The web itself is all about design, in a sense, but what professional appeal does the Internet hold for designers? The fact is, the web can be a veritable candy store for the imagination as well as the peepers; and in many cases, the wrapping is just as engaging as the content.
"If you read the annuals, you'd think the only great sites are about Honda," says A List Apart creative director and Creativity web columnist Jeffrey Zeldman. "This is laughably far from the case, but only those in the know realize it." Deep within the woodwork of the web lurk just those sort of knowledgeable folk. They congregate to swap new ideas, discuss timely design issues and, in general, do better work. One place that enables them to enhance their work skills while building community ties is the online home of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (aiga.org). Besides serving as a general information source for designers and educators, this handsome site provides highlights of the debate over whether "To Spec or not to spec," a gallery of selections from a recent design competition, and even information regarding the AIGA's national ballot design initiative.
According to Andrea Moed, the site's editor, the AIGA aims to "explicate the design process and the designer's point of view and advocate for the value of design." The organization's two newest publications have also hit the web. The AIGA's print and online publication, Gain, tackles "experience design," a new design form affiliated with the New Economy, while Loop takes the academic route in its focus on interactive design education.
Also committed to raising standards throughout the vast world of design, the Graphic Artists Guild is a national union of creative professionals, from surface designers to illustrators. Loads of news regarding copyright issues, links to online portfolios and back issues of Guild News are all available on the organization's site at gag.org. Another online comrade of designers is The World Wide Web Artists' Consortium site (wwwac.org). Home to the WWWAC discussion list (pronounced `whack'), it allows creators to exchange job information, techniques and the occasional steam-releasing rant.
Of course, achieving business success requires dedication and connections. There's no more fundamental connection than that supplied on the DesignScout site (designscout.com), billed as the first global search engine for the design industry, in which clients can enter a host of parameters in their search for the ideal design firm. Which is to say this is not a hit-or-miss Yahoo-style grope in the cyberdarkness. "We have a very personal approach to the business," says managing director Allison Cheston. "It's a cozy relationship as opposed to a faceless internet company." The database search allows potential clients of DesignScout's extensive design membership to track down companies by, among other variables, location, staff size, services offered and specific brand names with which the firms have had prior working experience. Cheston, who co-founded DesignScout in 1999 with partner Stephan Knobs, says the site is averaging a very respectable 120,000 hits a month, and growing.
Also closely affiliated with the advertising world, BrandEra (brandera.com) provides creative talent, from designers to photographers, with a means to touch base with marketers through its Blackbook.com and Portfolios.com directories. The awkwardly named Coroflot.com, however, maintains an exclusive allegiance to design pros, listing international job postings and providing free portfolio pages that are categorized under such disciplines as interior design and exhibit design.
Ironic though it may seem, sometimes garnering work is the easy part. Conjuring innovative ideas, on the other hand, requires inspiration and constant growth. For many designers, projects developed outside of the work arena are what keep the creative juices flowing. Just ask Kaliber10,000's Michael Schmidt. He and his partner were working as web designers for large firms when they met in Denmark. "We didn't really have any place to go where we could just do whatever we wanted, where we could let our creativity loose," laments Schmidt. Now they do. Their [continued from previous page] stunning, well-organized Kaliber10K site (k10k.com) draws 8 million visitors per month, they claim, most of them looking to let loose and get inspired themselves. News is updated frequently, and each week, a new issue appears on the homepage.
International wonderlands of imagination like this one exist across the web, though finding them may be a matter of some serendipity. Take Japanese site Shift (shift.jp.org), dedicated to exposing the web's hidden talents. This veteran site (whose front page graphic is seen on page 55) is what Schmidt refers to as the "granddaddy of them all." Italy's online magazine Designboom.com features content ranging from interviews with avant-garde furniture designers to an historical look at the origins of the Playboy Bunny. Australian site design- iskinky.net asks three designers each month to comment on topics such as where to draw the line between inspiration and rip-off. On a more commercial note, handsome website and bi-monthly print magazine One (onemagazine.com), lets visitors flip through the virtual pages of Dashboards by David Holland, for example, with a convenient link for buying the book online.
Of course, this is simply a smattering of the design resources flourishing online today, as the web continues to grow even as dot-coms continue to fail. Considering his involvement in numerous design projects across the internet, webmeister Zeldman is especially aware of this fact. "The web is vast," he reasons, "and the disciplines involved are complexly interwoven. The medium is new and constantly expanding. Designers must expand with it."