Do we need ever richer experiences?

This article was written in 2013. It might or it might not be outdated. And it could be that the layout breaks. If that’s the case please let me know.

On Yammer (which is a terrible platform for discussions, by the way) I was having a discussion about the usage of custom fonts on websites. A visual designer argued that the web was more and more about experiences and that we should do everything in our might to make these experiences as incredible as possible. And today on Twitter (which is a terrible platform for discussions as well, but I really like discussing on Twitter) Johan Ronsse wondered why all evolution in eBook space stopped after the Al Gore book. This tweet and the yammer-message got me thinking. Are richer experiences really what we need? Does evolution mean ever richer experiences?

I think we have been focused on rich experiences too much. Instead of designing our content we have tried to cram our content in something that’s dynamic, or interactive, or whatever you want to call it. Ever since we invented DHTML, Flash and Ajax we’ve tried to present our information as complicated as possible. Animations, fading, transitions, eye candy; all perfect if you have to impress somebody, but not so important if you want to make your good content accessible. I think we focus too much on the impressive layer and forget the fact that we web has many layers (API, HTML, CSS, and yes, JavaScript) that can all be designed.

The problem I have is that visual designers only seem to care about the very last layer, the experience layer. Or on the web, the JavaScript layer, the layer that adds all the cool shit (and the real performance issues as well). I know I’m exaggerating, I know many designers who do think about structuring the content, about working with CMSes, about the way the content is structured and displayed and experienced on different devices. And that’s a great thing! Because I really think you should not let visually illiterate nerds make design decisions about all these layers. But that is the way we work right now. Designers create wonderful experiences but forget about the fundamentals. As I said in my previous post, you have to understand the theory before you can play. We’ve been playing on the web and with eBooks before we really understood the fundamentals. Design is more than veneer, and a designer is not a stylist. We have to understand the complexity of the material we work with before we make it impressive. And yes, this could very well mean that evolution means that things will be less shiny.