This again

Webdesign is getting boring? Frankly, I disagree.

Not the youngest of articles but the same discussion happened on medium the other day. So this comes up again and again and I can very well understand the feeling.

I really get it. We used to have a lot of fun with bevels and fake shiny plastic back in the day. Oh how I enjoyed Winamp skins, noise filters and fake mercury letters. After all it was what got me hooked when I was 14 or so.

We actually aspired to create more user friendly websites for a long while, making fun of animated gifs.. now look where we ended up: the web is (well, mostly) rather user friendly and everybody and their dogs creates animated gifs. hehe. So one problem is solved, the other had some kind of pop culture revival.

Content first, no bullshit design doesn’t need to be boring. Just because Ruder and other typographers established structured and well organised grid layouts (that we all love), print hasn’t become any more boring either. The fact that we have great grid frameworks for the web takes a lot of fiddling away and we can figure out how to use this to still create individual layouts within the constraints and not sacrifice UX and accessibility along the way. It is possible to create visually pleasing editorial content on the web and not sacrifice UX. However, for the latter you need the client, the budget and the coders that don’t try to explain to you about DITA and what not. I’m sure we find a middle ground, friends. 🙂

Like with all things though, that comes with a price. You can’t expect to quote a website template for 600 bucks and be left with creative freedom. Creativity and design processes are rather inefficient by nature and there’s a good chance that the longer an idea boils, the more refining is applied, the better the result. Now if you complain about boring websites and push prices to the bare minimum and change a few lines of a themeforest template, there’s your problem. For a company, 1000$ doesn’t make a difference if they know the value of what they receive will actually improve much, as well. On a side note, I usually suggest to clients that have basically no budget at all to go for that themeforest route but at the same time making it clear to them that while this might work for starters, it scratches only the surface of what’s possible. For some it matters, for some it doesn’t.

If you think Webdesign is boring, maybe stop using premade templates completely, where you initially think you want to change certain things but then forget about it because it’s much more convenient to use what’s already there. And then there’s a deadline. And the guy liked that photo of a pasture in the hero area that ships with it. Why bother. But if you succumb to this workflow, you’re bound to be bored.

Accept that you are always designing for an audience. If this audience is supposed to find their way and information quickly, there’s only so much options. And that is a good thing for everyone! But there are times where an audience is different, where you are completely in charge of things.

This doesn’t mean that you have to get bored. Drop (or rethink) your dribbble and make a kick ass weird portfolio site that shows off the freaky, non mainstream side of you. Without the hero images and the sidebar and the sexy smiling lady with a headset..

Or make a graphically wild mobile app using Ionic and Cordova just for the heck of it.

Or anything, really.

I know, because I made the same mistake a few years ago and it took me a while to realise what has happened. If you get bored, quality drops, money becomes the main focus and all the love is gone before you know it. If you’re like me, maybe you need to look for contrast to restore balance, thus maybe even discovering new things in the process.

We design for clients, we are bound to budgets and opinions and corporate identities. But we can also design for ourselves from time to time. I did this way too rarely in the past couple of years and I have to rediscover, for example, my love for bold typographic minimalism and noisy collages.

Question design trends, be skeptic. I was never a big fan of jumping on the bandwagon. And I have a hard time connecting to the so called design community because the weight of egos is pushing too hard for my taste. There’s enough kids running after (insert latest design trend here). At least that’s how I feel about it, anyways. There’s things to consider and then there’s the funky gradient everybody uses for their icon backdrop I don’t give a fuck about.

Why the West rules – for now

Being plagued by insomnia might have its perks after all, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gotten my hands on that huge history book torrent. And this one is worth it.

History book by Ian Morris. Different perspective on history that might trigger a few “figured that out already” moments for Civilization players. 😉 Especially interesting because things are slightly starting to shift again on the globe. Time to put that in perspective.

In a way a big data approach to history minus fancy graphs, but maybe someone gets around to it. *hint hint*

Interestingly, the background of the author underlines my theory that   specialists alone don’t quite make the soup on their own and isolated views tend to be.. isolated.

Aluminium hats

While putting down my thoughts in the previous article I remembered a discussion I had with someone about Zero Point Energy and the conspiracy theory surrounding it.

That was what led me originally to stumble over the Anti Zensur Koalition, a congress held annually in Switzerland where speakers present their theories. Of course you don’t go there to discuss, you go there to have your existing opinion underlined.

