Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Elements and the Aesthetic

When we first started, I consciously stripped every, single thing down to brass tacks. The idea going in was Art Deco/Minimalism, as I have said time and again, and I accomplished exactly that - a little too well, actually. I managed to get the navigation down so pat that I was actually struggling to find links to populate the pages.

Luckily (?), the deeper I got into the site, the more I realized the Minimalist approach did not work for every department; in some cases, the lack of direct links became a navigational impedance. The problem was that the layout made placement difficult. In all honesty, I had changed advertisement placement so often in my design breakdowns that when I finally struck a design I really liked, I had to work the advertising back in - a major no-no.

In fact, The Weirding is an exercise in Major No-Nos, if you listen to all the web gurus and their nonsense. (Okay, so it's not all nonsense, but their Golden Rules are the reason so many sites look so similar.) But this is one I am not proud of:

The Weirding is attempting to make money - at least enough to support itself - through advertising, so the site really needs to be designed around the advertising placement. I screwed it up because I couldn't find a design I liked and I threw everything out and started from scratch. When I struck upon a layout I liked, I realized I had not incorporated the advertising elements.

But I'm working on that.

What I wanted to discuss tonight was the dependency on images. Like I said: one Major No-No after the next.

Most every design guide and guru will tell you to avoid using a lot of images. Obviously they take longer to load than text and obviously larger images take a long time to load, in general. But aside from this, there are really few good reasons to exclude images from your design arsenal.

There is one, very strong, reason to use them over text elements - and it is another Major No-No: You can use images (specifically titles) to make sure everyone who sees your website sees the same site - the same fonts, the same style, the same everything.

Using CSS or old-fashioned HTML (in any flavor), you can set the fonts users are supposed to see, but they will only see them if they have those fonts installed on their computer (that is why you have a list: if the first font is not found, it goes to the next, on down the line). The only way to ensure users see the site you designed is to offer a fontpack for download. So long as the fonts are free, there is no problem with rights and licensing, but there is still a problem with platforms, browsers, and other things. With images (I'm talking specifically about titles, here), every user will see exactly the font/image you want them to see.

One of the Golden Rules of webdesign, we are so often told, is to "let go" of formatting and "accept" the user's settings. After all, the user set them because they are his preferences, so if he wants the body text font to be Helvetica, so be it!

Except that does nothing to establish what The Weirding literally wants to do: provide a unique Web experience. Being a website dedicated to art, style, and (somewhat) organized flights of fantasy, The Weirding has to be able to create an atmosphere to enforce whatever subject it is presenting. The Fantasy section just wouldn't be the same without the Fantasy fonts - just like it wouldn't be the same without the fantastic pictures! At least that's The Weirding Way.

So how can I impress Art Deco on the user if I let his personal settings override everything I am going for? Simply put, I can't.

But the decision to change a lot of titles to straight images was actually an idea from one of the very first, original design approaches that got cast aside. If any of you are still around from the very first "pre"-launch, you know the title was about the only actual word on the page - everything was represented by images. This is the same thing I did with Fear the Outside. This all goes to the whole iconography concept, which is the subject of another post sometime down the line.

Regardless, The Weirding is far more text-centric than FTO, and I had to incorporate more fonts into the whole thing. But I am not going to let go of the iconography because... well, like I said - we'll get into that some other time.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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