BOOK REVIEW: DATA DEBASED

By Published on .

Here are three contradictions, courtesy of the editors of Mediamatic, a smart technology and media zine from Amsterdam. Their 200-page book, Website Graphics, is printed on high-quality glossy paper, but its illustrations are low-res images plucked off the World Wide Web. The book freezes and summarizes in an unalterable, time-tested medium what is surely the most liquid, most sprawling and just brand spanking newest information source around. It dishes up hundreds of pretty Web pages in its inherently linear format, while extolling the virtues of an online environment where you jump around at random, never quite knowing if clicking on the next link will take you to from A to B, or from A to, well, any other place.

So maybe this should have been a CD-ROM-or better yet, a Web site? Yeah, but then it wouldn't have looked so cool on your coffee table.

I'm serious, though: What do you get when you strip Website Graphics' introductory chapters and the mini-reviews accompanying the pictures? Essentially a set of 40 URLs that would take mere minutes to type into your browser's bookmark file. There, I've just saved you 55 bucks.

Don't think the book is without merit. Most of the writing is entertaining and provocative (though way too much text is expended on explaining what your options are when you visit each site, something best experienced, not read). I couldn't suppress a cheer upon finding this nugget of wisdom by co-author Willem Velthoven, buried in one of the (count 'em) four prefaces: "Many interactive programmes and Web sites offer their users little more choice than you, as the user of this book, have at this moment. Their makers only ask the users the most obvious questions: 'Do you wish to return to the home page?' 'Would you like to order this product?' . . . Such environments are not really interactive, they are only navigable."

In another introductory piece, Vivid Studios' CD Nathan Shedroff gives his recipe for a successful site, refreshingly starting his list of ingredients with content and navigation, not great looks. But this is not a how-to book; if you want the step-by-step geek approach, check out Lynda Weinman's four-volume oeuvre on the topic, Designing/Preparing/Coloring/Deconstructing Web Graphics. The Dutch effort, by comparison, is an unabashed celebration of the best sites, from the countercultural to the corporate.

Of course, what's "best" is an almost completely arbitrary choice here. By some counts, there are 60 million pages on the Web today. Ask a hundred savvy surfers from the design trade to identify the top five sites and they'll come up with wildly varying lists, between which there'll likely be no overlap.

The choice of just 40 sites in Website Graphics is understandably skewed in favor of great eye candy. Functionality takes a back seat to aesthetics. Not surprisingly, it's the corporate sites, from Bloomingdale's to Samsung electronics, that strike the best balance.

Website Graphics is meant to inspire with stunning visuals, and it does so admirably once you get over the constraints of the format. Shedroff opines in his introductory text: "There are many sites-even from respected companies-which look so amateurish that you wonder whether the CEO's kids designed them." Too true. Maybe the CEOs could present their offspring with this tome and tell the brats to give the corporate Web design another try. With any luck, the result

In this article:
Most Popular