Apr 25, 2015

One short year ago we introduced Sparkle 1.0, without having a definite answer for the critical question “is there a place on the market for this?” What have we learned one year later, is there a place?

Mainstream web design has reached the dead end that designer extraordinaire Khoi Vinh described in 2005 in The Lost Art of Art Direction, due to reasons perhaps best encapsulated by Chris Fahey’s comment:

For the last 8-10 years, many graphic designers were apparently led to be ashamed of the term, as if the term itself suggested that they had nothing to offer beyond “decorating” web sites with their archaic print-based skillsets. […] “Art Direction” was the collateral damage of this battle, and I think the visual elegance and inventiveness of web site design suffered as a result.

In 2006 Airbag Industries wrote:

Our content is all starting to look the same because of the tools used to manage it and web-two-point-dough has homogenized the Internet

In 2007, Khoi Vinh launched a small website, A Brief Message, based on the idea of art directing content, as outlined in the introductory post:

There’s also another, more formal idea at work on A Brief Message: the notion that online publications don’t necessarily need to be decorated databases. They can be art directed, too.

Each post on A Brief Message sported a unique design with bespoke illustrations, it was a beauty. It is now defunct.

Dustin Curtis had a blog built along a similar concept, with gorgeous single page designs. Also defunct.

Unfortunately for graphic designers and website art direction, the coding guys had all the momentum that came from fighting the (very important) web standards battle, the iPhone had just been released, and the need for multi device compatibility crystalized in Ethan Marcotte’s 2010 Responsive Web Design article, a very code oriented standard that didn’t leave much space for art direction.

Just like in 2005, responsive web design leaves designers wanting:

The purist in me wants a pixel perfect design in the browser and responsive gives me that at certain break points, but the in betweens are what kill me

What we’re seeing is every site looks the same. And I blame lack of tools, coupled with an obsessive mantra about how only hand coding web sites is real website building and you’re dumb if you can’t learn HTML in a week.

Technology is an enabler, except when for practical purposes it becomes really hard to use it out of its intended scope.

More specifically, hand coding a web page via HTML and CSS lets you express fully the semantics of the information within, or at least that’s the utopian vision, but why does visual expressiveness have to suffer?

This is the place where Sparkle entered the website building tool market. Today I look at the diversity of the sites featured on our home page and feel all warm and fuzzy. It has been a tremendous success.

Are all of our users’ designs masterpieces? They are not. But most are people who wouldn’t have built such a visually rich website otherwise, if at all. Let a thousand websites bloom.

One of Dustin Curtis’ brilliant

single page designs

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