Vitaly Friedman: Cleaner Web design for a better environment (part 2)

So much of digital is about speed. To break things is an achievement once you are innovating, moving forward, producing, releasing, publishing. In Web design, it’s all about the “speed of delivery of the campaign, feature, website,” Vitaly Friedman says. “All the things that you mentioned—repair, reuse, archiving, deletion—to many companies that’s seen as a waste of time. It’s not even a matter of a conversation. What only matters is to be seen to be making an impact. It’s the way organizations work. It’s very functional. Does this feature work? Okay. Does this look like what the client wanted? Okay.”

The more technology, the less deep thinking, the fewer wise choices. “The complexity of our designs doesn’t really leave time to stop and think,” Vitaly says. And yet it’s not a good complexity. It’s about the surface, it’s about thinness, shallowness, the complexity of the tool and the code, rather than a deep and needful complex communication or creation. And it’s also about the cult of volume. “I think there is also a culture of let’s push it to the limit,” Vitaly says. “Let’s take up 100% of the developers’ and designers’ time and fill it in with tasks, fill it in with a sprint with things they need to design, they need to deliver. I think overall there is still this fundamental lack of understanding or acceptance of user research or user experience. Most companies are driven by delivery, by engineering. It’s not uncommon that for every designer in the room, there are four or five developers. Usually, there is no mandate to focus on what matters, because there is a deadline and something has to be launched.”

Are we progressing? Are we getting better Web design? Are we getting better societies with all this energy- and material-intense technology? Vitaly sees some areas of progress. “Over the last decade, the role of accessibility has changed,” he says. “I remember in some projects which I was running as a freelancer back then, in 2003, there was no notion of accessibility. Nobody cared. I think now it has gotten much better. On the other hand, if I look at the notion of general usability—links looking like links, buttons looking like buttons, menus being simple enough for people to understand—yeah, we took a lot of paths which did not improve usability at all. In many ways, we ended up developing a lot of new patterns that might be visually pleasing but are really pretty disastrous when it comes to accessibility or usability. Very often, we invent some creative solutions when we don’t need them.”

I talk to others in the Web design community and they don’t even feel that accessibility has improved much. Where are we going? Why are we doing all this? Producing stuff. Producing code. Producing content. Producing complexity. Why? During a moment when our environment is under incredible stress, the Web and digital industry is absolutely focused on growing data production at an exponential rate. An entire industry trapped in the cult of volume and obsessed with growth at all costs, no matter what gets broken.

Cleaner web design for a better environment, a conversation with Vitaly Friedman
Vitaly Friedman’s Smashing Magazine

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