Typography for the Web of Information

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Graphics, Images, and Art on the Web

Web Design has had a few 'movements'. There was the classic, pre-images and telnet era, the frames and javascript era, and now we have the Flash era, where television-style slickness is a reality for many commercial sites.  Web Design has always pushed the boundaries of HTML: in fact, many designers have abandoned HTML for anything more than the vehicle for more sophisticated software. Many commercial Web Designers have pushed the envelope in bringing high-quality imagery to the Web; the question remains as to their efficacy.

Commercial Artwork on the Web often represents a very cutting-edge.  The use of animation has enabled  Web Design to move into the realm of 'multimedia', also comprising of video and music.  The CD ROM influences on Web design can be seen in the indecipherable nature of many user interfaces. This style has also led to some widely publicized failures.  The Dot-Bust era, and the spectacular, x-million dollar flameout of the multimedia-heavy Boo .com, have lead to a reformulation of what makes good Web.

Corporate Web design has taken a very pragmatic role in recent years.  Content and presentation are carefully tailored to match business, and rather than be a showcase for Web Design itself, the Corporate Web site has solidified as a cornerstone for business marketing and communications.  Web Designers are careful to pair technologies with appropriate venues. By not taking an 'all-or-nothing' approach, the savvy designer allows content and audience to determine technologies, rather than vice versa. In order to maximize visitors, a news site may adopt a decidedly 'low-if' design, while a site devoted video gaming, knowing its readers possess the latest hardware, might adopt a much more complex design.

This knowledge was not gained without cost. Web standards and accessibility issues are still ignored by many practicing designers.   The concept of 'barriers to entry' is one which is both pervasive among and derided.  Upgrading a browser, or installing a plug-in, or otherwise forming prerequisites to enter a site; These are barriers, exclusionary devices.

Removing those barriers is neither technically difficult nor excessively time-consuming. Graceful Degradation should describe the effect on the design as the Web document is displayed on older browsers and text browsers.  Despite the ease of implementing accessibility features, this quote attributed to Web Designer David Speigel speaks volumes:

>  Dear Lynx User,
>    Thank you for coming to my site. Perhaps you've heard good things about
>    it. I hope so. I occasionally get mail from Lynx users who say my site
>    isn't very "Lynx-friendly." That's because my world is visual. I don't
>    have much here for you, really, since all my tips and techniques have to
>    do with using images to get what I want. You can get the most out of my
>    site with a visual browser. If you choose to come here with Lynx, I can
>    only hope you'll visit a few of my less-visual sections.
>    Please visit my [1]diet section to learn about vegetarianism, or you may
>    want to read my new essay, [2]The Balkanization of the Web. Or look at my
>    [3]diary. That's about all there is for you here, really. Please don't
>    send me mail about this page. If you want to see the rest of my site, come
>    back to this URL with a visual browser. Good luck!

In this case, there is no 'best intentions' route. The author foregoes it. This attitude was repeated to me by a Graphic Designer recently: "If they don't' have DSL and Flash we don't care about them."

Thankfully, this attitude has diminished and trends in commercial Web Design reflect a more user-friendly focus. Clean lines, white space and legibility are en vogue, as Multimedia serves to accentuate, but never overpower, the written content of the site.  Music, animated introductory sequences, and excessive visuals are out of favor for corporate and professional use.

The server-side has become hot in recent years.  Server-side, or 'backend' web programming has broached the IT mainstream and is recognized as a cheap, rapid method for deploying software applications.  This has had a profound effect on Designers, as the complexity of modern web applications means web sites are often produced by teams. Server-driven web sites, sometimes called 'dynamic' sites, may be uneditable by non-programmers.  In large organizations, 'Static' sites, produced by a person writing HTML, have been replaced by programs which allow nontechnical users, with no HTML knowledge, to update, edit, and manage their web sites.  This fundamental shift means that production work is done by IT staff, not Designers.

This means the Web Designer's focus has adapted, learning new skills so as to better interact in new production situations.   Any team producing a web application can benefit greatly from the inclusion of a designer, armed with usability and accessibility skills, as well as solid HTML, Javascript, and CSS knowledge.  Senior Web Designers have embraced a leaner, more browser and user friendly aesthetic.  Dramatic backgrounds and thick imagery have been subdued and juxtaposed against well-formed HTML.

Web Designers also must attend to situations beyond branding and marketing, and apply smart design to business forms, search engines, and other data-rich situations. Here, usability and accessibility are paramount due to high level of functionality involved.

Interestingly, modern web design seems to be returning to it's humble, earth-bound beginnings.  The Web Page is starting to look like a page again.  The elite of Web Design mix creative zeal with deep knowledge of the technical underpinnings.