We are constantly told to reflect on the changing nature of the web; as a web content creator I feel I should be updating my view of what makes a ‘good website’ about, say, . . . . hmmmm, every month. In reality, it's rare that I get a chance to do this, but I've had a recent excuse to do so and would like to share the results with you.
I was lucky enough to get hold of a transcript of a talk by Lauren Parker (curator of contemporary programmes at the V&A). Coupling this with thoughts raised by the recent D&AD awards and Alexa Web Search's list of most visited websites, here is my idea of seven websites to make you think.
1) Myspace seems a good place to start. In the vanguard of ‘Web 2.0', it's a website that has massive awareness with a core demographic and a fanatical fanbase - but also many critics for its often lurid design and lack of accessibility.
The thing to really make you think is: What if all of the web was like this? Surely, however, it won't ever be, AS the ConStanT jumping between page styles is just toO Bruising. Myspace is the best possible raison d'etre for web developers, and (like most innovators) myspace will find the market tough over the next few years.
2) On the subject of huge customer loyalty (which myspace certainly has) it's worth mentioning ‘avatar’ websites - by which I mean gaming sites where players adopt online characters which interact in an online world. World of Warcraft is the most popular and an interesting concept: It immerses users in a virtual world and reminds me of the early predictions (like William Gibson and ‘The Lawnmower Man') of how the web would turn out.
3) I won't dwell on the networking side of the web, but will now look at a contrasting emerging trend: online magazines. It's worth having a look at thisisamagazine.com. Although the page style is almost as ‘in your face’ as in myspace, this is a feature of deliberate design and there is at least a constancy of function and design through the website.
Magazine type sites (see also F magazine) are an emerging trend due to the penetration of broadband and the increasing sophistication of Macromedia Flash (which is making great strides in accessibility). They are challenging the notion that quality, thought provoking content and great design are only the realm of the printed press. In my opinion the sites I've seen don't quite do it. They still feel cramped and clunky in comparison to an actual magazine.
4) Despite the confines of the computer screen some websites are taking an innovative approach to use of space. Leo Burnett Canada recently won a D&AD design award ("the black pencil") for their website. Once immersed in this insteractive space, perceptions of how a website works (and should work) are altered: the pointer is now a pencil, the site reveals itself by zooming in and around giant cursive letters playfully, rather than through conventional navigation. It's an unfettered and delightful vision.
5) Sites such as Leo Burnett are made possible through Macromedia's Flash technology, yet there are enough clunky flash sites out there to convince that this it should be used sparingly. The Design Museum website is a confusing mishmash of HTML and Flash. Users are expected to express which rendering they prefer when first entering the site, but the options bear little relation to the journey that follows. If even this venerable institution can get it so wrong, perhaps itÕs safer and better with HTML , XML and php (at least for the moment).
6) Speaking of simplicity, a visit to craigslist.org is a real step back in time. It's the web as first perceived by geeky scientists, a graphics-free information exchange portal.
7) I'd like to end with my personal favourite website: The Arts Council website. Wholly accessible, packed full of useful information and unassuming with its branding. It would be a mistake to think this website is simply offering information. It's actually selling an idea and a brand throughout, but doing it a respectfully low level. I for one would love to see an Amazon or an eBay realised in this style.
This article is by Rishi Coupland. Please leave any comments on www.humblemasterpiece.com
Rishi Coupland develops content for websites in the UK. Read more at http://www.humblemasterpiece.com