Without adaptation, it’s not the Web

Last week the incredible Bret Victor released a video of a presentation he gave in which he shows what computer art should look and behave like. He thinks computer art should be more like a computer game than like a painting: the thing that makes a computer unique is the fact that you can actually interact with it. The computer can react to what the artist, or the viewer, does. In his own words:

Without behaviour, it’s not native

In the beginning of this talk he explains that the programs mostly used for computer art are not good enough. With Photoshop you can make beautiful images, but they are static, it’s an emulation of what we had before: paper. Programs like After Effects are great for making animations, but this too is an emulation of what we had before: TV. You can look at it, but it won’t react to what you do. So he proposes a different tool which enables the artist to create stuff that reacts to input. It gives the artist the possibility to react to input from the public. If people laugh, you can repeat a certain joke, for instance. This is of course not possible with tools like Photoshop and After Effects.

The web

I was surprised to see that different fields of work have issues with Adobe products too, for similar reasons. Somehow Adobe is very good at selling products that are not really innovative, and somehow people keep using them, and thus are limited in their creativity. It’s easy to make a comparison between computer arts and the web by changing Bret’s quote to this:

Without adaptation, it’s not the Web

Photoshop is an excellent tool to create an image of one single state of a website, but you can’t design a website with it. Websites react to the environment. If it’s viewed on a small device it will look different than when it’s viewed on a big screen. It can react differently to input from a mouse than input from a fat finger. Fonts will differ on various operating systems and browsers. Interactions will vary depending on the availability of features, like JavaScript or geoLocation. You could create flat, dead impressions of all these possible states in Photoshop, or you could use a different tool.

Again, tools

Unfortunately, there are no good all purpose web design tools yet. There are micro tools like the International Measure Slider that help you in defining breakpoints for your grid. There are tools like Gridset that help you with creating grids for different screen sizes. There are excellent tools that help you define typography. And there are new graphics editors like Acorn. For a fraction of the price of Photoshop you can design better websites with the use of these tools. Especially when you get rid of your fear of code.