They provide a platform for all the people that nobody else listens to. It is where I found a video from a guy rationalising the ZPE conspiracy while googling. Obviously you can find a speaker for every trait of the current catalogue of conspiracy theories. From the UFOs that land on pyramids, to 9/11, to the war in Syria (geopolitics offer a lot of meat) and so on. But also peculiar topics like vaccination, sex ed in school and other borderline religious topics covered underneath a pseudoscientific framework that reeks of self-dramatisation. Oh, another narcissist trait. What gives..

This network is built entirely by this guy. Also includes a riff on the new age Christian movement, a sect (sorry, “closely knit living community”) as well as an educational web TV channel for children (!!) explaining Russian geopolitics (!!!) and how Putin is a great guy (!!!!!).

I wonder where all the cash comes from. I’m obviously in the wrong business.

Thoughts on esoterica and belief

It’s not particularly hard to notice that there’s a large demographic of people that are not feeling well, physically or mentally. It’s a very, very receptive audience. After all, who would not like to feel better? The ultimative, unbeatable value proposition. Right before “making my life easier”.

Add to that the great mental pressure, stress and everything we face on a daily basis, and the target demographic just expanded to 95% of the population.

It’s really just a matter of time until someone tries to earn cash with some business case or product. Some are valid, though there’s a large amount of snake oil being sold.

A lot of companies make a shitload of money with questionable products and services that can’t withstand any scientific testing. The defensive argument that “not everything can be scientifically proven” is their last defense. Instead of helping us to understand in scientific terms why their product works and helping mankind as a whole by working together with scientists, they create a parascientific explanation that uses fragments and terms they read or heard somewhere. These arguments can be debunked in mere minutes and reduced to what they are, frauds.

Good example: John R. Brinkley. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t..

As another interlude, belief systems, religions are closely tied to narcissism. So watch out for those guys. Even in general, actually.

Being polite, tolerant and having an open mind, it is almost impossible to talk to these people and pushing for the scientific method to be applied. Or just basic skepticism.

And this is where we enter the deep realms of the human mind, willing to believe, craving for it even. And, belief is contagious. Spiritual groups, sects, organized religion.. even the dotcom hype was fundamentally built on beliefs, not rational evidence. These beliefs tend to collapse sooner or later and leave large craters. And what they promised (a belief is almost always closely tied to a promise) turns into a mountain of bullshit. But instead of learning.. off we go to believe something else.

It is only when belief is underlined by rational arguments or strictly spiritual and focused inwards that it does not create harm or trouble of some kind over the course of time. As soon as it is organized, capitalized and put on the same level as science or denounces the scientific method as a way to silence them, things go dark, quickly.

Belief can also make us do things that are essentially positive and worth striving for. But from my point of view, there is far more harm that sprung from the beliefs and manipulation thereof, than otherwise.

For example.. I just recently came across an organization that holds congressses with thousands of visitors where prominent conspiracy theorists get a platform under the protection of proclaimed free speech or censorship, because the press wouldn’t publish their stories. Those people are closely related to the world of esoterica and organized belief in the form of sects. They are sometimes the same people. They are trying to nurture some kind of parallel society. Parascience.

It is especially tempting for us to form empathy with individuals or groups who proclaim that they are being silenced or otherwise mistreated. It’s human nature. And a cause to fight for something.. for the good and the wrong reasons. It’s easy to join a fight as it gives meaning and an answer to one fundamental question about existence. Also a very prominent target group.

Humans can do one thing quite well, which is fighting for their group even if the reasons are wrong, masked in manipulated belief or fear or flat out economical and egoistic. Anyone remember the crusades, colonialism, World War One, Two, ..? There was no war that sprung from a rational, non egoistic argument, ever. All the good things belief has achieved pale in comparison.

We thought we left the Middle Ages behind us, but just proclaiming enlightenment doesn’t change the fundamental human nature on a global scale. For a brief moment in history, science was globally accepted as the harbinger of utopia. A golden age, if you will. And then it dawned on the 98% that don’t have a PhD, that even science will not be able to solve all of their problems. The belief that science can fix everything is declining and the resulting vacuum needs to be filled. Your cue, guy who sells a piece of copper that deflects energies flowing in the wrong direction or removing chalk from tap water by adding an electro magnet. And so on.

