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The Dao of Web Design

We are in the midst of a pretty big change in terms of technology on the web. The emergence of HTML5, CSS3 and the decline of Flash has pushed everyone in a new direction very quickly. Because of that, I reread an old article by John Allsopp called "A Dao of Web Design". Eleven years later, I'm amazed at the relevancy of the article. Quite a bit has changed since it was written in 2000 but quite a bit still remains the same.

The article focuses on how the new (at the time) medium of the web is borrowing practices from its print forbearers. It compares how TV grew out of radio. TV eventually learned to stand on its own but not without its missteps. Eleven years after the article was written, it looks like we still have not fully outgrown the "limitation of the printed page".

Recently, I have put a lot of emphasis on responsive design within our development team but this article reminded me of how far we still have to go. Our sites adapt fairly well in different mediums but they still don't allow users to change font sizes, they don't scale as well as they should and they have trouble adapting to odd proportions like landscape on an iPhone. In short, we are still trying to "control" the experience as we see it instead of allowing the user to experience the site as they prefer to see it.

Even in terms of process, we still sometimes find ourselves falling back on the previous medium. Developers can be seen as "implementers" as opposed to true creative partners. At the same time, many developers have failed to accept their new role as creative. As we work through this process, I often think of Bill Bernbach, the "B" in DDB. He was credited at being the first to pair art directors and copywriters into creative teams. I often wonder how painful that transitions must have been. I can see copywriters saying "The words are the idea. Designers don't write. Why do I need a designer to comment on my idea?"

These days, we all embrace the power of the art director/copywriter relationship. For digital work, we are transitioning from a two-person (art director/copywriter) to a three-person (art director/copywriter/developer) creative team and the transition is not without bumps. But, at least at Rodgers/Townsend, we are learning a lot, growing as a team and creating some fantastic things. I'm honored to work with the designers, developers and copywriters here. Every day, I learn from their experience. I'm also excited about the possibilities ahead of us. To quote the article:

"Now is the time for the medium of the web to outgrow its origins in the printed page. Not to abandon so much wisdom and experience, but to also chart its own course."

If you get a chance, give it a read at http://www.alistapart.com/articles/dao/