Creativity is yet to come in Web Design


The above talk was given by Andy Clarke last November, lamenting the lack of “soul” and creativity in Web Design. He argues that the industry’s fixation on process and execution has left little room for great ideas.

He compares this with some of the great advertising campaigns of decades past, which were produced without things like user research or test driven development.

Clarke, who literally taught me most of what I know about writing CSS, is quite right, I believe.

If anything, I have a slight issue with his sense of timeline. At the beginning of his talk he mentions how web design today has lost some of the “joyful naivite” of the early days. He should know, he was there.

He compares that with today, where he finds little examples of design on the web that are more than usable and technically well executed.

I think he’s right. There is little design on the web that could be considered “memorable”, especially when compared with campaigns from the “golden age” of advertising.

However, I think it is because the industry is still maturing. I don’t think that we have seen great examples of creativity in web design yet.

Yes, the web industry is over 20 years old now. However, I think it could be argued that the web has only truly been considered central to most businesses in the last 3-4 years. I think that is a large reason why so much web talent has been moving in house, as has been lamented elsewhere.

In large part, I think the industry is so focused on process and execution because we’re still working on getting the basics right. Accessibility still eludes many. Progressive enhancement is, appallingly, still the source of argument.

Our tools are evolving so quickly, not just becuase of hand-wavy “technology” but because we are still grappling with questions about what is the best way to do something? Someone thought CSS needed more features, and Sass was born.

Clarke talks about the origin stories of some of the great advertising campaigns of the 50’s and 60’s. We need to keep some context in mind – “advertising” had already been around for many decades by that point.

People were not grappling with questions about the form it would take, or the various contexts campaigns would be experienced in. It was established in what is a now-seemingly apparent set of circumstances – magazines, billboards, etc. But even those forms of media had their formative periods.

The web is still in its formative period. Our beloved industry is only recently being given widespread commercial importance. CEOs now approximately know what UX is, and that it’s important. We are still working out how we “do this thing” we call the web. That discovery is fun, exciting, and easy to talk about.

I think “great design”, with “soul” will come on the web. I can’t wait to see it when it does.