An Internet divided
2 December 2004
On the one side, you have Flash. On the other, you have HTML. And in the middle is the Internet, slowly being carved up.
It's been the title fight on the Web now for about five years. Which technology shall reign supreme? Previously, I'd always thought it was a battle over the same territory – for the domination of the entire Web. But I feel they've become increasingly specialised, each growing (or shrinking, depending on how you look at it) to occupy their mutually exclusive part of the Internet.
Michael Bierut's fantastic article about the caricatured opposites in the world of designers highlighted to me one of the ways by which this division grows deeper. In his piece, Michael quotes Nick Bell on the existence of "agents of neutrality" and "aesthetes of style" – those who strive to bring a client's message to the fore, and those who seek to create a beautiful monolith unto themselves.
Obviously, parallels can be drawn between the "agents of HTML" and the "aesthetes of Flash". HTML, notoriously known for its focus upon functionality, accessibility and usability. Flash, infamously recognised for its disdain of information, love of moving objects and unbookmarkability.
At the moment, the two technologies attract different designers and different clients. Wired isn't going to be moving to Flash anytime soon, nor is Nike Football going to be moving to HTML. The two have different needs, which are met by different solutions.
Individuals that view "visual expression as the most important ingredient in design" will most likely gravitate towards the medium where they are most easily able to satisfy their desires; whether it be through technological freedom (Flash's ability to create rich, flowing experiences) or from the freedom granted by the projects they are given (Nike's need to produce rich, flowing experiences). Conversely, those who consider themselves the "passive mediator of the client's message" will gravitate to the tools and opportunities that allow them to fulfil their personal priorities.
This does, in part, answer Keith Robinson and other's questions as to where "design" has disappeared to. Not just the "oh wow, that's pretty" graphical design that's the key in the Favourite Website Awards, but also the "oh wow, I found what I'm looking for" information design and accessibility that's the key in the Web Standards Awards. The best of both exist in entirely different worlds.
This duality is often combated by creating a hybrid of the two solutions, but in so doing I find that the strongest aspects of the respective mediums are often diluted. With the growing calls to re-establish the balance in web design, is it only a matter of time until one of the camps gets its act together and offers a truly compelling solution to the entire problem? Only then will the best of graphic design meet with the best of the usable Web.
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