane amounts of start up capital are gone.

I still see some very impressive uses of the internet, though they tend not to be 'wow...look at this cool flash site' type of thing anymore (not a bad thing, of course).

On Mar.17.2004 at 10:50 AM
Tan’s comment is:

(Hey everybody. Long-time stranger here. My new job at Landor has kept me busy, along w/ travel. Good to be back.)

The internet is here to stay. Its utilities and technologies, however, are vastly unrealized -- but rightly so. The truth is, aside from email and basic accessibilities like travel reservations, news and information access, and web-broadcast entertainment -- the internet is still an accessory to consumers, not a necessity. At least not a necessity to a vast majority of consumers. But it's still here to stay.

At the AIGA conference in Vancouver, David Baker (a well-respected business consultant also found in the SU business section) asked designers in the audience why they insist on being involved with the business of interactive design? He suggests that internet development is driven most by engineering and technology development -- and that marketing and interactive design is a perfunctory involvement for traditional design firms. In other words, designers who think they're contributing substantially to the internet's value just don't understand the business they're in.

I totally agree.

So why are so many designers doing interactive work? Is it for the money? Is it because we're afraid of losing clients who ask if we can do it? Is it because we're frightened of getting left behind in a new medium? Peer pressure to look like we know what the hell we're doing? In a word -- Yes.

Now I do think they're some genuinely interesting interactive design work. But is good web design "good" because of the technological achievements, or "good" based on pure design and communications merits? I've seen few things on the net that have truly earned the latter.

Graphic design is about creativity, uniqueness, originality, and innovation -- among other things. The internet is about familiarity, efficiencies, usability, and user experience. In its current utilitarian, service capacity to the public, the vast majority of "design" for the internet is not about innovation and uniqueness. It's about doing the most with the least deviation from the norm, and maximizing for the lowest common denominator of technologic restrictions. It's clearly not an arena where designers are necessary nor function more than just as decorators.

On Mar.17.2004 at 11:48 AM
Max’s comment is:

Tan, you bring up some interesting points. Is Speak Up any less original or unique since it uses Movable Type, a lightweight CMS that anyone can download and use?

On Mar.17.2004 at 01:15 PM
Tan’s comment is:

SU is unique in the sense that it functions well in the medium, taking a traditional editorial fomat and adapting to take advantage of internet technologies and available internet engines like Movable Type.

But as a design accomplishment, even Armin would admit that the site is optimized for usability first, aesthetics and concept/communications second. In a design sense, there's nothing innovative about its design. But apparently, it hasn't affected its popularity. Nothing wrong with that, just a reality of SU's purpose and function.

The same can be said of eBay, Amazon, Expedia, and hundreds of other utalitarian, but popular web destinations. Familiarity and usability is independent of good design in many cases.

On Mar.17.2004 at 02:17 PM
Max’s comment is:

But as a design accomplishment, even Armin would admit that the site is optimized for usability first, aesthetics and concept/communications second. In a design sense, there's nothing innovative about its design.

I would argue that it is innovative in the greater community of Movable Type or TypePad sites, especially in the recent redesign. Many MT or TP sites haphazardly throw as many features and functions as they can on their site, making it frustrating to visit and read their information. The restraint and the placement of important items on Speak Up reflects the care of someone who wants to help the audience get to what they want, or in some cases, tell them what they want.

When you think of it like that, designers can be very important on the web, especially when they have an idea of what goes into the development of sites. Maybe this is just a difference in our definitions, Tan, but I roll the usability, the concept/communications, and the aesthitics into my idea of a designer's role online. Sure, there are decorators who push pixels for an IT department all over the place, but there are people just changing the leading all day in firms across the country, also. Designers can be a guiding force online if they choose to.

On Mar.17.2004 at 02:48 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Well, I can safely say that many of the decisions I have made on Speak Up are because of my training, upbringing and well-being as a print designer — and my obvious preference for print. I have received many e-mails from print designers that they enjoy the design of Speak Up because it's so print-like. I am not saying that this better — it's just different. On the flip side, I would have never ever in a million years even dreamed of doing something like this if MT didn't exist, the web technology is the only thing allowing me to do it.

