R.I.P. Web Pages and Browsers?

I have always thought that browsers were a step backwards in interaction design. Just as designers were starting to explore and understand how to speak in this interactive language, the ice age of the web hit and held everything back by about six years.

Janice’s essay “A Whole New Internet” picks up on one of my main irritations with the Internet – web browsers. When Jakob Nielsen wrote his ill-conceived rant “Frames Suck” one of his main arguments was that pages were the fundamental building blocks of the web. Now, in one sense he is right, but it’s a very myopic view of what the web could deliver.

Janice is speaking about Ajax, not a new technology, but a new way of putting existing ones together. Jesse James Garrett gives a great explanation of it, though you have probably already experienced it with Gmail or Google Maps. She quotes an important point Michael Buffington’s post “A Whole New Web”:

The entire way of thinking about how to make sites that people interact with is changing. The idea of the web page itself is nearing its useful end. With the way Ajax allows you to build nearly stateless applications that happen to be web accessible, everything changes. What it changes into is starting to become apparent, but I think we’re still trying to figure out where we’ll end up.

At last! I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Flash, though I think it can do great things, and one of the reasons has been its terrible interface/working environment. Yet it always stunned me how many web designers were willing to go through the pain of dealing with early versions of Flash to achieve even the simplest (and sometimes complex) things online. It’s a testament to the desire to break away from the page and the clunkiness of web browsers.

As the past couple of years have demonstrated, not obeying the paradigm of the page has started to deliver some real interactive content online, not just a linked set of pages. So, the question is, do we still need browsers?

WebEarth via Google Maps

Amazing images from Google Maps new satellite imaging feature posted over at James Turnball’s Google Sightseeing blog. Jason Kottke has also posted a great rundown of why Google Maps are not new, but much more engaging – it’s the user experience. (By the way Jason, it’s Multimap that does the map overlay.)

It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how great the technology, unless the user experience works, nobody uses it. Someone tell that to the software engineers (Microsoft – You have the money and the expertise… why is your UI so awful?).

I live around here by the way. Be nice when they get the detailed images in for the closer view. It would also be great if the images were live like John Walker’s Earth and Moon viewer, which is what Mark Pesce’s Webearth uses.

The Economist gets on the Hughtrain, Cluetrain and nails the coffin of advertising


Just caught the last issue of The Economist with their feature and survey on “Consumer Power”. It makes pretty interesting reading for anyone working remotely close to the marketing/branding/advertising worlds and is confirmation that big media is starting to catch up with the ideas of the Hughtrain and the death of top-down media and advertising. Only a couple of years late then. Here’s one of Paul Markillie’s (the author) points:

“For some companies this is scary stuff—the same as throwing open your customer-relations files and hoping that people have said enough nice things about you. Companies can, of course, try to control everything that is said and written about them through advertising and public relations. But nowadays a web search can turn up all sorts of skeletons in the cupboard”

For designers this poses a real challenge. How do you design a logo for a brand that has become a conversation without it seeming like you’ve stamped your mark all over it and want to own it? The answer is you don’t. You create a language instead.

That’s exactly what Tomato has been up to with their work for Sony’s Connected Identity and Japan’s TV Asahi. Connected Identity is, quite literally, interactive and ever changing thanks to data and external inputs constantly evolving the logo.

The irony is, of course, that Sony’s world is only connected if you buy into their Memory Stick system and they’re notorious for their ham-fisted control of their brand. The other identity is for a TV Station – the archetypal top-down media controller. Which brings us back to the Hughtrain.

None of this is new though – Tomato also pitched a [similar idea]((http://www.tomato.co.uk/home/branding/channel.html) to Channel Four in the UK ten years ago. We worked with them to create an interactive pitch package, but nobody really got the idea of moving away from a “logo-centric” world-view. I didn’t, nor did Channel Four who went for something else. Kudos to Tomato for being so far ahead of their time – I certainly get it now.

What is useful is the research and statistics, so now it’s possible for these gut feelings to be supported by some real numbers. It’s looking grim for top-down branding and media networks. Forrester research found that 60% of programmes watched by DVR owners are recorded and that 92% skip the ads.

Almost as scary (for brands) is the figure that TNS Media Intelligence add 400-700 new brands to their tracking system (already tracking 2.1m brands) every day. Insane. Time to read Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice”.

Creative Waves


I’m taking part in another online education project called Creative Waves – a collaboration between Icograda and the Omnium Project run by my friend and colleague Rick Bennett.

It’s the first in a series of free online projects for students studying, or interested in, graphic design, photomedia and visual communication.

Amazingly it will be host to:

  • 126 participants
  • 80 students

  • 42 institutions

  • 26 teachers/mentors

  • 31 countries

  • 20 VIP guests

All of whom are collaborating and working online.

It’s been running for about three weeks now and looks to be pretty exciting. Go check it out and watch for future ones.