Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 2 Jun 20th, 2004
So I’ve toiled away to bring you an all new round of the world’s leading experts in the field of high-technology design versus those down in the trenches fighting the good fight day in and day out. Yes, ladies and gents, at the risk of alienating all those folk whom I might have to work with in the future, it’s time for an all new Gurus v. Bloggers. And hey, check out the purty new logo, courtesy of master craftsman Jon Hicks!
Playing for the Gurus this time around? We have Brenda Laurel, John Maeda, Christina Wodtke, Jesse James Garret, Eric Meyer, and Nathan Shedroff. And to keep the trend of poking some light hearted fun at the experts while also eating my own special brand of dog food, your trustworthy Narrator will once again bat for the Home Team.
Also, because everyone thought I was out of mind when stacking a certain individual in the first Battle Royale, I’ve brought back the biggest blogger heavyweight of them all from Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 1. Yes, that’s right, Mr. Zeldman himself! Only now he’s now in his rightful spot on the Gurus side of the fence. The Gurus have a fighting chance finally. [Stop snickering in the back, please.]
For the Bloggers? We have Angie McKaig, Ben Fry, Veerle Pieters, Bob Baxley, Dave Shea, Shaun Inman, and Luke Wroblewski. Plus, I have a surprise twist of events that rivals the season finale shocker on Survivor that gave Rupert an extra cool million. You’ll just have to read on to find out what happens.
Laurel v. McKaig
Because I’ve been outspoken in the past on the lack of XX representation in certain high-profile blogging circles, even committing the crime myself in assembling the Design Fab Five, I thought I’d start this round of competition with a much needed estrogen boost.
If you don’t know Brenda Laurel, chances are you probably haven’t been to many design conferences or done enough reading about design and high-technology. That or you’ve had your head buried in the sand trying to avoid the real world. Laurel has authored and edited so many design books and spoken at so many design events that one wonders when she has time to do anything else — especially teach, where she does so at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. But we know the rules of this game. There’s simply no good excuse knowing that when you’re feeling lucky on Google searching on Brenda Laurel’s name, you get this result. Dig the tattoo. Don’t dig the web site.
Compare that to when you type in Angie McKaig into Google. Maybe I’m biased because I grew up a few miles from where guitarist Billy Gibbons called home, but McKaig’s got legs, and yes, she knows how to use them. (I had to work in a ZZ Top reference into my blog at some point in time. Forgive me.) McKaig uses a great typography, clean layout, playful illustrations, held together by snappy content. Besides, who can deny the brilliance of the woman behind Pampered Puppy? Dogs rule.
Maeda v. Fry
It’s the teacher versus the student. How can I possibly do this? How can I be so cruel as to pit these two against each other? In public even? Oh, come on. If Maeda or Fry ever do happen to read this, I’m sure the Prof will be taking Lil’ Ben out for a beer at a pub near MIT soon after to have a good laugh.
To the point. John Maeda is easily on of the road to becoming one of the most influential figures in high-tech design. His upcoming book, Creative Code promises to be a ground breaking book. Yet, for someone that promotes simplicity, his web site seems to openly contradict that philosophy with a lot of visually complicated thumbnails and competing typographic treatments.
As for Ben Fry, I’ve only met him once briefly — he’s a good friend of the wife. He’s also a worthy student of Maeda’s, having learned well during his attendance at MIT. Some of the examples you’ll find perusing his web site are simply killer. If you have the time, be sure to check out Zip Code, Iraq Casualities, Genome Valence, and Revisionist. The heck with it… Check out all of them. Combine all those examples of work with a home page that is both simple in presentationa and straight-forward in design, you can see Fry has taken the Maeda mantra around simplicity and executed it flawlessly.
Besides, I had to find an excuse to put Maeda on this list because I can’t for the life of me figure out that old school pixelated logo for Simplicity. I mean… No… there’s nothing diplomatic I can say about it. That logo simply must go!
Wodtke v. Pieters
It’s a good thing Christina Wodtke was quoted as an expert in the recent flap over Greg Storey’s White House memo design in the Wall Street Journal. Now I have another XX representative to add to the batting order for the Gurus! By Wodtke’s own description, she’s an information architect, and not a graphic designer. No problem, we’ll leave the visual and typographic treatment off to the side for now. Instead, follow me down the yellow brick road — in a separate window if you have the screen real estate.
