curator on 9 Jan 2001 12:56:45 -0000

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Re: <nettime> Disassociate Webdesign from Usability

We read these comments with great interest.  They strike at the very heart
of much that we have said in the past  (though we fear we have not spoken as
loudly nor always as eloquently as some might like).  It seems that you
refer to an attempt to define what "Innovative and creative web design" is
or can be.  We are particularly inspired by the suggestion of creating our
"own parallel universe of beauty".

"If only." we patiently sigh.

But we are not inclined to offer criticisms without also offering solutions
or at least attempts toward solutions.  We worry right along with Felix
(though we may differ on other points) that your critique is aimed squarely
at screen design, and to this we offer that what we are seeing in the
corporate sites is an essentializing of the network.  What does the network
do?  It sends packets.  It is part of that stair step world of the digital
that so many want to make the analog ramp of the real world.

How do we conceive of beauty here?  Do we even need to address the question?
We would suggest that there is no real need to consider beauty, especially
if we are referring to visual beauty.  The screen is and will always be
limited in it's presentation of imagery.  Millions of colors?  We still long
for those few colors in between.  Let us for once give up the suggestion
that screen imagery alone should somehow compete with the canvases of the
impressionists or the abstract expressionists or the cubists or the
constructivists or any other ists while we are at it.  Computers and
networks have been adapted to image making and presentation.  These two
tasks are not, nor will they ever be, essential functions.

Even when constructing imagery the computer is truly just manipulating data.
Even if those data packets happen to be reassembled as an image in your
browser (or whatever you use to view a digital image) the network is working
with information.  All it takes is a poorly calibrated monitor to destroy
the significance of a color scheme in a web design or a digital photograph.
All this is nothing new.   The state of affairs for imagery has improved
significantly, but it is still imperfect at best.

So that still leaves us wondering; What is innovative and creative web
design?  How do we encourage continued exploration in a quickly homogenizing
millieu?  Our contention is that we begin by focusing on the information and
forgetting about the "design".  When referring to design here we are (like
too many others in the world) referring to visual composition.  When we
refer to information, we prefer to distance ourselves from the text of the

We believe that the internet finally provides a medium where there are not
only opportunities, but DEMANDS that innovative work have a strong
conceptual approach.  John Simon's "every icon"
( has made it plain that any image you
create on these fancy machines can (with enough time and computational
power) be reproduced as a matter of constant pixel reconfiguration.  Mr.
Simon used a mere 32 x 32 grid with black and white, but who's to say that
the grid could not be expanded and the number of colors increased?  While we
realize that there isn't a computer lab in the world prepared to actually
fulfill that goal, we also realize that the piece points to the fact that
the visual substance of any image displayed on a computer has in essence
already been created - by the programmer.  What does that leave us with?

It leaves us, the (far too inactive) curator at to
conclude that any image is secondary to the ultimate demand of the
medium...content.  Yes, the top 20 have realized this in the commercial
realm.  And yes, their sites have become a homogenous pudding of buttons.
But their research and their response to the research seem sound.  If people
want information they don't need to be flooded with visual stimulation to
the point of distraction.  What did I come to this site for anyway?  Matthew
Mirapaul  forgives SFMOMA this conceit but assures us of conceptual rigor in
the art: 

    "Most of the digital artworks in the "010101" exhibition are as visually
appealing as they are conceptually intriguing. But be prepared: a fast
Internet connection will help reduce the time it takes to view the works,
and visitors must learn to navigate the exhibition site's complicated user
interface. (Hint: the box in the upper left-hand corner of the black grid
leads to the art.)"

We assure you this site was created by a "professional high/hype culture
class of experts" and we found it quite frustrating.   And if you would like
to enter into their dialogue it must be done on their terms (i.e. their
"discussion forums").  Now before we are dragged through the "dim witted
impatient sorts just wouldn't understand" mill, we would like to propose
that in our estimation the only purpose for having a museum present your
internet based work is for the added exposure..the career boost.  Well a fat
lot of good SFMOMA is doing if one has to wait for the New York times to
give one instructions on how to get to the art.  This is not art for the
masses, even if it does use the great equalizing network. What good is that
fancy interface if viewers never make it to the art?  (hint: It makes a
great portfolio piece for the designers.)

Our preference would be a network of pages all in black and white text
written by the likes of Yoko Ono if the other option is what the SFMOMA
presents.  Technology - especially technology in the arts - should never be
a barrier. 

In closing we would like to respond to your fear that conceptual "design" is
in danger of being marginalized.  Why the fear?  There will always be
margins, and we like the comments found there.  The margins are where the
corrections are scribbled. Right?  And here we are scribbling away with a
tried and true interface and technology.  Nettime still uses majordomo and
wilma.  Right?  We would hate to see nettime become less usable.

If we think about it long and hard (and we will) we might come up with a few
comments about "the culture of efficiency" that we can all agree on.
"subverting the visual in art"

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