SIC 2015: How to make the web weird again

By Natasha Jarmick
Creative Strategist

November 6, 2015

I have been listening to brilliant people speak about interesting things for the last two days at the Seattle Interactive Conference. I’ve enjoyed many conversations, tweeting out my favorite nuggets in real-time, but one session in particular left me feeling inspired and fired up.

That session was called “Make the Web Weird Again,” given by Matt Glaser and Joe Alterio. They broke down the history of the web — from the <blink> Blink Tag </blink>, to Flash, to Google Analytics and WordPress.

Matt and Joe drew a clear connection between the creation of web analytics, the death of Flash and the current state of the web.

What’s that current state of the web, you ask? IT’S BORING.

The web (well, web design in particular) has just become so, so BLAH. We are all designing websites using the same patterns and rules — the result is a homogenous field of websites that all look like low-budget versions of something Steve Jobs had his hands in.

How can we break out of this drone-like web design habit? Matt and Joe had some suggestions. Here are my top takeaways from their SIC talk on how to bring the weird back to the web:

1. “Rapid Deployment” is killing good web design.
Instead of solving for “What experience will our audience love?” we are solving for “What is the minimal viable product that we can launch quickly and in budget, that will work in every device, that meets this generic checklist of things that management sent that relieves us from any risk of a miss?”

We are always running so fast toward the next release that we never really have time to fall in love with what we are currently launching. There will always be goals and clients and budget limitations, but that doesn’t mean we should all become risk-adverse robots. Bring the human back to web design.

2. Pushing technology into the background isn’t always the best solution.
With advances in technology, we’ve been able to “hide” the tech from our users. They don’t see or feel the behind-the-scenes work happening with every click or scroll. But perhaps we’ve gone too far. What if by creating products that are “thought-lite,” we are really making products that are thoughtless?

3. A/B Testing is broken.
Every “good” product goes through testing, which reduces our risk of failing. But what if our widely accepted method of testing is all wrong?

We treat A/B testing as if the only outcome is either A or B, but we have forgotten about the element of varying environments. Unless we can completely control the environment (AKA the user), A/B testing should not be the only method of testing we are using.

4. We must try to be anti-pattern, at least sometimes.
Creative risk, by definition, is anti-pattern. We are terrified of going to market with something that isn’t proven or perfected. But that is where the reward lies.

5. Don’t confuse being ubiquitous with being unique.
Think about it.

6. Forgetting to tell the story is to forget that humans are your audience.
Humans are drawn to narrative — it’s how they are able to make connections. Good web design tells a strong story, and the right story for the audience you are trying to engage.

7. Get into gaming.
For whatever reason, video games are one of the few places where designers are still being WEIRD and having fun. You know, like Space Jam weird. Get into gaming for inspiration (check out Monument Valley and indie game design).

8. Take risks the right way.
Taking a risk does not mean abandoning data, or trying to do something that data shows won’t work. Taking risks means doing something that there is NO DATA for — creating that data set, and then analyzing it. Try something new — with purpose — and monitor the reaction.

For more of Natasha’s thoughts on the current state of the web, read her post, ‘Seinfeld,’ conformity & web design.

tags: design, SIC, SIC2015

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