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Pushing the limits

Nick Finck

April 23, 2005 at 9:51 PM

I was having a conversation with Garrett Dimon the other day via IM. We were discussing the whole design and inspiration subject. While it's one thing to allow another design to inspire your design, it's quite another thing to allow that other design to influence your design. I use the analogy of music. It all has its roots somewhere. However, if I listen to a guitar track by Steve Vai, I can distinguish it from, say, Jimi Hendrix or even his teacher, Joe Satriani. A good design, while its roots may be distinguishable, should resemble it's own unique style.

I think there is a lot of "CSS allows us to make boxes" and not enough of "CSS allows us to make anything" ...there is a big difference.. one is using the technology to build things, the other is using the technology to innovate.

We see small nudges in sites like CSS Zen Garden, but out in the wild, it seems people are more comfortable sticking to the basics of what they know well. I am so tired of the common design... I want to see something new, different and exciting.

For example (and for example only), Garrett brought up the point that newspapers have time-tested multi-column layouts. Which is true, however, I don't read newspapers anymore, I read Newsmaps. And he responded with "but the difference there is the medium" ...true, but it's all just information, is it not? It is all just journals, is it not? It doesn't mean we have to follow anyone's lead in UI, layout, or design elements.

I think we all should spend a little more timing pushing the limits, just to test what we have come to know as de facto. We all need to take a risk every once in a while and challenge ourselves, because if we don't, well, then we are no better off than were we were yesterday.



April 24, 2005 at 6:22 AM

Isn't that a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, what with Digital Web being 3-column?


April 24, 2005 at 7:12 AM

With regards to experimentation, i think some people do it very well. layout their articles in a unique way that i think really works. The best of the current designers are continually "pushing the limits" and trying new things, not all of which are successful, but the successful ideas are usually followed by the masses, until someone breaks the mold again. Evolution?


April 24, 2005 at 8:51 AM

The CSS3 Multi-Column module ( is probably what you're waiting for. I think it will open a new world of layout options to web designers, and I'm working on a cross-browser javascript implementation here:

Nick Finck

April 24, 2005 at 11:46 AM

Sean: I suppose you could say that if I had designed and launched within the last 24 hours. I think this is a new point I am making and plan to implement on any future designs I create. Cedric: This is not just about 3 columns... that was but one example.. maybe I should remove that example to make the point more clear?


April 24, 2005 at 5:16 PM

Nick, to the contrary, I think your example is right on target, because the current limitations of the box model make it very hard to create innovative layouts or designs, especially for database-driven content. Whatever you try, your articles on digital-web will have to be displayed in one long column, and everything else has to be built around it. Leading to the inevitable, 2 or 3 columns layout. The CSS3 multi-column module will break that constraint, and offer new possibilities.

Joseph Wain

April 24, 2005 at 6:36 PM

Nick, what are you expecting to see? Our browser windows are rectangular and (generally) our language is expressed as a series of characters that run left to right, broken into lines, and you move your eyes across and down. Columns work well. Are you just (as I am) burnt out on the design trends of the blogosphere?

Nick Finck

April 25, 2005 at 10:35 AM

Joseph: Yes, basically. And no I don't feel we are guided to columns or any specific format, I think designers just gravitate there because they feel it's "safe" ...notice how my last sentence in the post talks about taking risks. I am continually impressed by what new designs we see from the print world, same goes for Multimedia CD-ROMs, I'd even say the same for video/film ...but Web? It's the same as it has always been.. only a few people pushing the limits.


April 25, 2005 at 2:54 PM

I think that is currently the only way to get "outside the box" and really get innovative is to go with Flash. You can do some neato thinks with the DOM, but if you really want to create something different it seems Flash is the best way to go, especially with the latest player. XHTML/CSS et al are great for "content" but for rich presentations you gotta go with Flash, it would be great to start seeing Flash used in a responsible way, merging Flash with Web Standards and get the Standards folks to stop doggin' on the Flash geeks and the Flash geeks to consider a hybrid model. When Macrodobemedia comes out with their own browser and OS maybe this will change ;-)

Nick Finck

April 25, 2005 at 3:08 PM

Ken, I respectfully disagree with that view. I believe we can be very innovative without using Flash, not that we should avoid Flash, but I think there is a lot of untapped potential with CSS/XHTML that has yet to be used in such a way.


April 25, 2005 at 4:32 PM

Not quite sure what there is to disagree with. I am not saying one is better than the other, but that it should be explored. I didn't know we the "pushing of the limits" conversation was limited to XHTML/CSS. I think that there is quite a bit more than could be done by expanding into other technolgies, a dash of XML a bit of XSLT and yes even a little Flash where it is needed you can do quite a bit more than with just XHTML/CSS.

Joseph Wain

April 25, 2005 at 6:33 PM

This conversation lacks scope. Are we talking about visual design? User interaction? Cross-device compatability? I don't mean to stir the pot the wrong way — I'm just strongly, honestly interested in design trends across the web and would like to spot the peaks and valleys as soon as possible.

Nick Finck

April 25, 2005 at 6:38 PM

Design, but please, not limited to how many columns... let's talk about all aspects, typography, color, composition, motion, etc.


April 26, 2005 at 12:22 PM

As someone who builds websites for money, I can assure you that the last thing my clients want, by and large, is for me to "take risks" with their site designs. Why is that? Well, it's because they perceive that their clients don't want to "take risks" when coming to their site to get the information they need. This risk-taking business runs both ways, you know. Sure, the designer can push the envelope to the bleeding edge and feel that he or she has advanced the cause a few more pixels, but how does that help (or hurt) his or her clients/visitors? Perhaps you're posing your challenge in the realm of "experimental sites," where commercial implications aren't important. There's nothing wrong with that; it's how all the good stuff comes to be. But, perhaps it's unrealistic to expect that a whole world of content consumers will want to change their viewing habits and preferences to accommodate "risk taking." Sometimes traveling in a rut is the fastest and best way to get to your destination.

Nick Finck

April 26, 2005 at 3:33 PM

Eric: Good points, I was hoping someone would point these things out. I agree, not every project should push the limits. I guess I am mostly addressing individuals and there perosnal sites or personal sandboxes and the case may be. But I do feel a little pushing needs to be done on client sites as well.. just not painfully so.

Lebogang Nkoane

May 1, 2005 at 1:09 AM

Is it too late to comment? In case anybody is listening, I have a problem with this 2,3 column thing. There is no design anymore but configuration. Basicaly every new site these days looks the same, I am no longer inspired. It almost feels like the days of Navigator Gold, circa 1996/7. I think websites then looked bad purely because HTML was not flexible enough to allow for more creative work and now we have CSS2/XHTML compliancy driving everybody to what works and not what is visual, isn't the web a visual medium? If all sites on the web looked the same, what is the point of a graphic designer? what would happen to what is called visual communication? Will print once again become the only canvas to paint your our ideas? Long of the short, I have come up with a "cute" phrase, "con(form) to function". If CSS2/XHTML and XSL/XML are to be used to separate form and function why is it that all (most) sites look like the same?

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