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Friday 06| 1|01
Where Are the Websites?

I received my AIGA annual today. I am pleased by the tactile experience of this book. It is a hefty weight and is nearly 2 inches thick with a groovy plastic cover on it. The implication is of bulk, of permanence and no fear if mistaken for a coaster on the coffee table.

The book covers 3 different purposes and instead of publishing three volumes, the AIGA decided to combine the three as well as intersperse commentary around the samples and choices.

The AIGA site says:

"This year's annual was intended to be transformational: the brief called for the book to be an example of design as well as a chronicle of design; to satisfy members' interests in artifacts and also to stand out in bookstores to reach new audiences; to provide context for design, so that the annual would become a vehicle for more than simply documenting competitions. We wanted the annual to demonstrate all of our attributes: open, stimulating, authoritative."

The first section announces this years AIGA medal winners and sports bios of the recipients and samples of their work. Generally not surprising. This year's medals went to Laurie Haycock-Makela and posthumously to P. Scott Makela, Fred Seibert, and Michael Vanderbyl.

The second section is the bulk of the book and is the annual itself. The organization is a bit confusing, the type is too small and the samples, while some are interestingly cropped to show detail, are cropped in such a way that it is really difficult to tell why these particular pieces were chosen. The authors describe and showcase the judges as well as the winners and it is definitely something that warrants more than once pass through. The AIGA site has a discussion going right now that is quite lively about whether this annual is a success or not.

The third part of the book is the AIGA 50 books, 50 covers exhibit. The presentation is similar to the main annual and suffers some of the same issues, although some of the details or much more relevant to the book covers than the previous type pieces.

At the end of the book is an essay entitled "Where are the Websites" author Andrea Moed tells us that a large number of websites were entered into the competition but the judges abstained from selecting any as worthy of being published in the annual. WHY? She goes on to describe that the sites, while they may have been successful for the clients, and usable by the consumer, were all too much the same and none were innovative or ground breaking in their interface. She laments the fate that interface design has come to as innovations are standardized and commercial ventures dare not challenge the status quo.

This is a dilemma for designers. Similar commentary was recently put forth on the SIGIA list as major criticism against the online journal GAIN. The author of this post (I paraphrase here) criticized the designers for not taking the opportunity to design something truly innovative. Especially here as the audience is more visually sophisticated and perhaps more technically adept than the average consumer.

I followed this thread and held my tongue, because at first I was very angry due to some pretty mean words said about print designers and the AIGA, but after awhile I had to agree with the core criticism. I think that designers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do we innovate and experiment with sites that need to be instantly accessible to the world? This gets worse if you work on a large highly trafficked site. How do we innovate and try new things when even the slightest deviation from the "norm" raises the hackles of clients and of the usability folk on our teams? How do we push the concepts of learnability over obvious when users are part of our design process and aren't visionary enough to see beyond what is right in front of them? With the ever growing push for user-centered design methods, designers need to be even more saavy about the research. about interpretation and understand when to follow and when to lead.

I do think we need to push on our own sites - (I am totally guilty of not practicing what I preach on my own site) and that we need to experiment and try new things. This may mean becoming more and more proficient with other tools. After all, HTML can only go so far. I think it means pushing the envelope and taking risks where appropriate.

This idea of contextually appropriate interface is extremely important. My first gut reaction to the GAIN criticism was that anything more would be interface for interface sake and that the delivered UI IS different from the norm but doesn't get in the way of the content. GAIN after all is a journal with articles and people will come there to read them, not fight with an interface.

I wonder too, if the websites didn't make the AIGA annual because they lacked the bells and whistles and the richness that many used to associate with CDROM work. These types of interfaces were often obscure and inspired the curiosity of the user, but once learned could be easy to navigate. And because of the delivery medium designers could utilize the richness of imagery, typography, color, motion and sound in ways that are just too cumbersome on the web.

I have to wonder if the judges used the sites or just looked at static screens? Did they think about the critical thinking and problem solving or the complexity of information on these sites and how that is balanced with the interface to get people to the info? Did they think about the circumstantial limitation of size and speeds at which this interface was to be displayed? Is bandwidth crippling our creativity? Is usability dogma crippling our ability to see through the limitations? How do we balance the ease of use with innovation?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but I am encouraged by the fact that many designers are starting to take notice of the sameness out there on the web and question the status quo.

Posted by erin at 08:15 PM | in Criticism

Comments

This comment refers to just one tiny part of the post. Didn't Craig McCracken create the Powerpuff Girls? Was Fred Seibert the executive at Cartoon Networks that gave it the thumbs up and therefore is, in his mind, the "creator"? Sorry Fred, that doesn't count as creation in my book.

Posted by Chris at June 2, 2001 04:20 AM
...................................................

You are correct. My mistake, it is very misleading then, in the annual they show snips of the work by these medalists and in the case of Fred Siebert, there are images of the Powerpuff girls which give the impression that he created them. I can only imagine that he was probably a exec. producer or equivalent of a Creative Director in terms of the attribution.

Posted by erin at June 3, 2001 12:27 AM
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