Now let me add a disclaimer: if you believe that you can gain energy from the cosmos by meditating and it makes you feel better, that is perfectly fine. It’s not the cosmos but your own mind and body and we don’t quite know how it works, but that’s dandy. You are essentially working on yourself and working out, mentally. Assuming you can get more energy by sticking a crystal on your forehead however is wrong. And it’s especially wrong that you assume you can replace working on yourself with buying a shortcut of some sort. And it’s even worse that someone is making cash from this well meant aspiration of yours.

I don’t think that people offering esoteric services or products are evil or try to knowingly rip someone off. Most of them have a genuine belief that what they do works.

And that’s exactly the problem.

 

The internet is different now

Cleaning up my digital footprint allowed me to revisit a lot of services I have used in the past and basically just forgot about in the last 7-8 years. In the process, I realised how fragmented the internet is. How much content is there, outdated, sitting on a bleak corner of the web on a service that once thrived and has been superseded by “the next cool thing”? On my travels to delete accounts (where possible, actually.. sadly not a given 🙁 ) I haven’t used for the past few years, I ended up on a number of sites where contacts, like me, just disappeared. Last.fm for example. I once practically lived on this site. Nowadays it’s a paid service as far as I can tell and most of the people once using it have moved on, years ago. I ended up not deleting my account because I spent so much time on there. Scrobbled each track I listened to for years. Brought a tear to my eye.

I also deleted my yahoo account with all Flickr content, all my tweets since 2008 (I can’t give up the handle, not yet 😉 ), instapaper and so on. All of this information was sitting there, a lifespan of a few hours, maybe days, and then it’s obsolete. It lost all relevance of the present and is too trivial to revisit. It’s aspect of digital transience and impermanence is the only thing that makes me think Snapchat has a reason to exist 😉

Every time I got that “Your account has been deleted” message, I felt a bit lighter. This is probably very subjective but all these unused accounts and galleries,  and accumulations of data are somehow present in your subconscious at some point. Especially if you practically lived and worked on the internet for the past 15 years. It’s a weird, nagging reminder of the things you actually wanted to do but simply never got around to. There’s just too much.

I wanted to read more books. Goodread.com seemed nice to help achieve that. Joined early to check it out and to be closer to my love back then who was on a different continent. But I didn’t read more. I was just feeling bad about the fact that I didn’t read what I wanted to. Doesn’t help. Wrong medicine for the symptoms.

One can extend this line of thoughts to assume that compared to 10-15 years ago, every human with a more or less active online life spends hours each week, just consuming social media. Or talking about it. Here a minute. There a minute. The latest Trump tweet. The latest craze on Facebook. A looming thought of whether what just happened is worth writing a fragment of text in an app or sharing an image. Or thinking about a witty comment. Reading spam on LinkedIn and browsing over pages of information that does, in the end, barely provide any significant value. I would go as far as to say that by logging users movements and aggregating everything, the only noticeable value is the ad revenue and behavioral data for the platform itself.

Honestly. What did we do before that? I can’t quite figure that out anymore. Was there more “downtime”? Alas, 24 hours is still not upgradeable in terms of day and night cycles, so.. people were interacting just as much, probably, but the main difference is that there were clear, physical constraints. With the world and everyone you ever knew in your pocket (and then some!),  24/7, things are quite different and I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

I certainly don’t want to whine about the “good old times”, god forbid. All of this has a use for something. The tech is super interesting. The possibilities amazing. And I just love the net. But think about this: if you want to actually read, think and digest all that information that is being thrown at you, just right after you log in to twitter or FB, so you can actually properly process it.. impossible. It has no other option than being superficial. Or polarizing. Because of the format, because of the way it’s consumed. Hors d’oeuvres of meaningful information are being served, a quick snack that is easily digestible and off we browse to the next picture of a cat doing something funny. Putting as much as possible into a small space that moves down the timeline as fast as it appeared.

I don’t know if we collectively grasped this yet. But in just a few years, the world turned into this fancy data highway everybody was talking about 20 years ago with sparking eyes. Huge leaps in technological terms and certainly also in bringing people together. But as with everything, the dosage makes the poison. Well that sounds a wee bit dramatic but you get the point. 😉

On one hand I love how the web changes quickly and grows, becomes more interactive and accessible. On the other hand, how much of what we do online is sustainable? In the sense that it creates real, deep value for our lives, and not just for the data mining industry? How much of what we do online should be permanent, even? Essentially, do we need to be connected 24/7?

Now let that sink in. Someone known for trying to be online as much as possible for the past 20 years questions this very ambition.