Starting on Wodtke’s Elegant Hack home page, click the Gleanings link. Now click the Case Studies link found in the top navigation area. Surprised? Alright, we’ll cheat a little. Go ahead and hit the Back button. Now click the Widgetopia link. Ah! well, at least here the navigation is present, although the change in appearance is a bit startling. Now click the Me link.
Lost? Not to worry. Hit the Back button twice to get back to the Gleanings blog section.
Contrast that to Veerle Pieters blog. Now, mind you, Pieters is no information architect — at least not that I’m aware of — so maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges. But Veerle.com uses an anchored navigation scheme that is easy to use and intuitive. Click on any method of navigation along the left sidebar, and while the content changes the navigation scheme stays consistent and firmly in place. Pretty hard to get lost if you ask me. Combine that with the great design, style and content then you have a knockout blog.
Garrett v. Baxley
In that corner, we have Adaptive Path’s own Jesse James Garrett and his Elements of User Experience diagram. In this corner, we have Bob Baxley and his Universal Model of the User Interface diagram. One of these days, I will write a lengthy essay on my opinion of these two models. (I’m sure everyone is on pins and needles to read what should become a Pulitzer worthy essay.) But this is Gurus v. Bloggers, a look at the web sites representing the contestants. This is not When Diagrams Attack.
So, a quick look at Garret’s web site, especially a prominent piece of it — his own information portal. Wow. What can I say? I mean, really… What can I say? Nothing comes to mind. Anyone who knows me knows how serious it is when I say that for the first time in my life on this planet, I am rendered speechless.
Gotta shake it off.
The only thing I can think of is that it takes work to make something look like that.
Over to Baxley’s site and you get a professional, clean, savvy presentation that would speak to any CEO looking to add design as a vital component of their web offering. Easy to read, crisp layout, clean illustrations and photography. Now all we need to do is get Bob to update his content. Still though, it’s no contest here.
Meyer’s CSS Edge v. Shea’s Zen Garden
Next up we have the giant in the work that is known as Cascading Style Sheets — Eric Meyer’s head is so full of CSS tech goodness and knowledge that yes, I knew I couldn’t put him up against any single person and feel right about it. I myself owe much to the man for his wealth of knowledge he so graciously posts on his web site. But still, I decided I had to put him up against the brain child of one of his best students, David Shea.
So, in Meyer’s corner, we have CSS Edge. First big problem? The low contrast presentation. It doesn’t make scanning the site easy on the eyes to say the least. Yet, intense study of the content there takes one’s knowledge of CSS then quintuples it’s value. There can be no argument about that fact. Maybe if Meyer had used orange for CSS Edge, because orange is after all the new black, I would be able to swing the vote the other way.
Over to the Zen Garden. While you don’t get an explanation on much of the goodness that is CSS in technical detail, you can’t help but sit in awe as you click then click then click again through the lists of various designs. The rush of blood to the head as your eyes take in the true power of presentation separated from content, then reworked and redesign over and over only serves to create a design geek’s ultimate high. Better than sex? Do you really have to ask?
Oh… This is tough. Damn tough. I mean, this is the kind of call a referee makes during the Super Bowl that for all intents and purposes, proves to the world that the game of all games is rigged. Fundamentally flawed even. Stacked to only let those in the know rake in the cash. Everyone can see the instant replay. Everyone knows the deal.
But still… I’m going to have to chalk it up to promoting both sites for those who wander into reading this article from a generous TrackBack, then call it a day. Hate mail be damned! I have set out to keep these contests a no-win situation for the Gurus, and I must follow through, taking my cues from the lessons presented by the Liberal Media.
Winner: Shea’s Zen Garden
Shedroff v. Inman
Nathan Shedroff has been hailed as a master of user experience design. Shaun Inman just masters experience.
A stop over to Shedroff’s web site and you have to be impressed — a cool aesthetic, some great eye candy. But what’s with the 6px rendered type in the navigational system? And the low contrast typography? And the really sporadic layout and use of graphics? As it stands, Shedroff’s web site looks like a throwback to some Peter Saville inspired design of the dotcom boom. (Not that I don’t like Saville. The man’s a rock star in the design world.) Nathan! Baby! One word: Redesign. One more word: Now.
Everyone who is anyone is doing it.
