Beyond typography?

Two months have now passed since the ‘New Media Design — Croatian Context 1995–2010.’ exhibition; an event hosted by my friend and colleague Ivica Mitrović a lecturer at DVK (Design of Visual Communications) UMAS in Split, Croatia.

I was invited by Ivica to participate in a panel to discuss the current state of web design in Croatia (and in the world) especially from the perspective of commercial production and mass-market trends. As the debate ensued we also discussed and touched upon the future of web / interactive design.

This topic was of specific interest to me as ever since the Biennale of Croatian Design 09/10 the previous year I have been thinking about this, occasionally discussing with peers the classification of web / interactive media design. However, until recently it is something I have never really discussed in public.

A good proportion of web design today descends from print / graphic design and these influences are becoming even more prevalent. Typography for the web is now all the rage especially as we are (finally) able to use different fonts other than the tried and tested workhorses Arial, Verdana & Georgia. A direct result of this development (coupled with newly evolving and usable CSS properties) is that once again we are seeing the realms of web design opening up right before our eyes. Therefore, solid knowledge of typography and typographic principles should really be a must for every screen designer today especially when taking into account the general intricacies involved with consumer grade computer devices and displays. Furthermore, the basic fundamentals of typography have more or less remained unchanged for decades and hence should be openly embraced.

Note: For students and novices unfamiliar with basic typographic principles there is certainly an abundance of great books and online resources available.

Despite these new exciting developments are we not possibly over-looking the bigger picture? The Internet is now no longer solely consumed within the desktop browser. The introduction of alternative, more native interaction systems such as touch screens and 3D gestures has altered the landscape and the way in which we all interact with and use the Internet. It can therefore be argued that as a result of these developments we should focus less on graphic design principles and instead focus more on specific principles of industrial / product design.

Digital space designers should attempt to re-discover philosophy, sociology, psychology, human behavior, physiology, neurology, anthropometry etc. After all, those are the fundamental disciplines of human-computer interaction and — in broader context — Human factors science.

On the one hand graphic design ergonomics are simpler to understand and apply in comparison to what has to be taken into account when designing for the digital space, simply because it is an established discipline that has been around for a lot longer.

On the other hand it can be said that the generation of technology savvy, multitaskers born about after the advent of the Internet no longer have the time nor desire to consume as much written (textual-based) content especially when up against rich multimedia content (pictures, audio, video), content that can be described as being more cognitive. Hence, for that reason such users are likely to find rich dynamic / interactive content easier to relate to as well as quicker to consume and follow. As the old saying goes ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and the same could possibly be said for all types of rich multimedia content!

Furthermore, multimedia content in the era of mobile publishing is much more feasible and cost-effective to produce and deliver than at any other time in the past. To a certain extent the tides have started to turn in terms of the ratio between written (textual-based) content vs. multimedia content, with a shift more towards the later, as well as the idea that what was essentially the status quo of the past within the web medium should not directly influence or hinder new developments, neither today nor in the future.

One of the guests on the panel, renowned Croatian designer Boris Ljubičić, remarked “the World needs another Gutenberg in order to make us abandon type as a primary communication interface”.

Are we ready for this?

Special thanks goes to @radebrujic who prettified my rather dull prose.

Marko Dugonjić is a designer specialized in user experience design, web typography and web standards. He runs a nanoscale user interface studio Creative Nights and organizes FFWD.PRO, a micro-conference and workshops for web professionals.

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