May 27th, 2008 - by Golgotha

There’s no doubt in my mind that the little blocks from Denmark known simply as LEGO are the greatest toy ever. I put in more hours playing with Legos than all other toys combined. I loved to use my imagination to build with them. It really didn’t matter what: a car, a fortress, star destroyer, space station, whatever. It was about taking an idea and bringing it to life piece by piece.

This love to build something from nothing still resides within me; it’s just been replaced with web technologies instead of plastic bricks. Today I build websites, plugins, widgets and anything else that takes life in my imagination. The thing I enjoy most is seeing if I can pull it off — can I get what’s in my head to take form on the web? Most of the time I can.

But there’s something that really bugs me about all of my creations. They simply don’t last. In fact, over the years I’ve found the life span of any web-based product to be short, very short. Of all the websites I’ve built, more are gone than remain. They’ve been replaced by newer versions or completely phased out. There’s no place for nostalgia on the web.

I have a deep jealousy of designs that last. I look at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel which has been around for five hundred years and is in no danger of ever being updated or phased out. Or Beethoven’s 9th symphony which he completed in 1824 and still moves the soul today. I’m betting that even more recent artists like Christian R. Lassen probably never worries about their work becoming dated and needing to be replaced. But in the world of computers, nothing lasts.

Does anyone else find this frustrating or at least a little depressing? Of course it’s not just my work. I already have images of a new 3G iPhone dancing in my head and my current iPod is only two years old. My three thousand dollar computer that I hand built from the greatest specs three years ago doesn’t run today’s DirectX 10 games. How sad…

You have to ask yourself when developing software or web pages if pixel perfection’s really all that important when it’s only going to last a handful of years anyways? Could this be why Microsoft released Vista knowing full well that it was far from done? Microsoft is already talking about their next OS, Windows 7 and Vista is barely out of the wrapper.

I know, it is what it is, the beauty and the curse all rolled into one. The ability to create knowing full well that you will do it all over again in a handful of years. I guess it’s job security, right?

Your thoughts?

13 Responses to “The Problem With Web Design”

1 LGR

I have been having many of the same thoughts, partly because I have been redoing websites lately. It was only two years ago I did some of them originally. Unfortunately the sites look change but often the client does not want to do any updating of their content or start to take part in any of the new social media that is happening, so we redo the site and nothing happens. No more or less traffic, no jump in sales etc. Then the client comes back and wonders why their sales did not double etc.

2 awdsgn

No question that the websites are transitory, and the concerns you have are valid. But to large part this relates to what Khoi Vinh said “Digital media looks like writing, but it’s actually conversation”. Conversations are not permanent unless someone records or writes them down, and we might want to think about websites in a similar way.

The Internet Wayback Machine (www.archive.org) is one example of this. You can trace the evolution of the web by following a site, say Yahoo.com, through the years. As more sites become database driven this approach becomes more problematic: too much information to archive regularly.

So I don’t have any quick solutions or easy answers to how we can make websites last as long as the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I don’t think I’m insulting anyone by suggesting that there are few–if any–that deserve to last that long.

I think the real answer to the questions you raise is that we need to clarify what web design is. It may be more performance than object, meaning that it’s not intended to last unless someone makes an effort to capture it in another form.

Thanks for asking interesting questions.

3 Jack @ The Tech Teapot

I remember a few years ago reflecting that all of the software I’d written to that point had been scrapped or re-done…it was quite an epiphany really…

You could always re-train as a bricklayer? :)

4 Golgotha

@awdsgn – good comment, perhaps somethings are just not meant to last.

@Jack – don’t tempt me. Anyone that knows me knows that I have a hidden desire to be an architect!

5 FupDuckTV

It seems that we are all grasping for a sense of immortality. When we are gone, what will we be remembered for? I’m guessing toys, website and most other things will not be what imprints our name in history. Perhaps something more tangible… structures we’ve built, picture that gets passed on, paintings on cave walls. Even inventions people rarely notice after a period of time. I too wonder what my lasting effect will be, but I hope for my immortality to be carried on by my kids, family and friends.

6 John

You have to ask yourself when developing software or web pages if pixel perfection’s really all that important when it’s only going to last a handful of years anyways?

You still apply the same level of professionalism (ie doing the job to the best of your ability) regardless of how transitory or otherwise your work might be.

You mention how you’re already thinking about new iPods or iPhones – do you think the people at Apple took shortcuts in design and production knowing that they’d be superceded soon anyway?

7 Nibbler

Michelangelo and Beethoven are both artists. Artists have the rare advantage that their work, if great, lasts. I know some see webdesign as a work of art, but it is far more than that: it’s business, technology, and constant competition at the same time.

But still, at least most websites last some years. But what must the baker say? Bread doesn’t last more than a couple of days. And no matter how well the cleaning lady cleans, it will get dirty again. It’s not just IT, it’s almost every profession.

Another one could see it as an advantage. What if websites never aged? There wouldn’t be any work left because every cat already has a webpage.

8 Jon Randahl

Here here!
As I read your post I reminisced on the times gone by where I would build a structure out of legos just to be almost finished, and BAM! I would think of an “improvement” on the design! Normally this would then entail the destruction of most of the piece in order to “slot” this new idea in.

As for my sites, I know I am constantly adding things here, tweaking things there, removing “outdated” practices or even rebuilding the everything from scratch! It’s “Progress” …. I think?!? ;-)

And I agree with @FupDuckTV, my legacy is in my children, may the world fear them as I do! ;-D

Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

9 Golgotha

@John –

You still apply the same level of professionalism (ie doing the job to the best of your ability) regardless of how transitory or otherwise your work might be.

Yep and I do. If my names on it then it’s getting my best effort.

do you think the people at Apple took shortcuts in design and production knowing that they’d be superceded soon anyway?

Actually, I think this probably does happen. But it’s probably more like hey if we add that feature now that will delay our release, let’s just include it in the next version.

@Nibbler – some good points.

@Jon Randahl – yep, my kids are truly my greatest work.

10 Mike Seddon

Im not usre if it’s the web that has encouraged todays trash, burn, replace mentality or whether that was here already.

I suppose one thing to remember is that websites are tools whereas your comments about the Sistine Chapel and Beethoven’s music are works of art. That’s why they remain

That said there are images from old TV adverts for long since gone products that still stay with us. Maybe they are tomorrows great art!

Cheers
Mike

11 James

Like stated above, websites are purely a functional medium through which information is shared and recieved. I don’t think it’s beneficial to compare a website to a piece of art. Both things have different intentions.

A work of art, such as Beethoven’s 5th is normally made to induce emotional response, while websites are there to offer function and service to users…

Very rarely will I find a website which causes me to respond emotionally.

Maybe you should focus your creative energy into something that will last instead of something which won’t.

What does a legacy mean anyway; is it even necessary? What does it matter if nobody remembers you for great things, as long as the people closest to you remember the not-so-great things!?

12 Golgotha

@James – Agreed, websites are meant to updated with the times and are as temporary as any other tool that’s being replaced by a more efficient one.

I would also agree that legacy’s are over rated. Still, it would be nice to be able to point to something and say that is the fruits of my labor.

13 David

I can definitely see your point. While I’m not yet developing or building a whole lot. I feel what you’re saying as a consumer. I bought a MacBook Pro for school this past Spring. A few weeks later Apple released a newer lower priced option of the MacBook Pro. The real problem with this is that I hadn’t learned of the new line until a month had passed. I was disappointed.

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