That I kick ass, is, well, another matter ; )

On Mar.17.2004 at 02:58 PM
Brooks’s comment is:

Where did design play a role in its demise?

I think some of the demise was from over-design in television commercials. I remember those really nice ones from telecommunications companies like Lucent, which told common folks absolutely nothing about telecommunications and tried to bridge this beautiful and simple link to the future. The design quality was so refined but the message confusing as it didn’t educate why one would need to know anything about Lucent Technologies. Companies like e-trade and Yahoo which are still prevalent today displayed a tangible service in an innovative design mix of simplicity, humor and animals (dolphins and monkeys to be specific).

The design of the web won’t pick up after print or television media. It’s a different breed.

On Mar.17.2004 at 03:03 PM
Max’s comment is:

I love tools like MT and Textpattern, because it is getting the technology out of the way for people like you Armin (and me, for that matter)! The greater diversity of people that use tools like this (especially when it produces standards-based code out of the box), the more the web is going to get pushed, get re-defined in personal ways that will move to business and professional projects. Of course, when you talk about it that way, there will also be a greater diversity of crap; designers can help curb that.

That I kick ass, is, well, another matter ; )

I don't think we would have it any other way.

On Mar.17.2004 at 03:12 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

usability is independent of good design in many cases.

Usability is usually a part of good design.

On Mar.17.2004 at 03:32 PM
Brooks’s comment is:

usability is independent of good design in many cases.

Usability is an essential factor in determining good design, especially as it applies to interactive environments such as the web.

On Mar.17.2004 at 04:08 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Usability is an essential factor in determining good design, especially as it applies to interactive environments such as the web.

I do agree Brook. But I would argue that "determining good design, especially as it applies to..the web" denotes that the set of criterias is unique to the media, and is determined by restrictions of the environment and technology, rather than principles of traditional typography and design.

>Usability is usually a part of good design.

"Usability" is a web lexicon for various criterias of function for the media. Yes, it does relate to design, because form usually associates with function. But form is not function. Web usability does not always mirror traditional principles of design or typography. It has its own complete set of guidelines, which makes it independent.

Now I'm not saying that web usability is not a valid discipline -- it's just not a design discipline to me. It's engineering, architecture, programming...I dunno, something else. Not graphic design.

>print designers that they enjoy the design of Speak Up because it's so print-like

Armin, you know that's precisely why I love SU's design. Because it's so un-web-like, yet can only exist and thrive on a medium like the web. It's perfect for what it is and who it serves.

Innovative web? Yes. Innovative design like Neville Brody/Scott Makela/Vaughan Oliver? Not quite...yet. That was my point.

On Mar.17.2004 at 06:02 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Innovative design like Neville Brody/Scott Makela/Vaughan Oliver? Not quite

My review of Poynor's No More Rules will be as close as this site's design will ever come to any of those three.

On Mar.17.2004 at 06:43 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Whew. So what nailed the golden year's coffin shut, the dot com's bursting or designers recognizing that the internet is driven by technology, engineering, and users before aesthetics or innovation?

On Mar.17.2004 at 07:21 PM
Max’s comment is:

What nailed the coffin? The bubble burst. Designers, I think, were nothing more than bit players in that particular drama. Great book about the whole thing - Dot.con. It basically points to a myriad of reasons why the bottom fell out, none of which were probably avoidable, except for the actions of guys like Quattrone and Blodgett who willingly over-inflated IPOs.

Also, great discussion going on at 37 Signals dealing with the aftermath of this year's SXSW. In a nutshell, some of what we've gone over here: You're a web designer, you use standards and CSS, but so what? Particularly notable is Todd Dominey's contribution, where he calls for web designers to be "spending time in the offline world of graphical communication, whether through groups like AIGA or simply reading mags like Comm Arts / Print, to remember what is truly important in their chosen medium." I think he is hitting a bit on where you were going with your thoughts yesterday, Tan.

On Mar.18.2004 at 10:37 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Thanks Max. Interesting read.

To answer you Jason, I don't think the coffin is quite nailed shut yet. There are still companies out there spending enormous amounts of money on the web without proven returns. And there are large agencies still taking advantage of this spending -- thriving on the promise of the web's potential. SBI/Razorfish and companies of that size and caliber are still capturing 6- and 7-figure web jobs for banks, national retailers, and other non-hitech businesses that have been immune to the down economy.

