A photographer and film director who fell into CD-ROM production, then the Web, Maitenaz is proud to say most of his employees are trained in fine art, music, film or photography. With a focus on entertainment clients, such as Fine Line Cinemas and HBO, Maitenaz needs creatives who can produce a mini production online with original scores, casting and footage. "You need to have something happening on the Web," he says.
What are the ideal credentials for designing Web pages? Hard to say. Designers of all disciplines are migrating into Web design, displaying backgrounds as diverse as architecture, industrial design, typography and, yes, print. Each brings a distinct viewpoint on how to approach Web design. "I think every good graphic designer secretly longs to be an architect or product designer," says Andrew Sather, creative director at San Francisco Web agency Adjacency (www.adj.com), who studied creative writing, art history and graphic design at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Compared to one-dimensional work, "there's something more sensuous about the forms of a well-designed product," Sather says. That was part of what drew Sather into Web design. Adjacency, whose clients include Apple and Patagonia, specializes in sites that "make the products be the heroes," he says. For instance, a site for TAG Heuer watches reflects the high design and function of the watch line with a navigation bar and overall theme that draws from the product's palette of materials and finishes.
"You can think of Web sites as virtual products," he adds. When Adjacency designed the One Show-winning online Apple store (also see p.15), it treated the site as "a transactional environment that complements the role of the showroom, test drive, checkout counter and trade show."
As beautiful as Web pages may look, it's all for naught if it has neural bandwidth problems. That's what Matthew Butterick, president and chief development officer at San Francisco Web shop Atomic Vision (www.atomicvision.com), calls too much information crammed onto a page. "I think a lot of Web sites forget a computer's ability to spew information is a lot greater than a human's ability to comprehend it," Butterick says.
A typographer who dabbled extensively in letter press printing, Butterick says creating digital fonts for clients like Microsoft forced him early on to reconcile design choices with programming. Now it's apparent in Atomic's quick-downloading, clean sites for clients including the girls' entertainment site Purple Moon (www.purple-moon.com) and search engine Excite. Butterick used to know print designers who mentally saw every screen as if it was a printed page. "There was this weird sort of denial going on," he believes. That denial is even apparent in enduring Web jargon. For instance, Moki Cherry, a Swedish sculptor and textiles artist turned Web designer, finds the term HTML "pages" odd. People "still call it pages, which is funny because they don't end in one direction or another," Cherry muses. "I think of it more in terms of a light box. If I say I'm seeing something on the screen, it's a small part of something that's floating endlessly; you can scroll down, sideways, you can make it bigger or smaller. It's more like if you look through a microscope."
Last year, while working at New York Web design shop Hi-D Design, Cherry's perspective came through in a fluid, nonlinear project for People magazine online, in which surfers could find multiple endings to a story.
And as time goes on, there will be more Web designers without traditional media backgrounds. "They don't think of it in terms of different mediums," Sather says of the designers at Adjacency who fit this mold. And to be versed only in Web design isn't necessarily a good thing either.
"If all you know is what you've seen on the Web from the last few years, your viewpoint is pretty skewed," Butterick opines. In borrowing from traditional media, "the hard thing is knowing which things to bring over and which things to