Brain dump: I was thinkin’ about this whole -web 2.0- thing

remember whenRemember when Apple started their jellybean buttons? They were a way to show off the new graphics rendering capabilities of Quartz when OS X was launched. It wasn’t long before everywhere you looked there was some lickable little candy button on just about every site you pulled up, whether it made any sense in the design or not. Bulbous tabs followed and were also a style fad that continues to remain scattered over the web as well.

Styles change, and so the pseudo-3D of Apple’s revolutionary interface makeover has given way to the new look: Web 2.0 style. You see it everywhere and it’s a rejection of the bubbly, glassy, candy store look that permeated thousands of highly visible sites after Apple turned to UNIX. Now with the Web 2.0 revolution you see flat colours, rounded corners, and seemingly less fuss thanks to copious AJAX integrations. Clutter is blissfully minimised on the best of them, but conversely, too many others are losing what it is to have white-space. In their attempts to achieve radically ‘modern’ layouts, differentiation is achieved by bucking what we’ve become accustomed to navigating through over the past decade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no curmudgeon rallying against changing the way we style a page, but changing the way a page is read is not something to mess with lightly. I personally find the un-fussy palettes and graphics are almost drowning in the desire to lay out a page in these new-fangled directions with new-fangled code bells and whistles under the belief that it is indicative of Web 2.0-ishness. This is a problem.

Before anyone says I’m throwing stones when I should be looking at my own blog first: I know my blog is looking dated, and believe me I’m bored to tears with it*, but if I write a new template (which is the goal rather than modifying an existing one this time around) I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon of all flat blocks of colour and oversized type**, either so much copy crammed in that ‘the colour of the page’ is a jumble, or instituting so much AJAX and fancy/obtuse navigation that I alienate my mother*** and anyone else who isn’t a geek… I’m just saying that the meaning of Web 2.0 is pointless if we forget how humans behave with a page. I’m beginning to hate the trend of looking at blocks of stuff at the bottom of a page instead of a neat sidebar. You’ll never see a magazine stuff all of its sidebar info and pull-outs at the end of an article because that’s not how people read. “The web isn’t print,” you cry out, and I agree, but who are we creating sites for- our own geeky egos and design dreams, or to be read by the widest audience possible, absorbed, and returned to for providing an intuitive experience to the layman. Wild assumption: There are more laymen than geeks using the web. (I’m probably right.)

There’s a place for all this revolutionary new design, structure****, and code, but we mustn’t forget that the reader who visits shouldn’t have to re-learn how to read and use a page just because we want to look (and behave) modern. It’s kind of a reverse of the effect made by the candy buttons made ridiculously prolific by Apple. They showed up everywhere, even when they made no positive user experience difference whatsoever, but now, we’re taking away the superfluous candy elements in favour of superfluous interface candy. One is not any better than the other, and in most cases both reek of web designer fads instead of user-focused development.

I just did a search on Google for worst bad web 2.0 designs layouts and stumbled on an article that I’ll read more attentively after lunch. After a quick skim, it looks like he’s got much more to say on this subject, so I’ll give you a link so you can read it too.
One beautifully worded thing I pulled from it during the skim was:

“A new CSS feature comes out that allows something visually new to be done. For example, a new CSS technique to add rounded corners to DIVs. If it is able to be done, we have to do it. This, at least in some part, stems from the lack of creative control we have in designing websites. We are like sexually repressed teenagers. Our hormones lash out with reckless abandon whenever they get the chance. Do those rounded colors/drop-shadows/gradients have a significance or are they strictly for style? Who cares – we can finally do it. That is all the excuse we need.”

Right on man. I’m gonna quote you one more time:

“If you are having a hard time coming up with how you want a design to look, there is a pretty good chance that the concept is not mature enough.”

Quoting that, I look forward to what my site may look like next. 😉


* But not the platypus. I loves me the platypus.
** This trend really bugs me. Big type is not big design just because it’s there.
*** I dare you to ask your mom what a ‘tag cloud’ is.
**** Don’t get me wrong, I think the Hemingway template that everyone is copying has its very good points, I’m just sick of it already. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but damn people…

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6 thoughts on “Brain dump: I was thinkin’ about this whole -web 2.0- thing”

  1. Hey Jen,

    Yes, the whole web2 fad sounds a little suspiciously like something fabricated so people could sell books about it. The big issue I have with Hemmingway, and in fact most blogs (my own original one included) is that big, widescreen monitors are becoming the norm, and the past couple of years seems to have forgotten the old concept of liquid site design – sites scaling to fill the browser, regardless of window size.

    Working on a 24″ screen as I do, there’s a lot of pointless scrolling going on.

    A lot of this is, I suspect, due to the inherent weakness of CSS – it’s a standard controlled by, well, zealots, who seem to believe there is only one “right” way to design a site (never mind that is a god-awful mess). Basic example, there’s no easy way to float an object of unknown dimensions in the centre of a page. With table layout, dead easy – a single cell table 100% width and height, with the cell vertically and horizontally centred. Tiny little bit of simple code, but nothing in CSS based layout comes close. /rant.


  2. Ah the dream of your very own template, designed from the ground up, containing your blood, sweat, tears and broken finger nails, although hopefully not visually :). This has been a goal of mine for a while and I have started a few times but have given up after a few hours, who says I am easily distracted?

    The Hemingway template leaves me a bit cold, it is neat and sharp but it feels slightly impersonal.

    When I get back from my holiday I am planning to overhaul two of my blog themes, maybe at least one of the will be my own template 🙂


  3. Yeah, it is the dream isn’t it… 🙂 I know that it’s a low priority for me at the moment since I currently have a functional site and a bucket full of paying work, but all the bandwagon jumping I see the web over is making me believe more in Web 2.0 becoming a meaningless buzzword that most people don’t understand fully – that includes myself. Is Web 2.0 a style or development? Is Web 2.0 a product or a trend? Are we all becoming Web 2.0 by default simply because the internet is maturing and our development/design/innovation sensibilities are being dragged along for the ride?

    Whatever it is, and whatever skin folks use to represent it, it seems to have lost its focus and useful, definable identity.

    I am not poking a nasty finger at the folks who have enthusiastically adopted ready-built Web 2.0 templates such as Hemingway, but it seems so many sites are just grabbing the latest trend instead of forging the new paths we’ve seen develop as WordPress and other blogs have matured. If everyone on CSS Zen Garden starts looking like Hemingway offshoots I’m gonna scream…

    Don’t get me wrong, Hemingway is a good template. I think it’s very attractive and functional… but I’m looking forward to the design/development revolution that follows. It has to happen lest we all look and behave the same. In that respect, the Kubrick template has its own positive/negative legacy as well.

  4. Yeah when I was writing my reply I was thinking of Zen Garden as I was looking at it yesterday. I think the Hemingway and Zen Garden are approaching design from different directions. To me Zen has the idea of relaxation build into it, Hemingway is more business like, more clipped and to the point. Check out Suthern’s Whymsie from my blog list a Zen like template is being used there.

    I think Web 2.0 is totally an marketing thing, hasn’t O’Reilly trademarked it?


  5. >I think Web 2.0 is totally an marketing thing, hasn‚Äö?Ñ?¥t O‚Äö?Ñ?¥Reilly trademarked it?

    If they have, what animal will represent it? 😉

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