An Interview on Web Trends from Fadtastic

I recently had the pleasure to be interviewed by Fadtastic about my thoughts on web design and its trends. I actually found the interview process to be quite educational as it really forced me to sit down and think about certain issues in order to come to a conclusion of what my opinion really is. Since not all my answers were posted, I thought I would post my entire interview.

Once again, I would really like to thank the folks at Fadtastic for the great opportunity. On a side note, I will begin contributing to Fadtastic with articles every now and then – I am looking forward to writing in a new arena.

1. The Web2.0 design style is good for web design. Agree?

If we are speaking of the generalized visual elements we associate with many Web2.0 sites (drop shadows, gradients, big type, etc.), then I cannot agree that it is good for web design. I disagree, not so much for the specific styles that are being used, but how visual elements seem to have taken a precedence over concept and communication. I would say the specific style in question is neither good nor bad. Rather, the fact that there seems to be so little deviation from that style for so many designs is what could be considered problematic.

In terms of user experience and interaction design – Web2.0 has a tremendous amount of potential for being “good” for web design. There are so many things that were all but impossible to do on the web a year ago, such as basic AJAX functionality, that are now a snap. While more options are not always better, the ever evolving web technologies do give designers more options for creativity.

2. Do trends have a negative effect on website designs in a way which forms stereotypes? i.e. A technology site must look glossy/A rock band’s site must look grungy etc.

How many times is the word “stereotypical” used in a positive light? The fact that it is even brought up as a possibility should be disturbing for designers. A concept should go beyond simply being a visual style. Grunge and glossy in and of itself mean nothing. Is there anything inherently reflective about quantum physics or stem cells? The association of grunge with rock nowadays is even more confusing to me.

I feel those stereotypes do, in fact, exist and influence some designers that may limit the initial creative process of a design (I am including myself as well).

3. Do you agree that much graphical effort is placed into the exterior of a site design but not into the content itself?

I would argue that the exterior (layout, colors, imagery, etc.) of the site has (or should have) a lot of impact on the content – and vice versa. I think the skinning process has been overly relied upon in some respects. All elements of a site’s design should work as a cohesive whole. Information architecture is design. User experience is design. Copy-writing should even be considered part of the design. To think of design in only a visual manner is limiting yourself, the project and the creative process. No matter how engaging the visual elements are of the site, if the content is not presented in a useful, accessible and attractive manner, the design failed.

I think of web design in part as an eclectic mix of industrial design and graphic design. Like industrial designers, we are creating a product that needs to perform a function while being easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. Like graphic designers, we are responsible for visually communicating a concept or idea. Both are equally important to the success of the end product.

4. If you had a big red button that could eliminate one web design trend, which trend would you destroy and why?

It is not one trend in particular that I would target, but rather the mindset that leans towards any visual execution without critical or conceptual thought. The lack of thought unsurprisingly results in thoughtless design. That did not really answer your question though because it is not a trend.

If I had to pick an actual trend, I would destroy trying to re-introduce old trends that were just as ugly twenty years ago. If I see another t-shirt with Cooper Black I think I am going to lose it.

5. Trends play an important role in web design. Agree?

Most definitely. A strong trend can turn the design community 180 degrees in the blink of an eye. Staying current is definitely important and I think we all need to be aware of current trends. However, I feel following trends should be for the purpose of growth and education, not emulation.

The problem is that in reality, trends seem to be the perpetuation of a successful design’s execution. What is missing is the process that brought about the original design to begin with. The nature of the web helps propagate trends at what seems to be an exponential rate. Perhaps that is why the impact of a trend on the web has the potential to be so much more dramatic than that of print.

6. Showcases often encourage the momentum of particular trends. Is this good for design?

I think it is good to see what other people are doing. It really forces you to look at your own work and consider how you could improve upon it. I think that is the fundamental problem – people look at other work and think “How can I do that?” rather than, “What is this person doing well and how does that relate to my work?”

I feel people of any vocation can get stuck in a rut if they continually look to their own peers for inspiration. If you are only approaching a project from the perspective of just a web designer, you are going to have a very narrow view.

7. Apart from showcases, where do you get inspiration?

I derive inspiration from people outside my direct discipline. I like to talk information architects, industrial designers, pure coders, print designers, copywriters, photographers, victorian novel buffs, etc. Pretty much anyone not in my particular niche. I try to surround myself with work (music, art, writings, etc.) from creative artists of all genres. I feel I gain so much from that on a subconscious level. In addition, I try to branch out and experience new things. Those adventures always seem to give me a new outlook and/or new way of approaching projects. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I write about my thoughts and opinions on design.

The more I discuss, listen, experience and write, the more I am convinced we need to realize how wide open and all-encompassing our vocation is (or could be).

8. Would you agree that web colour schemes (or anything else for that matter) are influenced from other markets?

Yes, I agree that markets are connected. Do we even need to go into how Apple has taken over the world? There obviously is a lot of crossover of traditional design and new media design (web, interactive, etc) nowadays. Therefore, the cross-pollination is increasing and will most likely continue to increase. Personally, I would like to see more print designers chatting with web designers (and vice versa).

9. What’s been your favourite web trend over the years?

It is not so much a design trend, but the blogging boon has had a dramatic effect on many parts of society, including design. The amount of discourse on design, web design in particular, is simply amazing. Honestly, when has open discussion and increased debate left a negative impact? My hope is that this turns out not to be a trend, but rather the status quo.

10. Standards compliancy and accessibility: Trend or here to stay? Why?

Not only is it here to stay, it is going to become harder and harder to design websites without adhering to standards, at least at some level.

The fundamental similarity web design has with graphic design is communication. The web itself is a communicational tool. If we are not making sites that users can access through various methods AND function within this communicational framework, we are failing. Communication is not just words on paper or voices over the airwaves anymore.

What is funny is that many folks begin to think I am a front-end developer because of my insistence on accessibility. A good industrial designer is not going to make something that only 10 percent of the population can use just because it looks nice. Additionally, a traditional print designer is not going to design a book where legibility becomes a communicational impediment. We, as web designers, need to take function, communication and form into account in an equal manner.

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