And then there are the companies that are seeing to it that the golden web bubble continues. Microsoft and other sizeable OEMs have legions of think-tank task forces looking for ways to make the web essential to our everyday lives. It's essential to their survival, which arguably is essential to the global economy in general.

It's not over yet.

On Mar.18.2004 at 02:43 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Tan, your first post on this thread was one of the most lucid and sobering statements about the relationship between graphic design and the web that I've read in a long time. To elaborate a bit, the standards based, information rich website has diminished the role of GD in development, and will continue to do so in the future. I'm sure it is possible to prosper in the field as a technology broker -- choosing when and where to apply CSS, PHP, Flash, etc, coordinating web programmers, database experts, and content developers, applying branding components to pre-existing templates, and so on. But, should a technology broker be considered a graphic designer?

Ultimately, I think, the question is not whether the web is a young, maturing, or an exhausted medium. The question is whether the web is (or could ever be) an effective marketing communications medium. For better or for worse, marketing communications is where most graphic designers have cast their lot.

The web may well have a glorious future ahead of it; I'm just not so sure about GD's role within it.

On Mar.18.2004 at 06:26 PM
Brooks’s comment is:

I must agree with Jose Nieto’s comments. The role of GD's is almost obsolete in web development. The web calls for information designers who understand the functions of the web in marketing communications. GD's need to make the change toward a role similar to Edward Tufte and less like David Carson.

On Mar.18.2004 at 06:39 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

The web calls for information designers who understand the functions of the web in marketing communications.

Brooks, I think you've stated it better than I did. I am reminded of that recent commercial from Mitsubishi showing their Galant against Camry in an "accident avoidance test." They've spend serious money to buy air time for a commercial whose only purpose is to drive (no pun intended) people to their website. The site itself, however, is not much of an GD achievement -- just a collection of Flash-based charts and videos.

On Mar.18.2004 at 06:53 PM
Max’s comment is:

The web calls for information designers who understand the functions of the web in marketing communications.

I wouldn't be so sure of that, or everything would look like this versus this. Andrei Michael Herasimchuk makes the distinction more eloquently than I ever could.

David Young also chimes in with an ideal of greater integration between design mediums, since we all "really do speak the same language." I don't have any answers, but he may be on to something...

On Mar.18.2004 at 08:43 PM
Brooks’s comment is:

Max it’s too bad you are not able to speak for your self and I'm not sure you understand my theory. Your examples (the first two, the later specifically) support my theory that designers, relative to the web, must have a clear understanding of how to present and guide information for the user audience with design elements working to support the content and objectives of the work.

I would love to hear your direct opinion, rather than sited designers. If I wanted some authoritive figure head on a discussion based site I would have gone to designobserver.com, but I can't stand the likes of Jessica Helfand.

On Mar.18.2004 at 09:56 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Max, your examples are nicely chosen, but they kind of make my point. The PGA site may be technologically sophisticated, but graphically, it's not that great of an accomplishment. Or, to put it another way, whatever marketing impact it has comes from the editorial content and the technologies leveraged -- the video flyover, especially -- and not from the rather generic design.

Compare your PGA example with this. Do you think that the They Might Be Giants Site is a model for the future of creative web design? How many clients are taking that route? And, ultimately, is the TMBG site effective marketing, or simply annoying? How many people will buy TMBG records because of the site? Is it building a community of TMBG fans? If so, wouldn't something like Speak Up accomplish that task better? Do you really need a studio like the Chopping Block to design an effective web presence these days?

BTW, personally I don't mind being directed to intelligent articles elsewhere on the web. Then again, I don't find Jessica Helfand particularly annoying, so what do I know...

On Mar.18.2004 at 11:34 PM
Max’s comment is:

Brook, just trying to facilitate more discussion is all, and maybe I misunderstood your position, but when you said this...

The role of GD's is almost obsolete in web development.

