Creating inside the box

/ 6 March 2008

Today my friend Tony asked me about web design and I responded by sharing my philosophy about the web (keep it simple) and art (think inside the box). If you’d like to listen in, read on below the fold.

Tony wrote me trying to figure out what path to follow pulling together a coherent web presence:

I am trying desperately to teach myself as much about these things as I can in my spare time, including web design, html, css, php, etc. I am nibbling at the edges. I need to take some time and learn more still, but I am working at it as best I can. I’m wondering about such things as taking the time to learn to use Dreamweaver and write more code vs using iWeb for example.

It is probably a mistake, I think, for most people to spend too much time learning the intricacies of HTML and web design. It is no easier to design on the web than anywhere else and unless you really want to become an artist, and that route takes endless time and attention, it is not something most will do well even with tools like Dreamweaver.

That’s why tools like iWeb are so helpful. They provide an artistically decent foundation to build a site. But I would suggest one also adopt a KISS principle: keep it simple.

Tools like iWeb may not work if you try to break out of the constraints of the theme. Adding things like multicolumn layouts and the banner ads to themes designed without these things just fights the theme. People will move text blocks around and try to arrange things more to their liking. Admirable, but messy in the end. Instead, spend less time worrying about what the site looks like and more time stripping the site back to essentials. Simplifying. Thinking about what your visitor really needs and making it easy for them to navigate to that information.

You can do this with iWeb. You could do it with Dreamweaver. You can do it with a wiki. You could probably do it all within WordPress. The tool is not as critical as your own thinking about what is essential information and how to simplify the process of discovery for someone who arrives at your site.

And always remember: KISS. Accept the boundaries of the tools you are using, don’t try to get too fanciful. I have a theory about art… I think creativity happens when we press against constraints, when we know the bounds of our material and we press against those bounds. It does not come from breaking out of the box, so much, as knowing the box and exploring every corner of it. What can oil do? What about water? What can iWeb make easy? What about WordPress? You don’t have to limit yourself to one toolkit, but you should be wary of abusing a toolkit or of promises that another kit or cool new toy will eliminate the creative challenge. No, a new toy is just a new box, similarly constrained, similarly ready for exploration and creativity, but rarely much better or worse than the last box. Just different.

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