The Tangibility Of Websites, Or Something Like That

Design | November 30th, 2009
The Tangibility Of Websites, Or Something Like That Photo by tibchris

Last night I watched Objectified, a good film about the design of everyday things. In the film, the matter of durability and sustainability in design is mentioned a lot, and that led me to think of how those ideas translate to web design.

Users are not owners

One of the main difference between an object and a website is the fact that you, as a user (I don’t particularly like this word, but it is used greatly within web design), don’t feel you actually own a site. You may make it feel more like you—by creating profiles and customising parts of it—but you can’t keep it somewhere, protect it, or destroy it. A user doesn’t feel like he can fundamentally change the object.

This may mean that there is no true engagement with the person, the user, or visitor. At least not on the same level as objects.

Having said this, in some instances the ability to change an object or use it for other things that it wasn’t supposed to (like using a book as a laptop stand) does translate to web design. For example, the famous case of Twitter and the replies or retweets. That functionality was added to Twitter by its users, it wasn’t in the original object.

The durability concern

In the movie, durability was addressed as a great concern for industrial designers: what happens to an object once it’s thrown away? Should we be making durable objects that will last and that our children will one day inherit? Or should we make, instead, even less durable objects that are clearly disposable but that are much easier to degrade?

I don’t think this question is addressed at all in web design. And to be honest, why should it? And the question of inheritance can also be related to the ownership one: how do we pass it on, if we don’t actually own it?

The endless iteration process

The truth is that both object and websites go through iterations that supposedly make them better. But whereas the iterations of objects require for new objects to be produced, iterations of websites just mean new files are uploaded (making Archive.org the digital equivalent of the landfill). I’m sure many industrial designers would love that their flawed works could be as easily updated as ours!

If you think about it, is there actually any website that you can look at and think “this is perfect as it is, and it should never change, I want it to be like this forever and keep it”? There are objects. So does this mean that there are no perfectly designed websites, that get better with age, that fit better after years of use? Or should we look at details in web design that are like this, instead of whole website? Like putting the logo on the top left corner.

And how about sustainability—another big word frequently mentioned throughout the movie? Is it something we should be addressing more? And how?

No point

My question is: should we care at all? Am I talking about two completely distinctive things that by no means should be compared? The things is, we try to translate so many other characteristics of tangible design to web design, so why not try and translate these values more often too?

There is absolutely no point to this article. These are just some thoughts that came to my mind whilst watching the movie, and this was the easiest way of not losing those thoughts.

Even so, I’d like to know your thoughts on this: am I just being an idiot trying to compare two subjects that shouldn’t be compared like this? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Your Comments:

Have your say!

Note: * Denotes a required field (don't worry: your email will not be published)

Smashing Magazine Network