Taking It Easy on Granny's PC

Technical Complexity Is Driving a Return to Simplicity

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Chad Currie Chad Currie
Web design has experienced a sort of arms race in recent years. As agencies and brands vie to demonstrate their digital prowess, websites have become showier. You know the kind. Audaciously long pre-loaders and processor-punishing animations are now the cost of entry into the interactive elite. Sometimes the pomp is warranted and other times it's just showing off. The quality of the experience is the test. I suspect that much of the time the audience doesn't care as much as the agency does.

Full disclosure: I have been guilty of this too. For the sake of my portfolio and the glory of my clients, I have put Grandma's PC to the test. And I would do it again. It was called for at the time and if I hadn't done it, the competition would have. The point is, I never had much choice. That's the nature of an arms race. The most courageous thing you can do is to do less. But I'm encouraged by a few brave shops that are saying no to "because we can" aesthetics -- and I hope it takes.

Let's pause to remember the web of eight years ago. Browser standards were a joke then. We had no control over the user experience and common denominators were depressingly low. So we soon learned to wrap everything in Flash. We had our control again and in the process, learned that there were very few limits to what we could do. And like a client asking for "more ink" on their dear print buys, our interactive bosses wanted to see more animation, more shininess, more stuff.

As a design trend watcher, I wondered how we could continue to top ourselves -- or why we would need to. But while this was going on, browsers quietly got their act together. The baseline technology of the web is now more complex, supporting richer experiences without the fuss. So here's the dilemma. If the limitations are off, how do we know we've done enough?

Recently, I have seen the answer from some of the very shops that propagated the madness to begin with. For example, check out the new websites for The Barbarian Group or Fi (formerly Fantasy Interactive). Here are two shops known informally as "Flash" shops in our business eschewing Flash for the most part, designing their sites in (gasp) HTML. They are not breathtaking, but they are profound in their restraint. They are simple, clear and designed with a purpose. And they use some very clever technology to quietly deliver a rich experience where it matters. It's a brave first move. In making it, I hope shops like this can get the message out: It's okay to lay down our arms, do a little less and get back to solving good design problems.

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Chad Currie is VP-group creative director at T3 where he advises interactive creative direction for clients including Marriott, JCPenney, JPMorgan Chase and UPS.
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