I have to disagree completely. Since me providing links is not cool, I'll have to delve into my personal experiences, which may not be the best examples. I work in an ecommerce team. We do online ads, work on product images, and design (somewhat) appealing marketing graphics for the homepage as well as the look and feel for the entire site. I do not code the site (I do the HTML and CSS, but not the JSP work), but I design how it will look to the end user, how it will flow visually (and hopefully, seamlessly) with the rest of the site. Have a software engineer design a site for you sometime. It may work good for them but it will usually be incomprehensible to an end user (generally speaking). The same could be said for me as the designer, so we hand it off to our usability experts to pour over our combined work. It is a system of checks and balances, and it works: Marketing has their initiatives, the IT part does, and I try to fit the design of it with the rest of the site and the company. The company makes 40% of their revenue from this site that we've all built, and I wasn't a by-stander. Decisions that I helped guide and make are reverberating (visually and otherwise) through the company, just as other areas influence me. I influence the site's development, just as developers influence my design.

Now, if you would have said this in your first post:

Your examples (the first two, the later specifically) support my theory that designers, relative to the web, must have a clear understanding of how to present and guide information for the user audience with design elements working to support the content and objectives of the work.

I would agree, and I would also say that it can be more than that. I'm not just decorating a site, neither are some others out there. I wish I could do a better job of it than I do, honestly, but you gotta start somewhere. When I started out in web design, there was a dichotomy for it all, we were just supposed to be window dressers because we didn't know the code behind it. That's like having a typographer not knowing how to use type (in an extreme example). I picked up HTML easily enough, then moved on to harder stuff, like CSS and dabbling in PHP and Perl, and it didn't kill me nor was it as hard as I thought. And it does help me, as I can as a freelancer produce great sites for people, more than bare bones HTML; alas, my programming skills probably hold me back from being an individual designer servicing an enterprise level business, but it could.

However going off your second post:

The web calls for information designers who understand the functions of the web in marketing communications.

Do I do information design? Sure, you could probably argue that I'm a bit of a hybrid. I learned paste-up in school, ended up working in web, still do some print work here and there, but I'd like to think that information design is just one part of it. I think if you would have said designers in general, I might not have said anything. Can your roles get that granular? Sure it can, but I think a designer's role can be so much more reaching than that (which is why I linked to the AIGA article about designers versus designers, and how all aspects can work together better for their clients).

For example, let's go with the Dominey PGA Site I linked to. He ran it visually, and was heavily involved with the coding of it. Not guiding it, but coding it with a team. Several months later, he went and built this merchandise Flash App that ran on tradeshow television monitors and were updatable by the PGA people there on the fly with XML. Where else is his work going to go now? He is obviously operating as more than an information designer or a technology broker (as Jose stated), he is helping an institution's message and direction. How long before he gets offered to design their print materials, or maybe the inhouse guy already has to design them to look like the site?

Maybe it is all this talk of the web that is causing this, let's look at Chip Kidd - started off a book cover designer (which he still does), ended up driving the company to start a graphic novel line (from his love of comics), Pantheon, where he also designs most of the covers and materials. Pantheon most notably released Jimmy Corrigan to critical acclaim. Wait, let's keep going. Jimmy Corrigan was produced by a cartoonist named Chris Ware, who then went on to help design the 826 Valencia project website and designed a giant mural for their building in the vein of the website for Dave Eggers. Wait, this is good, Dave Eggers was the main designer and editor for Might Magazine in the 90s, who then became a best-selling author with Heartbreaking Mind of Staggering Genius, and then went on to form a revolutionary (in the sense it makes a profit) small press known as McSweeneys.

Now, if any of these guys were to have been limited as just a book cover designer, or a cartoonist, or a magazine designer, we wouldn't have got these great cultural contributions, and this is basically where I have a problem with what you initially said Brook. Design is design is design and it can go anywhere. Can a web designer play a significant role on the web? Hell, we already got into how a print designer can build a great online community website with the right tools earlier in this discussion. A web designer could have a significant role in anything potentially.

Maybe I've completely missed the boat here, and I'm sure you'll set me straight if I have Brook.

On Mar.18.2004 at 11:51 PM
Max’s comment is:

Jose, thanks for the nice compliments. I think I've said enough tonight (or ever for that matter)! I kind of like the TMBG site, even though I'm not a big flash guy, because it fits them. I've written about the PGA and it's flash use above ad nauseum, I like it, you don't - that's cool. Unfortunately, I'm beat and posted before I saw your post, but you brought up great, great questions that should keep the discussion moving!

