Interview with Curt Cloninger on Web Design - WebReference Update - 010927
((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) September 27, 2001
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This week we interview Curt Cloninger author of "Fresh Styles for Web Designers" which we reviewed last time. Curt talks about the leading designers he profiles, the dual nature of the Net, immersive environments, and what he's working on now.
New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:
1. INTERVIEW: Curt Cloninger on Web Design 2. OTHER VOICES: * Measuring User Experience * Expert One-on-One: Oracle - Part 2 3. NET NEWS: * Proposed crypto limits draw broad criticism * Philip Zimmermann and 'Guilt' Over PGP * Web publications place ads first
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. INTERVIEW: Curt Cloninger on Web Design
We interview Curt Cloninger, author of "Fresh Styles for Web Designers" which we reviewed last Thursday. Curt's book documents top underground Web designers in an attempt to shake up the corporate world of cookie cutter Web sites.
>WR: Who are you and what do you do?
>CC: I'm Curt Cloninger, a 32-year old guy living in Mobile, Alabama. I design Web sites; I write; and I make Net art. I do other things too, but they're not necessarily pertinent in this context.
>WR: In your book you are like a digital art historian. What are you trying to do with this book?
>CC: In the "Fresh Styles" book I was mainly trying to be an apologist for creative Web design. So in order to do that, I had to explain how and why certain styles were commercially appropriate. And in order to do that, I had to dissect and analyze the styles.
When I first got into the underground Web design community, I was blown away and overwhelmed at the diversity and innovation. Then I started noticing similarities and patterns. So in order to learn better myself, I began classifying, dissecting, analyzing. "Fresh Styles" sort of grew out of that process.
The book can be read in a lot of different ways. I figured commercial designers would read it for the technical hacks, and creative directors would read it to get new visual ideas.
But I also hoped some people might read it just as an interesting introduction into experimental Web design for its own sake. So you likening me to a design/art historian is encouraging.
>WR: As you design sites how do you resolve the dual nature of the Internet? In other words, how do you resolve the fact that great sites are both aesthetically pleasing and functional?
>CC: Such resolution is indeed the goal. Obviously any site I build has to be functional. That's the difference between "pure art" and design. With pure art, I don't necessarily have to keep my "user" in mind. But with design, I'm actually making something for a user to "use," so it has to be functional by definition. Still, a good designer can't just leave aesthetics out of it.
Personally, I use Google instead of Altavista, mostly because of aesthetic considerations. The overall approach of Google says, "Come on. No BS. Get on in here and we'll find it for you." That vibe is not only conveyed by the functionality of the site (indeed, most search engines function pretty much the same), but by the humorous/non-threatening logo, the minimalistic layout, the lack of immediately visible extraneous options, etc. So in a very real sense, aesthetics improve a site's functionality, because the people using a site are not robots, but humans, susceptible to beauty. Their overall experience is affected (at least in part) by aesthetics.
>WR: There's a tension between the left and right brains, the engineers/programmers and designers/artists of the Web. How do you deal with that?
>CC: I deal with it by learning as much about both camps as I can. I think programmers and engineers do appreciate beauty. Get a reserved programmer talking about clean, efficient code, and suddenly he grows animated and passionate. Many coders actually appreciate the look of raw code on a page elegantly formatted/ indented/commented, apart from what the code even does. That's a bit extreme for me, but I do understand the fascination.
It's important that each side see the "art" in the work of the other side. The three guys at K10K are an excellent example of both camps working together. Toke and Michael are the front end/ concept designer guys. They are the rock stars. But they defer to and promote Per, their back end programmer guy, because they appreciate the magic he works. Here's a picture of the K10K crew at the Prix Ars Electronica festival in Austria (the programmer is in the middle). I'm probably oversimplifying, but to me this image is a visual representation of the way such partnerships are supposed to work.
I'm working on a customer service extranet right now with a sharp SQL/dynascript programmer who knows very little about DHTML. He values what I do because he knows it's necessary and he can't do it. I value what he does for the same reasons. Working with him on this project has been a pleasure. I watch my static design magically become dynamically populated. He watches his cryptic database magically become structured and elegant. It's a beautiful thing.
>WR: As the Web is constantly changing, do you plan on following up with a second edition/sequel to document the new styles that emerge? What other styles have you seen that you like?
>CC: If enough new styles emerge, I'd be game for a sequel. My favorite hip style these days is this sort of bubble sweet icon thing. Minimalistic vector drawings, bright colors, negative space, Flash interfaces, rollover audio, always ironic:
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>WR: For graphic designers, is Jakob Nielsen 99% bad?
>CC: By no means. To say so would be to stoop to Nielsen's own overgeneralizing, bombastic level. I like Jakob. He's an engaging speaker with a dry sense of humor. Apart from his incurable propensity to overgeneralize, Nielsen's main faults stem from the way in which he sees the Web. He's coming at the Web from a GUI background, so he sees the Web as a big piece of database software that needs a front end. To me, the Web is best understood as a communications medium. Yes, the Web runs on software, but so does digital video these days. Nielsen's approach to front end Web design was ideal in 1995, and many of his tenets are still applicable today. But he's not nearly as "across-the-board" right as he seems to think.
Still, any graphic designer who dismisses Nielsen in toto is probably just reacting to his dismissing them in toto.
