Why is the web so terrible?

A collection of clone sites carved from a block of pure beige that serve no purpose, don’t work, and look awful?

I am struggling to comprehend why an industry of intelligent, driven, capable, creative people has managed to self organise into a hive mind that produces endless bollocks.

When I use the web I am always disappointed. Like eating at a garden centre café. If airline food companies made the web it would resemble the web we have made for ourselves.

I have never, not once, been amazed by a web site. I have never spent hours studying the design considerations. I have never been  shocked. Or surprised. I can look at any website and know how it will look on my phone, because they all do the same thing. This upsets me.

Designing for the web is hard and we’re all struggling to figure out what to do with it. We are still in our adolescence. The web has had no design movements, no visionary people who draw a stunningly beautiful line in the sand and say to everyone – “this is the new level, fail to meet it and you will be forgotten.” Flat ‘design’ is not a movement. It’s not even design, it’s a lazy aesthetic and nothing more. It doesn’t mean anything. And before you say it, neither is Google’s Material Design. That’s also lazy, they stole it from a generation of Flash developers.

The web started as a tool built by academics to share research papers that are built from pages. By default it looks like shit. The decades of improvement with our impressive tools and the hard work of millions of people have managed to coerce and hammer this thing into looking somewhat like magazines do, but not quite. It’s a slightly beige set of magazines drawn with a blunt crayon. And we celebrate our achievement at endless conferences. And on awwwwwwards.com.

Has this happened in any other creative industry? Horology? Editorial design? Rocket science? Medicine? Architecture?

No. They all improve, they do better and leave the past behind. They try new things, new materials, new methods, and new practices. Architects will design chairs, furniture makers will turn their hand to clothing. Fashion designers will create digital products. In every other aspect of the design world you’ll find a big, clumsy, messy, dangerous group of lunatics who don’t understand the word impossible. You’ll find them arguing, shouting, throwing things, and refusing to do what they are told.

And here in lies the problem.

The web, even when it attracts these deranged, absurd, and often psychotic thinkers, will chew them up and spit out either an emotionally dead blockhead, or a frustrated genius. This transition from excited and capable to emotionally dead and idle is sadly incredibly common. And it stops us looking outside of ourselves. Web designers look at, are inspired by, and replicate, the web.

So what do we do about it?

If we want to not just survive but to thrive as designers, what do we do about this industry? How can we keep our integrity? How can we create ground breaking design? What has to change?

As of today, and this will change, I think we have two major issues we must tackle. Neither should be hard, both are essential.

1. Build and maintain a high level of trust with our clients so that they are able to step back and let us work.

Every client you’ve ever worked with has been putting their career in your hands. Think about that for a second next time you get angry about design feedback they send you. It may be crazy, but they are trying. The fact they sent it means _you_ didn’t do your job well enough. Go look in a mirror at the person at fault.

A client’s website is one of the, if not _the_ largest contact point with their customers. It has the potential to grow their company or destroy it. As the designer you hold a huge responsibility and you must respect it. And you must respect the trust the client has put in you by doing everything in your power to build upon it.

The perfect relationship during the design phase is one where you have the space you need to work, and will get the feedback you need when you ask for it. This will never happen if you don’t build the relationship, and the only person who can do it is you. If you aren’t allowed direct client contact, tell your boss to shove that rule where the Sun don’t shine and call your client anyway. Rules were there to be ignored.

2. Do not invent constraints that aren’t there or could be removed with a little more effort.

The web is built upon rules. Rules are there to be ignored. You do not need to obey every UX blog that is published. You do not need to follow WCAG guidelines. You are a designer, your job is to figure out other paths to take. Never start any design with constraints in your head. If you think it’s not possible to build, you are probably wrong. Developers are fantastically smart people, get them on your side and give them a reason to care and they will solve that problem. If you begin a project with the words “but…” in your mind you will fail. Always. I know, I’ve been there. There is never a  “but…” situation with digital, if you can imagine developers can build it and users can use it. People are amazing things, have more faith in them.

Be the lunatic.

Throw shit at the walls.

Find every rule, snap it in two, and fling it over a rainbow.

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