in Design

As a general life practice, I try to cultivate reflection, and patience, and understanding. Especially when it comes to other people’s works and actions.

But let’s face it, when I’m using a computer, I am judgmental and impatient. There are two kinds of things that get me really angry: social injustice, and stupid technology. And I’m not often interested in being compassionate and reflective about either. There’s just no excuse. You ought to know better, goddammit!

Ten years ago* what made me angry about websites were things like animated gifs, background music midis, frames, and those goddamn javascript mouse trail things. The wild world of web design has changed a lot in those ten years, and the Geocities aesthetic–and now the service itself–has more or less died out. But my anger at web design has not. What irritates me now are stupid Flash interfaces that fulfill someone’s fancy-sounding marketing strategy at the expense of my ability to actually accomplish my purpose in visiting the site.

However, today on swissmiss I saw an unusual Flash interface that did not immediately fill me with righteous indignation: Wonderwall.

I mean, maybe it’s just that because swissmiss didn’t hate it, I came to it with an open mind, but I don’t think I’m really suggestible enough for that when it comes to web design. I have strong opinions and a very low threshold for bullshit. But, aside from the fact that the page is utterly blank before I tell Flashblock to play, I think I really like this site.

The first thing I like about it is that it doesn’t hide anything from me. What drives me crazy most often about Flash sites is just how much time and effort it takes me to get to real information. I’m a busy woman! I have goals! I don’t care about your “cutting-edge and provocative branding experience” or sitting through your animation sequences or whatever because I got shit to do and “poke around on your annoying website” is real low on my list of priorities.

Wonderwall, however, offers me exactly the same information I’d see if it were just one big page of thumbnail images. With, admittedly, the same sort of problem with long loading times that such a page would have, but you know, I have broadband internet, I’m ok with loading lots of thumbnails. Especially if it means less time overall clicking through page after page to find what I’m looking for. I always choose to view as many items at once as possible on shopping sites and get annoyed when the largest choice is like 20 or something. As long as that loading time doesn’t lead to a pointless intro animation/splash page, I am ok.

Then, mousing over the wall is simple, fun, and functional. There are no fancy popup menus or animations, nothing seriously unexpected or confusing when I roll over the images, really all that’s happening is the image I’m about to select is enlarged, which is a completely familiar and simple interface action, but altered in a clever and easy-to-understand way that is just plain fun to play with.

Then once I click on a portfolio item, I am brought to a page of information that is simple and to-the-point. From there I can browse what is essentially just a standard image gallery, but with that same clever, playful twist that makes it fun to use. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the photos are gorgeous.

I think what it comes down to is that this portfolio is all about my goals as a visitor: it presents just enough information to give me a feel for the designer’s work, and it does so quickly (well…those load times. But there are no obviously unnecessary delays because of the nature of interfaces) and clearly. The Flash elements are subtle enhancements to that basic portfolio browsing experience, rather than intrusions or barriers. Everything from the color-coding of projects, to the little breadcrumb trail while I’m looking at the image galleries, to the fact that the thumbnail image disappears on items I’ve already seen, offers something useful to me. The whole site is a collection of these beautiful, thoughtful details that all work together, for my benefit. And I love it.

*Yes, I was getting angry about these things when I was 14. That’s about when I created my first website, and while the content would no doubt embarrass me tremendously now (I put a lot of poetry I’d written on it, among other things), I already had well-defined aesthetic taste in websites. More extravagant and dependent on novelty typography than my current preferences, perhaps, but nothing I’d be too ashamed to claim.