Cutting Edge – Why?

25 Apr

Like most of us in this line of work/hobby I stop by the four main CSS galleries every few days to see whats new and make the odd comment if I particularly like a design.

I’ve noticed a trend over the last few months on all these sites in a few of the commenters remarking that a showcased site isn’t using ‘cutting edge’ CSS techniques or that there’s nothing new to see aesthetically and without fail it always puzzles me who is making these comments and why – some of these commenters even say a design isn’t ‘worthy’ of the gallery its been submitted to.

What is the big deal about using cutting edge techniques? Lets not forget that all the designs showcased at these sites are in live production, often serving a commercial purpose. It strikes me as incredibly dangerous to use cutting edge techniques (CSS or otherwise) on clients live sites. The reason these techniques are cutting edge is that they are new, unproven and possibly unstable. The only place I personally would consider utilising cutting edge techniques is on a designated experimentation area. I can’t imagne paying customers being overjoyed to find designs failing due to unstable techniques coming apart in unforseen ways due to lack of testing. Its really very unfair to base judgement on a showcased design on its lack of cutting edge technique – by not using cutting edge technique the designer has proven themselves not only a good designer but also responsible.

And what about all those ‘seen it all before’ comments? What exactly are people unhappy with when they make these comments? If one site is a carbon copy of another then fair enough but if a site merely happens to use a similar information design then I don’t see the issue. One example of this is the amount of complaints that come in when a blog is posted: ‘it just looks like a blog’ is the recurring comment – well no shit, Sherlock – guess what? thats because it is a blog! Blogs are structured the way they are because over time thats how the user goals have shaped the design. At bottom all e-commece sites look pretty much the same too – not aesthetically, but in terms of flow. Why? Because this is how the design of an e-commerce has evolved with the needs of the site user to the fore as oppose to the needs of the site designer to showcase their skillset.

So, does this mean I think all designs should be the same – no way. We need cutting edge technique, we need innovation and we need people to push the boundries but we also need to realise that there is a time and a place to do these things. We also need to realise that a good design is much more than a cutting edge style sheet and lots of graphics.

What sort of site am I talking about? What sort of site is great looking but doesn’t use anything which might impact negatively on user experience – well, John’s recent redesign of Joshuaink is a perfect example. It looks fantastic but at heart, its a very simple, solid blog design. Its beauty is not only skin deep, it goes beyond into the semantics, usability and flow of information. Another is Garrett Dimon’s recent design. In terms of aesthetics its nowhere near the same as Joshuaink but look at the semantics and look at the information flow and its plain to see that what we have here is ‘just another blog’ but just like John’s redesign it has a beauty and style that can be appreciated for what it is – a great design, executed perfectly.

Lets not get caught up in a need to be cutting edge merely for the sake of being cutting edge. Instead lets appreciate good design for what it is. If it doesn’t float your boat then fine but don’t fault a good design merely because its not using cutting edge technique.

5 Responses to “Cutting Edge – Why?”

  1. John Oxton April 25, 2005 at 11:11 #

    I agree with you totally and in addition I don’t see how cutting edge is really possible, here in the real world, until Mircosoft deliver unto the unwashed masses a truly modern browser.

    One thing I have noted about commentators who are looking for cutting edge, or something different or who are saying sites aren’t worthy, 9 times out of 10 they either don’t have a URL available or their websites are, well, quite frankly a bag’o’shite. I often wonder whether there may just be a touch of jealousy going on because they don’t have an ounce of talent to show for themselves.

    On the flip side, you usually find the people who do this all day long, or who have a nice design themselves are much more considered in their opinions… that’s probably becuase they understand the problems of building sites with web standards…

    So endeth todays bitchin’! :o)

  2. Pierce April 25, 2005 at 11:30 #

    You get a fair bit of what I’d call the “teenage factor” on these sites. Css Vault seems to be almost overrun with them these days, to the point that I’ve stopped reading the comments there. The “teenage factor” consists of bitchy, confrontational comments from kids who should really be making flash sites, and haven’t learned to be polite on the internet yet. (sorry. I know nobody should be making flash sites. you know what I mean)

    I mean no offense to teenagers here, i was one pretty recently.

  3. Rob Mientjes April 25, 2005 at 12:23 #

    I fear that’s the case here.

    – “Look at this: I used simple CSS and the site works perfectly and it looks good.”
    “But you use no CSS3 at all.”
    – “Do you then?”
    “Doesn’t matter, why don’t you?”

    It’s an old conversation with mostly stupid people.

  4. Mike April 25, 2005 at 17:39 #

    Well said. We don’t want CSS-based design to become the arms race for the cutting edge that was the hallmark of Flash in the 90s. Where did that lead designers? To the backlash against obtuse, unusable sites that opened the way for the “standards movement” in the first place.

    But as Pierce said, these aren’t professionals making these comments. Most will learn at some point that it’s hard enough to get the idea of modern, CSS-based design into clients’ heads at all; alienating them with some “broken” (ie, poorly implemented and unstable) CSS3 will not move us forward.

  5. Kev April 26, 2005 at 00:55 #

    @Mike: I completely agree with your comparison with the Flash movement in the late 90’s. I was part of that at the time and whilst I created, or helped create, some very innovative sites its telling that none of them are still around today.

    Thats not a scenario we should be keen to repeat.

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