I love this beautiful essay by Frank Chimero on 'What Screens Want'. It’s adapted, appropriately for the screen, from his recent talk at The Build Conference 2013 and really makes the most of the delight and surprise we can experience while reading on a screen.
The joy of HTML5 is that with good design it can bring fluid narrative structure through colour and style breaks. I love the way that Frank’s changes of scale, when scrolling, sometimes only allow one word to appear at a time - slowly revealing poetic chapter headings. The image above is a screen grab of the last two words of the first chapter title ‘The Volume of Dancing Light’.
Frank embeds images, animated gifs, cinemagrams and videos to illustrate and support his story. Like the brilliant Pitchfork article on Daft Punk, I wrote about the other day, his rhythmic graphics make the usually painful experience of reading anything of any length online really enjoyable.
This is a brilliant example of how the subject of the text is communicated not only through the words themselves, but also through the very action of consuming the information.
As Frank says,
"Movement, change, and animation are a lot more than ways to delight users: they are a functional method for design…Designing how things change and move is enough for us to understand what they are and the relationships between them. You don’t need the heavy-handed metaphor, because the information is baked into the element’s behavior, not its aesthetics.”
So although Frank’s essay is very beautiful, it’s more about the way it functions for the reader that makes it brilliant.
Frank goes on to argue that in his experience as a designer the rise of the commercial web, and the current map of consumer behaviours it’s building, is distorting creative values in technology and corrupting the potential screen based design has for generating positive human interactions.
"It’s the churning and the burning, flipping companies, nickel and diming users with in-app purchases, data lock-in, and designing with dark patterns so that users accidentally do actions against their own self-interest."
And this is the killer line, for me.
"We’ve taken an opportunity for connection and distorted it to commodify attention. That’s one of the sleaziest things you can do."
Cheers Frank, for always highlighting important questions in your work, for teaching us about what’s happening under our noses and for showing us what’s possible by working under a different operating manual. This essay is a wonderful example of design storytelling for my Craftsmanship of Doing book project.