On Mar.18.2004 at 11:57 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

I just bought a new 12 inch PowerBook, so I'm up way past my bedtime. Anyway, I actually did like the PGA site (in fact, I like a lot of Todd Dominey's work); it's a good implementation of accepted web design practices, combined with some eye-catching interactive features. The typography is clean and well-considered. My point is that the graphic design itself, without the technology, it not that special.

Another question: when Todd Dominey is coding a site, is he a graphic designer, or a visually sophisticated software developer? I'm curious to hear what people think...

On Mar.19.2004 at 01:17 AM
Max’s comment is:

when Todd Dominey is coding a site, is he a graphic designer, or a visually sophisticated software developer?

That is an interesting question Jose. Short answer: I don't know. A lot of what we do could be considered GUI design.

For fun, try firing up Terminal with your svelt new Powerbook (sooooo jealous!) and surfing the web with Lynx, the original text browser (just type in "lynx http://www.whatever.com", you may not have lynx installed, or you may already know all this). I've found a greater appreciation for web design after surfing in a text-only environment, the way the web was intended to be.

Has the best of design come from the web yet? Depends on how you measure it, but probably not yet (as Tan spoke of above), but I think that web design as a whole could be on its way towards that.

On Mar.19.2004 at 08:19 AM
brooks’s comment is:

I wish i would have stayed up later last night. Those were some good points you made Max. I think our definitions of graphic designer are different and I wouldn't put technology broker and information designer in the same category.

Is Chip Kidd doing web work? I'd love to see that.

On Mar.19.2004 at 09:55 AM
Armin’s comment is:

These latest bits of the discussion are interesting and perhaps I'm going in a different direction with the following comments. In the end it all comes down to perseverance, willingness and more metaphisically: talent and drive. The tools can be learned (whether it's web, book cover or mural design) but only with talent and drive can you make shit happen. But not just happen actually; happen and work.

One thing that has been lost for a long time now and I've read this a few times so I'm only readressing that notion is the lack of Renaissance people. In the sense that people are sticking to only one discipline and understandably so, since taking chances in unknown territory can be time and resource consuming and in a loopy economy who wants that? However, exploring different areas (for the sake of this discussion design areas) can lead to great results if one has the basic understanding of design principles — learning each area's tools, rules and regulations is easy, doing something with them is not. I'm close to rambling, so in closing: designers can have an impact on any area as long as they understand the limitations of the medium and hopefully work to expand and challenge those limitations.

On Mar.19.2004 at 09:56 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

...lack of Renaissance people.

Like Herbert Bayer, El Lisitzky, Alvin Lustig, Bradbury Thompston, Lester Beall, Cipe Pinelles. Basically, the generations of designers who came before there was such a thing as a graphic design profession.

Maybe we're coming full circle...

On Mar.19.2004 at 10:59 AM
Max’s comment is:

Maybe we're coming full circle...

It's quite possible. The fact that there seems to be so many different definitions of what exactly a graphic designer is shows that it could be in a state of fluxuation. Maybe it is the concept of authorship, or even entrepreneurship, that we're hitting on now? Or maybe it is as simple as Armin put it; we make shit happen and work.

I could live with that on my business card...

On Mar.19.2004 at 01:20 PM
David’s comment is:

I'm probably posting too late -- as the conversation has already died out. But, whatever. Here are some more words...

First - i'd question the basic premise of this discussion -- that the web isn't a growth medium. I tried searching for (but gave up too quickly) a set of recent charts from Wired magazine that showed that all the predictions for web-based business growth, etc, were basically correct -- except about a year behind schedule. (Due to the bubble bump, terrorism, etc.) The internet isn't declining or suffering a demise -- it's just slowed down a bit.

The web continues to grow - perhaps less in the news. But there are just as many possibilities as before for developing new and innovative designs, experiences, interfaces, content, structures, etc...

As I'm sure has been discussed before, these bubbles come and go. But the underlying fundamentals are still sound. Look at the Computer Graphics boom in the late 80's -- it did a big bust, but then quietly continued on and now dominates Hollywood. Similarly, the AI boom in the mid 80's did a bust -- but so much of the tech that started then is now commonplace in advanced systems.

