Creating Inspired Design

Notes from Andy Clarke’s talk at Web Directions South 2006.

Inspirational session to get us all to think a bit differently about what we do for a living. We’re all involved in a creative medium no matter what we do: coding, visuals, whathaveyou.

“Art is design without compromise.” -Jeff Veen

Limitations and restrictions for us: environment; the inflexibility of the 2D screen; materials, the limitations of markup and CSS; medium; poorer CSS support. But the biggest limitations are those we impose on ourselves. We need to unlearn what we have learned from past experience. The web’s only 10 years old! We need to think more about letting go of what we’ve done in the past.

Without knowledge sharing, we wouldn’t be doing what we do now.

“Absolute positioning is the new Ajax.”

There’s an enormous selection of great stuff going on. There’s a huge amount of talent on the web doing vastly different things all with the same technology. It’s no longer about the technology or the markup or the CSS. It’s about meaning. We should never forget that it’s the visual design evoke emotions have help our audiences understand what we mean. How do we use design to convey the deeper message? Through the use of imagery, typography, layout. We need to be refocusing back on design, not being obsessed with technologies.

We’ve reached a level of maturity with web standards and CSS. Now, we’re just starting to know what to do with it. We shouldn’t stop designing because we’d had some successes. The job is far from done.

No matter what the challenges are we face (technological or psychological), technology isn’t an end to itself. We need to make things that people love to use, to bring into their lifestyle. It’s about the love and about getting people to feel passionate about something. When we buy an iPod, we’re buying the dream.

The web is not a power drill. Not much I can do with my power drill except drill holes. It’s a creative, artistic medium. People come on the web to find out about things.

Don’t forget the stuff that regular people go to. It’s not just about our own small community. People going to sites for a movie isn’t like going to a site to buy the DVD. Usability and efficiency isn’t always the point. There are other things going on outside of what we consider our core community.

How can we bring this stuff from outside into what we do?

At the end of the day, the whole development process should be a fluid one. Understand what your teammates are thinking and doing. Break down the barriers between design and programming.

When you are not experimenting for clients, you can do it for yourself. I keep a scrapbook for inspiration. Finding stuff is great–you’ll never know when you are going to use it. We can get ideas from around and bring them into our work. Yes, the web isn’t print, but there’s a ton of stuff we can find just from opening up magazines and ripping stuff out. Look for the semantic meanings behind the things we see.

We should bring the users’ conventions into the web, not our conventions onto them. Look at things in a different way. Does every ecommerce site have to look like Amazon?

We can’t constantly look inwards or the on the web for inspiration. We need to look to the world. If you look up in the city, you get all this hidden detail.

We need to have an appreciation of what the guy across the room is doing. In design, there’s hundreds of years of experience and inheritance that we’ve nearly thrown out on the web. Our terminology is different. We’re concerned with boxes on the web. And yet there’s this similarity: the grid. We need to know what’s gone on before for inspiration and to know the rules–perhaps so we can break them. We have have some exciting visuals all based on the same structure.

It’s not the technology that’s limiting us anymore, it’s our imagination. We need to not only look at what we normally see, but things that are outside of our experience. From different parts of the world and different areas.

The next time you are out walking, just find something that inspires you and try to bring that back in to the work you are doing that day. Out there is this massive amount of opportunity–the world is a collage and so is the web. It’s knowing how to bring all these things together that makes web design a fine art.

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