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Going Beyond HTML

Design professionals, meanwhile, were turning away from HTML and moving toward the multimedia authoring technologies Adobe Flash and WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation, a competing technology from Microsoft). Advertisers, never satisfied with the look of the Web, started designing their ads as separate images, so they could control picture placement and use their own fonts. As bandwidth increased, ads began to pulse and jive with Flash.

Today, every design student and professional photographer seems to have a personal site done in Flash–some with unworkable interfaces, some with weird drippy graphics, a handful with marvelously smooth and elegant screens that use striking typography and motion.

It’s now possible to download whole Flash and WPF sites and run them when you want. One example is the New York Times Reader, for which I did some sketches, and which was reviewed on ­TechnologyReview.com (see “The Times Emulates Print on the Web,” May 2, 2006).

The typefaces are the Times’ own, and the fonts are clear. Columns are justified, and an algorithm limits the number of loose lines. If you resize the windows, columns reflow, pictures change size, and ads drop in and out.

Alas, Web designers are resisting new ideas like the Times Reader. But Web designers rejected Flash in the beginning, too. Perhaps it’s unsettling for the digerati to realize that their new paradigm is already getting old.

For the rest of us, the possibility of richer forms for Internet media is welcome. Communications will continue on the HTML Web, but now more-compelling storytelling in text and motion pictures is being brought online by new “clients” like Flash and WPF.

This may still not feel like home for old print designers who like to do things one page at a time, like artists. But TV, magazines, and newspapers are converging online and will soon enough appear on portable, cheap screens, carrying the branding of the old world, like the Times Reader. It won’t be the old experience, though; it will have to be interactive.

Designers won’t have much success in this new world if they try to design each rich screen one at a time. Already, the best Web designers make templates that work together in a design system. Why not make it possible for the users to adapt these as they see fit?

Maybe the way for designers to take control of the medium is to let it go. They should just design templates for everyone to use. (Click here to view Roger Black’s alternate three-column design template of a Technology Review article page and click here to view the single-column design version.)

Roger Black has designed more magazines than any other living graphic designer–Technology Review among them. He has also designed many websites, including Bloomberg.com and MSNBC.com.

More design articles: Take an inside look at the making of the Ocean, a new phone from a company called Helio (see “Soul of a New Machine”). Take a decidedly non-inside look at how Apple approaches design (see “Different”), and read a review of how Apple remains deeply committed to being a computer company (see “The ‘New’ Apple”). Find out what Bill Moggridge, a cofounder of Ideo and designer of the GRiD Compass, thinks makes good design (see Q&A). Take a glimpse at the pieces of technology that the prominent industrial designers featured in these articles say have influenced the way they think about their work (see “Objects of Desire”). Finally, hear from Technology Review’s Editor in Chief, Jason Pontin, on the well-designed technologies that are “beautiful machines” in this video.

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Credit: Nathaniel Welch

Tagged: Communications

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