The history of the internet is ahead of us

I love this already oft quoted tweet from Jon Gold:

For me there are two ways to interpret this.

  1. The digital design industry is a collective group of charlatans who are all doing the same thing whilst pretending to innovate.
  2. Digital is getting to a point where we can focus on true creativity rather than having to redesign the whole system each time a project starts.

Without knowing Mr Gold, it’s hard to guess which one he meant. For me it’s definitely the second. Let me explain.

For almost every digital design project i have worked on over the last 2 or 3 years, we have literally started with a blank piece of paper. In many instances this has brought about terrific creative freedom and helped us come to solutions that might otherwise have alluded us. But what it has also done is take away from the focus of what our creativity should be — on the content rather than the content wrapper.

“Give me the freedom of a tight brief”
David Ogilvy

As Mr O mentioned — when you are able to focus your creative energies within a well defined set of parameters, that’s when truly brilliant ideas are more likely to emerge. For me, by constantly having to re-assess whether we should have a carousel, a round call to action button or a col-md-8 rather than col-md-6 width to our profile picture we’re all covering the same ground again and again and again. Yes, if you’re at Facebook, Twitter, Medium etc then these decisions could change entire populations’ use of the internet, but otherwise, i promise it won’t make anywhere near as much difference as what you put inside these elements…

The end of innovation?

You only have to look at other industries to realise that once things start to settle down just a touch, then you can still have remarkable creativity within mediums. Just look at magazines or books.

Whilst the basic container for any magazine or book are almost identical, you would be hard pressed to compare Vogue to Goat World, Arthritis News or International Car Park Design (thank you Have i Got News for You). More so, every edition is obviously a new work of art in itself, despite roughly sticking not just to the same medium, but the same layout.

This is because those mediums are mature and so they don’t need to revisit whether they should print this month’s magazine on glossy, uncoated or tissue paper. They have confidence in their medium, they have their tight(ish!) brief and they can demonstrate their creativity with aplomb.

So what then?

I wouldn’t be a very good digital professional if i didn’t say that there was still plenty of new stuff to work out in this ever changing and exiting industry we work in. There undoubtedly is. However there are some things that we do know — and perhaps don’t need to be the focus of your design or UX work.

If you want a page advertising a product — big picture + buy button.

If you want to display l0ts of projects — tiles of some description are probably a good idea.

etc etc

Focus on what you actually put within these containers to communicate with your users. That’s the essence of interesting and awesome design, not what number of columns you’re going to have in your layout or what framework you’re going to use.

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