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3 Comments // Filed in Design / Web

Lack of a Shared Vocabulary

The web is always rife with controversy. The proliferation of blogs only adds further fuel to the fire. Whenever there is a hot topic of debate, I sometimes hold back in participating merely because my voice may be buried and lost within the hundreds of comments. But, I do read them and reflect on the points people make. One of the things I realized when I took a look at all the arguments as a whole, the real conflict is based on a lack of a shared and agreed vocabulary. Sometimes when you look back, I actually notice that people are agreeing vehemently but don’t actually realize it!

Define This

I used to be a keener in school and participated in Speech and Debate Club. (I can hear your muffled laughter from here!) At any rate, one of the major tenets of debate and if you ever had the pleasure of writing position papers for History or Social Studies class, is that you always had to define the argument or specific phrases and words you were going to discuss right at the beginning. The reason is, and why lawyers also exist, is that the definitions of words are actually open to interpretation. You had to right away make a clear distinction as to what your interpretation is about so then the debate doesn’t veer into arguing about terms and actually get into the meat of the argument.

What is design?

In Speak Up’s recent article on landmark websites several comments try to break up the many facets regarding designing for the web, including several definitions on people’s roles in creating something special for the web. The thing that struck me and got me to write this post was this quote from Christopher Fahey:

Many people are using Armin’s article to contend that graphic design is not what makes a web site iconic. Which is besides Armin’s point that web sites lack iconic graphic design.

Which is an interesting point: because of the lack of the shared vocabulary in this industry, instead of actually focusing on the point of the post and a) pointing out web sites people feel have iconic graphic design, and b) explaining why that website deserves to be iconic in terms of visual appeal (not interaction)… people devolve into arguing semantics. I don’t know how this actually further the discussion and help the industry in innovating if we still are arguing about who-does-what and what title belongs to who.

Yes, the web has a lot of responsibility overlap — it is a multi-disciplinary industry — and the web is also has other considerations when you design for it, as Zeldman contends in his latest ALA article, but at the end of the day, we haven’t actually done much but argue semantics instead of getting to Armin’s real concern in his article about landmark websites.

I believe Jody puts it best in the comments :

…my argument is that you can’t separate the aesthetics of Web design from the technology that drives it — it’s a symbiotic relationship. Print (technology) has sustained fewer changes in 100 years than the Web (technology) has in the last 10. Web design must be agile enough to respond to the technology that drives it. I think the reason we can’t come up with “landmarks” of Web design is because we haven’t defined what a landmark of web design is. And due to the constantly evolving nature of the web, I’m not sure we ever will.

Is “graphic” a naughty word?

Discuss. :)

3 blabs to Lack of a Shared Vocabulary

Add something to the conversation!

One of my favorite web design books of all time is Curt Cloninger’s “Fresh Styles for Web Designers” from way back in 2001. In it, Curt picks out a bunch of landmark websites from the day and files them in to ten off-the-cuff categories. I would love to see (heck I’d love to write) a book like this about modern website design, but we’re so busy trying to fit our websites into the mold of standard (blog, social network, gallery, ecommerce, corporate) website molds that the majority of web design ends up looking pretty similar. That’s not really a bad thing as we’re just building what the current aesthetic trends and usability guidelines call for, but it makes it hard to choose landmarks. In my opinion though, the websites that stand out the most are the experimental ones. Will we ever have true landmark sites that endure in Art History books for ages to come? I guess the history book writers will determine that, in fact, that’s exactly what Curt’s book has become to me.

Picture of Mirko

Name Mirko

Date Apr 29
03:56 AM

I agree a lot to you to that great problem: a lot of discussions are made without getting clear about the used vocabulary. It?s really important that everybody knows about the others definition of a word. With that in mind there would be much less argues and more constructive discussion. Think, we can learn a lot from the philosophy and their system of logic. Btw: nice blog ;

Picture of Rich

Name Rich

Date Jul 03
08:31 PM

Just sifting through your archives and I thought a direct link to Jody’s comment might help.


I hope you had a wonderful Canada Day!

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