>WR: What sites do you like? Who are you influenced by, past and present? What corporate sites do you like? (all not mentioned in the book)
>CC: In terms of sheer personal pleasure, here are some sites I'm into right now:
As far as commercial Web work, here are some design firms I'm liking these days:
As far as influences, there are a lot, mostly cross-discipline. For instance, Brian Eno is a musician/producer whose theoretical writing influences my art. Walter Anderson is a Mississippi folk artist whose modular approach to representing nature influences my design.
Some past influences: Peter Max (unapologetic psychedelia) Odilon Redon (color as epiphany) Marshall McLuhan (prophetic theory as allegory) King David (transparent passion)
Some present influences: Olivia Tremor Control (naive orchestral profundity) Radiohead (cynicism as prayer) Errol Morris (beauty in the seemingly mundane) my friends
>WR: Of all the styles you mention, I like the Mondrian Poster and HTMinimaList styles best. I'm of the fast yet elegant camp. Do you belong to any style camp(s)?
>CC: As a Net artist, I'm probably pixelated punk rock http://www.playdamage.org >. As a commercial designer, I try to stay open and let the project dictate the approach. A lot of my commercial work does wind up being more minimalistic, but that's probably due the nature of the projects I've worked on so far.
>WR: You've written for A List Apart, etc. how would you classify Zeldman's style (zeldman.com, webstandards.org, alistapart.com)? Minimalist CSS?
>CC: Yes, Sr. Zeldman is an HTMinimaList, but with fun, carnival- ride, 50s kitsch overtones.
>WR: You mention your interest in an environmental approach to design, or making an environment that people can explore, where their choices modify the nature of your environment. Tell us more about that, and EmoSoft (TM).
>CC: There is a movement among Net artists these days toward certain types of "art software." A lot has been made of the "exciting" non-linear/interactive possibilities of hypertext literature; but in the end, the reader/user of hypertext lit isn't really "writing" his own story. He's merely choosing from a set of pre-defined modules and then stringing those modules together to make a story.
Compare Myst/Riven (hypermedia narratives) to something like Quake (an immersive environment). In Myst you click from frame to frame, like in a hypercard presentation. In Quake, you're in a dynamic virtual environment created by a much more complex software engine.
So when I say immersive environment, it doesn't necessarily mean "virtual reality" or some sort of Gibsonian cyberspace a la "Neuromancer." It just means software that responds more subtly and instantaneously to user input. The designer/programmer creates certain parameters within which lots of previously undefined events become possible. Some examples of this type of "art software" may be found at:
With EmoSoft (TM), I hope to construct an interactive environment that acts like a personality test. People input how they are feeling, and the software generates an abstract audio/visual representation of their feelings in real time. It will be like a kind of psychedelic emotional feedback machine - a mood ring on steroids.
>WR: What are you working on now?
I'm about to start work on this collaborative CD-ROM with a bunch of Net art freaks - sort of a faux-commercial, stream-of- consciousness, alice-in-wonderland giveaway thing. I'm giving a talk in November on the Web as a communications medium, so I'm researching that. I'm tech editing Joe Clark's book called "Building Accessible Web Sites." http://www.joeclark.org/book/ > I'm recording my next CD of lo-fi pop tunes (slowly but surely). And last but not least, I'm designing commercial Web sites for various clients.
http://www.webreference.com/new/010920.html (book review)
# # #
Curt Cloninger is a Web designer, writer, and Net artist who continues to hold the heretical belief that beauty enhances usability. His Web site is at http://www.lab404.com > and he can be reached at email@example.com.
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. OTHER VOICES: Measuring User Experience, Expert One-on-One: Oracle - Part 2
>Measuring User Experience
Creating measurable objectives helps quantify the success of your site.
http://www.digital-web.com/features/feature_2001-9.shtml Digital Web Magazine, Sep. 2001
>Expert One-on-One: Oracle - Part 2
Tom Kyte has a simple philosophy: you can treat Oracle as a black box and just stick data into it or you can understand how it works and exploit it as a powerful computing environment. This week's installment covers Understanding Oracle Architecture, Use Bind Variables, Understanding Concurrency Control, and Multi-Versioning. From Wrox Press.
http://wdvl.internet.com/Authoring/DB/Oracle/OneonOne/oracle2-1.html WDVL.com, Sep. 27, 2001
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. NET NEWS: Proposed crypto limits draw broad criticism, Philip Zimmermann and 'Guilt' Over PGP, Web publications place ads first
>Proposed crypto limits draw broad criticism
A new call for limits on encryption technology is finding weak political support in the United States, despite a looming clandestine war against terrorism that will most likely hinge on the effectiveness of police and military intelligence. Also ZDNet reports that limiting encryption may open doors to criminals.
>Philip Zimmermann and 'Guilt' Over PGP
The inventor of PGP responds to a Washington Post story over his "guilt" on inventing Pretty Good Privacy encryption.
>Web publications place ads first
Now publishers including Salon.com and Microsoft's MSNBC.com require readers to look at a sponsor's ad for several seconds before they can see the story they came for.
http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7298323.html News.com, Sep. 25, 2001
That's it for this week, see you next time.
Andrew King Newsletter Editor, WebReference.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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