What can one say about Shaun Inman’s web site that hasn’t already been said? Everyone gushes over the guy. It’s like watching young teenie-boppers scream and cry in the presence of the King or the Beatles. Checking out Inman’s web site proves why he deserves so much attention. Standards compliant, edgy use of technology, cool CSS and Flash tricks. Details! Inman’s got more lush detail and technical prowess than a Peter Greenaway movie. Damn does his web site just ooze user experience design or what? He has me in tears.
Herasimchuk v. Wroblewski
[Expletive.] Here I am again — playing on the side of Gurus. I never learn.
There’s nothing to say about Design by Fire that hasn’t been said before. (At least by me.) But, like a great industrial band from the late 80s and early 90s, self-referential essays with a good sprinkling of links pointing back to my own content seems to be the right medicine for the cause.
Having said that, there always comes a time when I look at others web sites and think to myself, “What the [expletive] was I thinking? My work sucks rocks.” I admit, this is my first blog and I feel I’ve learned a ton in the process nurturing its existence into the world these past five months. What seems to work using as simple a design as I can muster, dealing with MoveableType and its template scheme, dealing with Apache and PHP. But that’s no excuse. When a guy like me sees a web site by a guy like Luke Wroblewski, I start sweating bullets knowing I need to rethink my entire design strategy. To add insult to injury, Wroblewski’s content and writing about interface design is both prolific and insightful. So I’m getting hammered on multiple fronts.
Sigh. Back to the drawing board.
Zeldman v. Sahlén
What? This was the big surprise? Who is this Johan Sahlén guy? Never heard of him? What could I be thinking? Zeldman is going to trounce this kid easy.
I mean, look at Zeldman’s site! Wait. Ok… Back a up a moment… Look at Zeldman’s site after setting the proper contrast. There’s no denying the satisfaction of watching Zeldman practice what he preaches. His site uses some of the cleanest code known throughout the world wide web. His various designs and redesigns always inspire. Zeldman.com is the epitome of cool, while maintaining accessibility, usefulness and forward thinking design.
But hey, one looks at Sahlén’s Excessive Style and one has to be impressed. A color palette that soothes and calms. Simple, yet sensible use of typography. Sahlén’s coded his site to web standards, fussy as it may be. He’s even got me thinking green is the new orange.
However, the crucial thing here is this: Sahlén was born in 1985.
Let me repeat that: 1985.
That was the year that Billy Joel married Christie Brinkley. That was a few years after both Blade Runner and Raiders of the Lost Ark were playing in real movie theaters, which tells you how old Harrison Ford is these days. That was a year AFTER the first Macintosh hit the market! I don’t know about you, but I was dressing in black turtlenecks dancing to Depeche Mode in trendy new wave discos in Texas when this kid let out the primordial scream after getting smacked on the ass by the Good Doctor. Further, when I was 19, I was designing crappy logos, crude technical manuals and whacked-out PowerPoint presentations while living in Chicago. I was a poser.
Sahlén’s no poser. For that, he gets to lay out the knockout punch to the Gurus, taking down the King of the Web — the one and only Zeldman!
Was it good for you?
Another shutout: Bloggers, 8. Gurus, Zilch.
I can’t believe it’s come and gone so fast. Another round of Gurus v. Bloggers has hit the Google archive, to be read three hundred years from now by folks a thousand times smarter than any of use could ever hope to be. It’ll be analyzed, deciphered, and pondered over for ages to come. Yet, all we are left with is the spectacle of witnessing another competition where the Bloggers completely owned. Again.
It’s time to open our eyes to the carnage. Beyond the CSS Zen Garden, go browse the sites like CSS Vault, CSS Beauty and The Web Standards Awards. It’ll leave you with an awe inspiring feeling that we are witnessing a design event equivalent to The Big One that will some day take out California. Things are a’changin’ people. Get on board or swim with the fishes.
Just when will all this commentary on Gurus and Bloggers end on DxF? Probably after Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 3. The rule of three cannot be denied. But then again… Who knows? Maybe there won’t be enough Gurus for the Bloggers to own in Round 3? Maybe in Round 3 the Gurus will smack down the upstart Bloggers for a change? One would think that by the time Round 3 is ready for posting that the Gurus — after suffering two crushing rounds of Blogger ownage — would have gotten it together a little bit and hired some high profile web designers to fix their sites.
Hey… I’m not the best illustrator in the world, but at least I’m forking over some product to Jon Hicks for helping me out on the visual side with that new GvB logo. A lesson for every Guru out there to learn.
Round 3? I guess we’ll have to collective hold our breath to find out what happens. Until then…