River Kingdom - Blog

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My philosophy to web design

August/September, 2022

Do I have one? Nothing concrete enough to write some giant manifesto.

I think of web "design" as having three different aspects:

I like old web design because of the imagination, personality, and effort that went into each website. Even the most basic of personal blogs had a feeling of purpose, because you could feel the webmaster's heart and soul in it. Even things like hobbyist websites dedicated entirely to someone's interest in trees or obscure video games weren't pointless novelties, but had a sincere purpose and place in the world because of the spirit that went into them.

Today, instead of people making websites from scratch and carefully considering each element of design and the way in which the website and each page need to be structured, nearly everything is just a cookie-cutter template.

Making it easier to build a website isn't a bad thing, but where's the sense of purpose when there's a million other things that are exactly the same? There are already a trillion recipe websites and art Tumblr blogs. In order for a website to stand out and be worth reading, it needs to have personality and character which gives it a unique sense of purpose.

Someone's home page should feel like a home. It should feel like the webmaster has given careful love and attention to each part of their website.

As for aesthetics, present-day web design is all-too-often bleak, mass-produced, and soulless. Some people have started calling present-day websites which are inspired by early, simple web design "brutalist" or "neubrutalist." If anything, present-day corporate built-for-mobile-and-the-algorithm designs with extreme minimalism and infinite-scrolling tiles are the real brutalism.

Like the brutalist style of architecture, present-day corporate design is so minimal that it has stripped out the soul and—far too often—even basic functionality for the sake of "design"! Some websites even think it's beneath them to use different shades of gray to distinguish different elements on a page...

New-ish websites inspired by early web aesthetics put the soul back in, and often restore minimalism to its correct meaning of simple without sacrificing functionality. Properly implemented, minimalism enhances usability and the simplicity adds beauty. Maybe that means I like Web 1.0 design more than the most gaudy and decadent aspects of early Web 2.0 design?

Web design over the past few decades has come with some upsides, I will admit. There have been many improvements in accessibility and improvement in our understanding of effective ways to structure the hierarchy of webpages throughout a website and structure elements on a single webpage. (Although "cutting-edge" corporate design doesn't always make use of these improvements.)

I see a lot of websites on NeoCities that look like exact copies of webpages from the '90s and early 2000s. It's cool and nostalgic to see those types of designs alive again, but the layouts are often so painful to navigate that it just seems like a gimmick that will eventually die once the novelty wears off.

A webpage with soul and personality is great. A webpage that is distracting because it has a million different blinking things, a thousand different fonts and conflicting colors, and 100s of tiny iframes with scroll bars for thousands of lines of text is not great. A webpage which is difficult to navigate because there is no organization or hierarchy of pages and everything is just strewn all over is not great.

So, to summarize my philosophy on web design:

We need to revive the purpose and SOUL that drove the old web.

We should reexamine the aesthetics of the old web and revive the parts that add personality and soul to websites—but tone down the blinky, garish insanity a bit. (And I know my main pages look ugly—I'm still learning.)

We really shouldn't try to make exact clones of layouts which were confusing and inaccessible even in the '90s.

We should try to combine the Old Web spirit of different websites (and even different webpages within a single website) having drastically different designs in order to suit different purposes, together with the improvements in accessibility and layout standards from present-day design. (In other words, pages can look different as long as there is some kind of consistent, cohesive navigation system that links them.)

That may result in a completely new design paradigm, but nothing of value is lost as long as the soul of the web remains. That has always been the most important part, and gimmicky nostalgic designs alone will not revive it!