Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
(I start by breaking my own introduction)
One of the hardest topics of discussion for me to participate in this term was web design (or interface design, or project design, or anything of the type). I'm sure this stems from the fact that I spend much of my life (outside dance and academia) designing web sites. Trying to discuss web design in class was like trying to hold a meaningful conversation about a senior seminar in maths with a bunch of freshman in Calculus I. That's not to say there weren't some interesting observations about web design especially â€“ there were, though not in any way that I expected.
As a web designer, the focus of my job is to produce a product. That product is a digital presence that sells my client on the internet (whether that sale be one of image, presence, brand, product, etc). When I look at web design, therefore, it's a question of functionality, aesthetic pleasure, and accessibility. And, like most developed arts, web design has a set of defined aesthetics that seem to work (why or how they work is a discussion that I may get into at some point, but not here). Some people may well argue that web design is an art form in its infancy, which I agree and support, but to argue that there are no rules or conventions is an experiment in wishful thinking. A search in Google should resolve any doubts on the matter â€“ a search for "web design" tops out at around 1.1 billion hits. Not all of these sites may be particularly relevant (or even helpful) in defining or producing conventions of web design, but with 1.1 billion hits there is at least enough material out there to define trends and have a discussion about what works and what doesn't.
It particularly surprised me, therefore, when we tackled the problems of design in class without any reference to these standards or aesthetics. I made a few futile attempts to incorporate them during our first few discussions before realizing that it didn't really make sense â€“ I've spent close to 10 years developing my knowledge of web design and the mechanics behind it, and to try and expect that amount of knowledge to be readily available to anyone else is silly (kind of a neat idea, but unachievable by any means to which I have access). So we engaged, as a class, in our discussions on interface design and project design without much reference to convention and production. That's not to say that we could have engaged with them in any other manner â€“ many of the projects we looked at defied the very idea of a conventional web site. But I want to point out that there are differences in innovating in form and content â€“ I will point out innovators of form later â€“ but the projects we looked at generally seemed to innovate broken forms.