Sure, there are plenty of people who started designing for the web... knowing of "new media" as nothing more than the dot-com bubble, and all the money and business. But the field has a rich history starting from the 40's and 50's. Don't think that it all started with the bubble and the business. There's a lot of great art and science and research and exploration that happened before, and continues.

The boom was a kind of Golden Age of new media design -- a chance for all sorts of experimentation. Designers exploring a previously too-exclusive medium -- now available to anyone. Businesses, designers, schools, anyone, trying out ideas. There was a lot of junk produced, but there was also unprecedented exploration and activity.

If anything, though, the ideas of cross-disciplinary design collaboration were just starting to gain serious momentum. Businesses started to realize that their communication and marketing (initially via their website, but eventually with their entire branding) was a core component of who they were -- not just something dealt with by their pr staff. For companies that "got it" their diverse divisions started working and communicating more closely and effectively.

Likewise, design firms tried different models for collaboration and cross-disciplinary work. Some of which were successes. Some weren't. (This topic was pointed to by Tan in my AIGA LA article.) But... the thing that baffles me is that businesses have grasped this need to change: If they don't adapt they're going to die. (Using the somewhat exaggerated language of the dot-com era.) But designers and design schools, and our profession organizations (read: AIGA) are sure having trouble coming to terms with this. We're too caught up in which medium we think is "best" -- instead of respecting each other and collaborating.

And the premise of this thread seems to echo a print-is-"better" bias.

To say (as seemed to be voiced in some comments) that the web is nothing more than usability and software -- and not design -- is crap. Likewise, learning html and php is no different than learning quark and illustrator. They're the tools that designers use. Nothing more than tools to express creative solutions to design problems.

Don't get caught up in the differences. We're all solving problems. In creative ways. Relevant to our media. Let's all be friends.

(Phew! I'm tired. Time for bed.)

On Mar.20.2004 at 11:47 PM
Brooks’s comment is:


Been thinking still about what you said and I think the best way for me to explain my thoughts is ultimately that when you compare a graphic designer next to an information designer your get the same comparison as when you layed the The New York Times next to The Wall Street Journal.

One is based on creativity and emotionalism and the other is based on ingenuity and traditionalism. Only slightly different in my mind, but enough to make a distinction.

On Mar.21.2004 at 01:17 AM
Max’s comment is:

David: nice comments!

Brook: I appreciate your example, but I think I'd argue that they are both still newspapers. :)

On Mar.21.2004 at 03:39 PM
LazyJim’s comment is:

Golden age? I prefer to call it the dark-ages.

Here's why:

-Any kid with composer or frontpage, (or even without), could knock up a web page and charge a fortune. Worse still they called themselves "web designers"! What cheek!

-Pro's started taking lots of jobs and doing them quickly, instead of a doing a few jobs thouroughly. Giving pro's a bad name while lining their own pockets. OK so partly it was due to lack of available knowledge and experience of the new media, but how come it took the market crash to make you see what was going on? Hind-sight is a wonderful thing I guess.

-The web was full of useless time-wasting crap. Even worse, that crap obscured the useful stuff that must of been around somewhere too.

I agree with everyone that said we are now in/entering an exciting and much better era of the Web. I'm glad I waited until now to enter the "web design" scene.

On Apr.04.2004 at 08:33 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I'm glad I waited until now to enter the "web design" scene.

Is there a better name for it?

On Apr.05.2004 at 06:23 PM
Tan’s comment is:

The new term being used is "Experience Design" -- which is laughably pretentious and over-reaching. It's even worse than "New Media".

I still prefer "Interactive" as a moniker, which you can hook with design, marketing, development, creative, etc. It's still geeky/techy, but so is the reality of most of the work.

Hey, let's make up the next term/lexicon for the world to use. "Pixelography" or "Browsign" (browser+design, get it?) or "Codign" or...

oh nevermind. "sigh*

Stupid medium.

On Apr.05.2004 at 06:53 PM
The Internet is back!’s comment is:

Who let the blogs out?

On Apr.05.2004 at 08:18 PM