I remember quite clearly why I joined networks like Xing and LinkedIn. I had this idea that just by exposing myself, someone would find me and I would be able to connect in the professional environment to grow my then newly started freelance business. So I joined, added all the people I know that I could think of and joined groups and read what other people wrote. This caused me to realise that the only way to get that exposure I was looking for would mean to invest a significant effort to even get noticed. If you aren’t someone who naturally gets into a position to receive attention even in real life, it certainly will not happen in a social network online either. You have to offer something, be captivating, be a magnet. Well, I am sorry, but that is not who I am. But as it goes, you think you need to do something that is not part of your nature and that causes actually a lot more energy to get burned than what you get back. I haven’t got a single lead from networks like that but I still could live well and projects came in. Because of the quality of my work, my work ethics and my skills. Not a profile.

I don’t have social anxiety. I am just more comfortable and happy, the less I have to think about social stuff. Not a people person. It takes a while to come to terms with that. And while every superficial handbook on “success” might tell you otherwise, it’s completely OK to be like that. I only feel free when I have the opportunity to express myself without PR filters or masquerading as something that I am not. As soon as I tried to go against my nature (“but you need to go out there etc”), I usually ended up in a spot where I don’t actually felt comfortable. I can’t force myself to go into a single bar or join a dating website without feeling that this is the bane of me – same applies for networking events or other “social” events. Forcing something that just isn’t is brutally inefficient. the best things in my life happened by accident and where completely unforeseeable. And they didn’t happen because I was striving for them. I just did what I felt was right and that hardly included any kind of social networking.

To be fair, you are always exposed a little bit unless you become a hermit living off the wood’s resources. So you are bound to bump into things. Exposure is still happening, even if you don’t force it.

I think what I am trying to say is this: part of the reason why it feels right for me personally to get rid of all the social media consumption and exposure and getting rid of all the stale information is that I didn’t join this up for the right reasons to start with. It was against my nature then and it was against my nature now. So there is no point.

Blogging on the other hand (not to mix this up with serious journalism) is like walking down the street and meeting someone you haven’t seen in a while. I walk down the street not to get noticed or wait for someone to bump into me or jump at random people advertising my services or themselves.

It is part therapy, part curiosity. I can reminiscence about life and those who feel similar will feel maybe connected, others turn around. But I am not forcing myself into this position.

I guess I drifted off-topic again a bit – but one “perk” of being forced down to doing nothing lies in the ability to take a step back and look at everything with a certain distance. I can only recommend that.

Where is the famo.us engine going?

I remember 2-3 years ago when I got a link from a friend leading me to this exciting project. A JS framework that allows to render UIs at native speeds in a browser with all the bells and whistles imaginable. There was even an AngularJS integration in the works. Christmas! But I decided to wait to see where this goes before spending a significant amount of effort on it. It wasn’t quite there and betting on this horse seemed too risky.

Today I tried to find out how things developed. To my surprise, it is very difficult to get useful information and the buzz seems to be gone. There hasn’t been much going on in terms of extending the framework, no ready to use components, no proper boilerplate apps, no ecosystem worth mentioning. Is it dying?

One problem that struck me is their unfortunate branding. Try googling “famous”… it’s impossible to find something remotely relevant to the engine. It takes significant effort. Is that on purpose?

While they moved to famous.org and added a bit of documentation for the new features as well as a few “hello worlds”, it struck me that they probably went from being a framework company to a service company. Now my guess is that they need some cash and decided to put their framework to use in client projects. But what’s up with the mouthwatering promises? AngularJS support is also inexisiting in the newest iteration and it’s just completely foggy to see a direction. Their blog is a 404. Bad signs all over the place.

Then I stumbled across this blog post over at telerik.com. It’s from 2015 – but it provides a nice overall view and an explanation for the quietness:

Famous final destination?

Famous is a good citizen, giving its engine and framework away for free. But we all know at a certain point money can’t just be spent. The piper must be paid. Money has to flow back up stream at some point. And the 30+ million dollar question in Famous’s case, is: how will they turn a buck?

From what I can determine, the money making plan is to create an online tool similar to the Flash IDE.

However, I weighted my options for using famous on a small page and decided against it. With so much insecurity revolving around this project, it’s simply not worth the effort to dig deeper. And by mixing other libraries, it’s possible to come close to what famous promised but with more structure and actual resources to use. 

I might revisit it in a few quarters but for now, back in to the fold.