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by Eolake Stobblehouse

Web Design: Keep It Simple (Stupid)
October 18th, 2000 

In the famous book Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance there is mentioned the example of a student of creative writing who had "writer's block." She just had no idea what to write.

The professor told her to write about the city they lived in. Didn't help. He then told her to write about the main street. No good. Then he told her to write about the facade of the cinema building, and to start with the uppermost brick in the left corner. That unplugged her, as it were. An avalanche of writing issued forth.

The big idea here is that too much freedom can be as bad a trap as any. (Imagine hanging in interstellar space alone in a space suit. All the freedom in the universe, and little does it help you.)

A few years ago I had a day job in a 30-employee company. I learned to use a computer on that job, and became one of the better users in the firm, and also decent in Desk Top Publishing (DTP). So I was given the responsibility of overseeing the development of a Web site for the company. We hired a Web design firm to make a simple site. The boss did not like it. We used another designer to make the overall look. The boss did not like it.

About that time I started my own amateur site. As I could not afford to hire a designer or programmers, it was kept totally simple. Not even any frames or mouseovers, just very, very simple HTML and a couple of small graphics. Later the site became a commercial site, and later still I quit the day job and went full time. I talked to my former boss at one point. They were still developing their site, and the latest news was that they were looking at alternatives to HTML.

The long and the short of it is that when that company finally got a Web site up and running at all, I had already been living off my own Web sites for two years! To this day, my sites still only use technologies that are from the mid-nineties or earlier.

I always meet people who want to get into making Web sites. Great. And they usually dive into Java scripting, frames, dynamic HTML, cascading stylesheets, Active X, blah-blah-blah. And they always keep floundering around in all that caca, and never actually get the site up and running. Not great, a bad waste.

Try to make a site (or whatever you do) that is as simple as you can make it, instead of making it as complex as you think you can handle. Try making a game of it: what if I make the site with the default black text on a grey background, no graphics or anything? And then just change one thing at a time, and see how simple and small you can keep things while making it look nice.

Keep It Simple.

is a contributing editor to the Mac Observer, specializing in cultural matters, and comes to us by way of MacCreator. Comments invited.

The title of this column, "Fuzzy Logic", refers to an attempt to view the larger issues without getting lost in the details. Sort of "squinting" at things:) Of course it is also the term for an attempt in computing to get computers to look at the world like it is, in a spectrum of grays, instead of 1 and 0, or Black and White.

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