The question of web content, design, and art

2021-06-14 @Arts

Within a web site I tend to converge straight on the content, which normally comprises text: sometimes images or videos.

The question of design tends to evade my conscious thought, or at least has for a severely long time. I hardly experience the design anyway, by the nature of viewing most of the web in a text-based, JavaScript/CSS-oblivious browser.

In fact, with proper web-site abstractions in place, you can also acquire the content and avoid the placeholder altogether.

Examples of this include

Abstractions are a thing of design beauty and elegance. The main instigator for why I heavily appeal to them (or to other filtering methods), is because most of the web is incredibly noisy. I won’t say ‘has become’, since it had already attained this state a decade or two ago prior.

Some of the web respects the ‘quiet’/minimalist paradigm, as this site aims. However, such exceptions are rare, or, alternatively, they don’t easily reach our attention - precisely because they avoid unnecessary glamour, ads, baiting tactics, or the myriads of hooks to induce the visitor to subscribe and follow (beyond the simple measure of producing valuable content).

But as far as the web site design in and of itself: can it be considered a specimen of art? - And compel us to admire it as such, irrespective of the content, even if that content happens to represent artwork (ie a gallery)?

First, I cannot appreciate web design without considering utility. The web serves a particular purpose after all.

Having said that, plenty of other art (that at least many of us consider such) presupposes utility in mind. It suffices to mention architecture and industrial design.

Some might even extend the consideration to mechanical engineering: though I’ve never derived artistic value in combustion equipment, furnaces or motors, I can conceive the possibility.

But buildings, furniture, cooking utensils, armory, steel weaponry, or even electronic equipment, certainly qualify, even if not all designers choose to emphasize the artistic.

For similar reasoning, web design is undoubtedly a type of art. (I’ll consider it a species of industrial design.)

It’s art all right, but is any of it good art? Here, regretfully the territory loses all air of objectivity, but I’ll supply personal perspective.

For it to be considered good, it needs to endure a respectable time-frame, not merely elicit a momentary impression. And yes, both Architecture and Industrial Design offer this potential:

A ‘Howard Roark’ type of a sky scraper still inspires artistic admiration within me when I stroll along a metropolitan downtown. Likewise, so does many an ancient Roman/Hellenistic structure: although I haven’t visited Greece or Italy, the design remnants permeate all across the globe.

The same applies to Gothic and Baroque schools: some combination of art and utility appertains to each case.

On a smaller scale, I derive severe amount art in a basic tea cup: utility integral in that assessment. The same applies to plates and silverware, though perhaps to a less obsessive extent.

Some art, utility fully considered, is particularly designed for non-invasiveness. Take one of the myriads of Brian Eno ambiental compositions. The music is meant to stimulate, to supplement, and yet disappear into the recesses. Yet I never fail to regard the artistic properties.

Having drilled the point enough, there isn’t anything in Web Design I encounter nowadays that stimulates the artistic. WordPress, HTML 5.0, all these factory produced sites of flash and noise have sterilized the creative process.

Meanwhile, specimens of the older web, though far more individualistic, haven’t survived the time duration.

There was a time when a minimalist, all-white, pure-text, non-invasiveness conscious design, actually induced artistic appreciation. Alternatively, I recall a momentary spark upon glancing at some glamorous MySpace profiles. In the pre-web mid 90s, I even felt the same of certain Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs).

None of it, however, survived time. Today, though I still (much) appreciate the ‘quiet web’, I see it as having simply reduced to a commodity, albeit one of a tiny market share. Otherwise, any web glamour screams noise.

Although plenty of artistic architecture and industrial design had also commodified, there my heart still reserves a spot for artistic revel. Yet the web trends have obliterated (or severely tamed) it.

But let that not discourage web designers. I still recognize potential.

Questions, comments? Connect.