Artemy Lebedev

§ 56. Information vs. presentation

July 11, 2000

During its short lifetime the web several times shifted its focus, and every time it was expected to deliver more than it actually did. The primordial pattern of means and possibilities of website construction was scanty, to say the least. Basic tools for creating tables, frames etc. slowly emerged, but there is still no universal way to use a browser to do things that every user can easily do in an operating system: select a number of objects, move them, use context-dependent menus, let alone many other options.

Designers who have been through the wringer with multimedia technologies, layout software, graphics editors, animation and 3D applications, have so far been exceedingly disappointed by lack of a predictable outcome and the impossibility to bring their ideas to fruition.

That is how the “squeeze-in-as-much-as-you-can-into-the-browser” adventure kicked off: flash, video, 3D, sound, chat, conferences and the like finally made their way into it. But in most cases the user is unable to see or hear all this, because his connection speed is too low, or he has a basket case of a PC, or a small monitor. But above all, because the user just doesn’t want these omnifarious possibilities the authors of multi-megabyte masterpieces are peddling.

A website without pics and shades is still a website. Design is first and foremost the construction and delivery of information.

Most of today’s web-builders do not know that dicing screenshots is a meaningless work nobody actually needs. A real website is always a complex construction project. Creating a website that fits any screen regardless of its width is ten times as hard as making a website with a fixed width. Graphic headlines and boxes can be made even by an individual with an IQ equal to the freezing point of water.

Everything said above certainly doesn’t abolish the aesthetic aspect of website creation, but a modern easy-to-use design product has to be free from eclecticism.

To understand the difference between functionality and eclectics, imagine a fine, smooth, marked highway on the one side, and a labyrinth of English bushes with a mosaic path winding between them, on the other. Both are works of designers, and both are works of art. Nobody ever cares to admire a highway, and nobody usually uses a path in a labyrinth more than once in a lifetime. Therein lies the difference between an information website and a presentation website.

Information design ( Presentation design (
lives on a grand scale of full screen width has a limited width to fit a window at minimal resolution (fixed design for a width of over 620 pixels is barefaced lameness and a sign of disrespect towards the user)
takes seconds to download and works everywhere takes a long time to download even over a high-speed channel; if the user is smart enough to uncheck the “show pictures” option, he will see plenty of killed pics
ideal for everyday use is normally used once a year when an earth-shattering decision to buy a pager, a PC, a car or a house is made
does not take much time to figure out, since it’s as plain as that as a rule, has an intricate structure, complicated navigation built on the principles of dada; the user has to get used to the Designer’s Main Idea
a designer you happen to know says that the given example is a huge bummer a designer you happen to know says that the given example is not a big deal, but that’s exactly what he does: makes graphics three times heavier than they should be, mumbles magic words “I’m making real design” and quadruples his self-esteem after getting his pay

Let us make a brief foray into the not-so-distant future to see that presentation design will soon die off. Everything that takes longer than 5–10 seconds to download will gradually begin to search for new ways of expression other than the web. Browsing a website where the user fails to get immediate access to whatever he needs will become a hard sell comparable to reading long-winded legalese.

In order to survive, presentation websites will need to either employ information design tricks, or provide an alternative (fast) access to information.

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