Home' Technology Review : May June 2007 Contents 60 FEATURE STORY
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
The Web was conceived as a way for researchers and
scientists to share documents, not as a medium for
The aesthetics of Web pages, such as they were,
derived from computer screens and typewritten documents.
Early Web users no more felt the graphical limitations of
the hypertext markup language (HTML) than they had
resented having only one golf-ball font on their old IBM
Selectrics. They were so delighted with the Net that the
look was ir relevant.
First functionality, then bandwidth, and nally search
were the key characteristics of good websites. Because
people used a variety of browsers and operating systems
to explore the Web, pages had to be exible. The width of
the window, the type size, the fonts themselves---all could
vary and often did. The Web was so new and interesting,
no one cared if it was ugly.
For many publishers and designers, New Media was born
when John Gage, the Sun Microsystems evangelist, showed
o the Mosaic browser (which later became Netscape) at
the Seybold Seminar in Boston in April 1995. But some of
the designers in the room stared at the big screen with little
enthusiasm. To them, the browser was software, and that
reminded them of work, but not of their work. Their con-
trol of the details, the high resolution of the printed page,
the saturated color of photographs, the great library of type-
faces---all this was threatened by New Media.
Like singing a song or writing a story, designing a printed
page is a craft that is fundamentally unidirectional, or one-
to-many. The exibility of Web structures confounded and
then humbled many traditional designers as they started
trying to make Web pages. The whole thing had been devel-
oped to let the readers---the users, software developers con-
fusingly called them, as if they were addicts---have control.
How could that be good?
For these reasons, and others, most magazines web-
sites until very recently were dull, repurposed versions
of their print editions. Thus, a new crowd took on the
design of websites. These enthusiasts assumed that the
print crowd didn t get it, that what they saw as the "new
paradigm" would last forever. The two-way ow of infor-
mation, the Web s exibility, immediacy, and cheapness,
deeply appealed to them.
But it was not as if these early Web designers were start-
ing with a blank page. They had to work within the limita-
tions of the graphical browser, which at rst could not even
be divided into frames. The Mosaic browser itself had to
work within the clunky graphical-user-interface conven-
tions of the Windows operating system.
Enter the Information Architect
By 1995, however, a generation had grown up with the per-
sonal computer. Adapting to the quirks of another Windows
application was no big deal. A new kind of specialist, the
information architect, emerged. IAs tried to create an over-
all logic for the design of a site. But as the Web grew, the
IA guys formed a kind of priesthood, with its own myster-
ies. Some proceeded as if information architecture should
be separate from design.
By 1999, with the dot-com boom in full roar, Web devel-
opment teams had broken into mutually uncomprehending
groups: software developers, information architects, search
experts, and even usability experts.
Amid the pandemonium, a lot of people got rich, and
understandably, they got a little cocky. The "netizens" and
"digerati" dismissed the old print guys as wood-pulp fetish-
ists, deser vedly headed for oblivion.
The Web grew, and users got used to the conventions
of the Web interface. But for all its powers, the browser is
trapped in a world of pull-down menus and dialogue boxes.
This is not an easy world to move around in. Because the
Web is based on HTML, we should have guessed that users
would end up moving from link to link. Google understood
this. Search became the prefer red way to move around
because the Web had gotten so big and sites so confusing
that the easiest thing to do was to enter a keyword.
At the very instant that search seemed dominant, the
nature of the Web began to change. While it has always
The first epoch of Web design is over; from now on, Web pages
will be as attractive as print---but more interactive.
Help Me Redesign the Web
By Roger Black
Portrait by Nathaniel Welch
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