There’s a part in Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica documentary that I think about a lot. Around the 30-minute mark, Michael Bierut imagines how clients must have felt when designers first presented more modern work in the 1960s after decades of long-winded prose, ornate script and intricate engravings:
…that must have seemed like you had crawled through a desert, with your mouth just caked with filthy dust, and then someone’s offering you a clear, refreshing, distilled, icy glass of water to clear away all this horrible burden of history. It must have just been fantastic!
Bierut’s description stands out to me because I see a version of it play out in our own projects.
You see, browsers are more capable today than ever before. But awareness of those capabilities is often filtered through the features our third-party libraries already support, the itchy old process we use to design new solutions, the not-so-distant memory of catering to a very old browser that wouldn’t go away, and the assumptions we form when every other link slowly loads a minefield of invasive advertising, confirmation dialogs and blatant misdirection… that the web as a medium must be inherently clunky, untrustworthy and less capable.
I believe these assumptions deeply damage our industry over time, but there is a small silver lining: We get to disprove them!
Seriously, it’s such a treat to see a stakeholder’s eyes light up as we show them stuff they didn’t think the web could do (or do well): Complex custom navigation; app-like interactions; multi-axis responsive layouts; lightning-fast load and render times; non-rectangular containing shapes; dynamic imagery, animation and data visualizations; magically autofilling forms… the list goes on and on.
It’s not always easy. It takes knowledge of what the web can natively do, the discipline to prioritize the end user, the courage to buck some familiar processes and artificial constraints, and the organizational support to make it happen. But it’s a privilege to offer that clear, refreshing, distilled, icy glass of water to clean away all this horrible burden of assumed futility… a chance to build a better web together, one experience at a time.