Rant: Web 2.0 Look? Lets Talk About “Good Design”

From Twitter:

mringlein: my new years resolution is stop designing web 2.0 … i am all about the 2.5 this year. vintage wallpaper backgrounds and real life objects

mringlein: gradients and reflections are out …. the masking tape and handwriting fonts are in baby!

SamanthaToy: @mringlein http://www.24-7media.de/ was doing that stuff since forums were the “in” thing. I feel like trends are recycling themselves

dndrnkrd: @samanthatoy, @mringlein I agree, it’s not time for 2004 to come back yet. Good design can exist irrespective of trends.

I’m a little confused. I have heard so many people refer to the “Web 2.0 Look” and have been dealing with this confusion for a while. After all, the definition of “web 2.0″ says nothing about a specific aesthetic style. After my twitter conversation yesterday I followed up with my friend Dan to chat more on this subject. Dan explained that Martin‘s comment may be a direct result of a backlash happening in the design community since Elliot Jay Stocks’ Presentation “Destroying the Web 2.0 Look” at the Future of Web Design Conference. I hadn’t seen the video of this presentation and decided to check it out.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://cdn-ll-static.viddler.com/flash/publisher.swf?key=9b7e9501" width="437" height="320" wmode="transparent" /]

I agree with Elliot Jay Stocks for the most part. I just think there is a little more to it than that.

Some things I would like to add, expand upon, or just discuss further…

Concept is King
The more concerning point that was just brushed over here is that there is a common theme in the design community to go ahead and move forward with a design without a strong concept. Elliott Jay Stocks mentioned that it’s OK to use a reflection on your logo if the name of your company has the word “reflect” in it. Well… that would be illustrating and supporting an overarching concept.
Ellen Lupton says it best

“Think more, design less. Many desperate acts of design (drop shadows, gradients and the gratuitous use of transparency) are committed in the void left by a strong concept. “

Rock on, Ellen. Rock on.

But are all trends bad? No just overusing them is.Aple reflections
Design is about communication and sometimes established trends help to communicate an idea or feeling. Sure they have been done before, but perhaps you need to say “technology” ” or cutting edge” without looking dated and like a 1960s SCIFI movie poster. Well then referencing some of the elements used by Apple in your design would help communicate the language that Apple has previously established for visually saying “innovative”. Any and all of the elements of the “Web 2.0 Look” can be successfully integrated and used in a design if you have a reason for doing so.

Form follows function
If I am designing a website for the US army, gloss is not appropriate most of the time. I mean those guys get pretty freaking dirty. No need to create a new look for them, they have a pretty clear one already established. If I am designing a Website for an IT company splatter paint and handwritten fonts are most likely not going to clearly communicate what the company is trying to say.Army Boot

Grungy and Glossy are textures not looks
The web involves interaction design. Texture can help define the visual hierarchy of information and guide a user through the site. It also helps to create dimension transforming the screen into layers of interaction. Using texture is good, just some types are more commonly used than others.

Who’s Guilty of Using the “Look”
I am. I bet you might be. A lot of designers are. I have said before and I will say it again, if you see my use of diagonal lines as a background its because I really am spent for ideas and something is keeping me from developing a strong concept. Sometimes that may be a client, other times it may be a deadline. Diagonal Stripe GeneratorBut the reality is at the end of the day, I gots to get paid. In a perfect world clients will come to designers for their expertise and trust their decisions, but it just doesn’t always happen. Designing something that is aesthetically pleasing versus conceptually appropriate is still a win in the war on ugly. Ya gotta pick and choose your battles.

Creativity is Part of the Job Description
There are lots of designers out there just recycling other people’s ideas. Shopping around from site to site picking and choosing what they like and putting it all back together for their client. This is not a designer this is a Digital Collage artist. Your duty as a designer is to present the creative concept. I understand that the client may shoot it down or some jackass managerial type person may not feel ya… but part of being a designer is seeing how the website fits into the big picture in a smart way. If you find yourself recycling too much, maybe you need to sit down with a notebook and do some drawing… away from the internet. It will help.

Stop worrying about trends & think about making good design
In conclusion there is a lot of shit being overused on the web, and there is definitely an overarching lack of originality and concept. As Dan said “Good design can exist irrespective of trends”. What is “good design”? It is when the designer has a clear, researched, creative, and appropriate answer for the “why” about every part of the web-site. Those diagonal lines may not be “just a default” if there is a thought-out reason for using them. If that reason supports a kick-ass concept, then that is “awesome design”.


  1. — January 6, 2008

  2. — January 6, 2008

  3. Dan

    — January 6, 2008

  4. — January 6, 2008

  5. Samantha

    — January 12, 2008