Late last week, Dirk Knemeyer posted a follow up to his original Digital Web article, The End of Usability Culture. Both articles generated some discussion in the blogosphere as well as in my office. The gist of the article is that while the practical aspects of web design (usability, accessibility, etc.) are important, it seems that the visual and creative aspects are getting somewhat ignored. There is a balance to be reached, and it seems that it’s been a bit out of whack recently.
I generally agree with Drik’s sentiments, and I posted a comment on his redux article to share my personal feelings. It seemed appropriate for this site, too, so i’ve decided to re-publish it here. For the entire discussion, read Dirk’s article and the related comments.
My comment follows:
One thing that I definitely feel strongly about is that it’s not necessarily the case that the “usability folks” are coming on too strong — perhaps those of us on the creative design end of things aren’t coming on strong enough. There’s no doubt that the balance has gotten a bit out of whack, but I’m not sure it’s all their fault.
There are a million blogs and sites out there providing great forums for discussion on usability and technology. How many “standards-oriented” blogs are they? I suppose I even have one myself. “Web Standards” are a matter of technology that tends to promote usability and accessibility. That’s great, and it’s well worth discussing. But how many blogs are out there talking about the more conceptual, creative, and visual aspects of graphic/web design? How many are talking about branding, visual styles, typography, color theory, etc, etc.? Oh, there are some — I know. But, as you’ve said, the balance isn’t there.
A large contributor to this, I think, is the fact that so many of us “web designers” didn’t come from a traditional design background. Many of us came from technology background, or journalism backgrounds, etc. Many of us “happened” into this. I sure did. The web simply isn’t old enough for people to have spent all of their adult lives training to be a “web designer.” At age 28, and having been creating web pages since 1994, I’m about as close as they come to this — but in 1994, there was no training to be had. Even though I had the interest, I couldn’t go to college for web design. Times are changing, and in a few years we’ll start to see designers who have spent their entire adult lives learning to be “web designers.” Hopefully these folks will be a bit more well rounded than those of us who came from other backgrounds and happened into this.
Another contributor is the simple fact that in areas like usability and web standards, there are more clear-cut “right” ways to do things. We can often come to an agreement on what we should or shouldn’t do in order to make thing more usable or accessible. This isn’t so true when we start discussing other aspects of design, as there is more personal preference, creativity, and individual judgment involved.
But it’s time to talk about design. Yes, that includes usability, but it includes a helluva lot more, too. It’s time to talk about brand strategy, brand identity design, typography, color theory, etc, etc — and talk about them in the context of web design. It time that us “standards-oriented” designers stop shunning things like Flash and table-based layouts and realize that even if we don’t intend to use a particular technology, there may be great creative design concepts we can take from those who do and apply in our technological context. It’s time we start looking at print and other media and discussing how we can apply (or not apply) things we see to the web.
Now that Dirk has taken the initiative to talk conceptually about how this balance needs to shift, who is going to take it upon themselves to starting talking about design in a practical sense?