|the soapbox @ benturner.com|
"Love for the Personal Site", an Essay
Shutting down a personal site is inexcusable. I'm sorry. I don't really care what the excuse is: if you've already decided to undertake the task of maintaining an expression of yourself, you've already made the commitment to keep it alive, as well as have you demonstrated some sort of need of a font for venting.
Commercial web design can really suck. It drains any creative energy you may have had and puts it aside in the name of quantity. Oh sure, you may think I'm making a fuss out of what's been happening to me recently, but this whole thing is really frustrating the fuck out of me.
You're not allowed any sort of creativity in commercial web design. Maybe in some projects, you are, like if you're working with a fixed medium like print or television, but the Web is an entirely different animal. Few companies are willing to let the web designer loose, as they want the site to work in all browsers and use easy-to-decipher FrontPage code and all that good stuff.
In commercial design, every single fucking thing you design has to have a point. Nothing can be there just for effect. It has to make money somehow. You can't fade letters or stick in images that only have a tangential relationship to the main idea. If something doesn't seem perfect, another solution has to be found. This profession is not for anyone who requires artistic excellence.
I've been dragged through the dirt doing terrible banners and making tiny, insignificant adjustments to images, and all this takes hours. But what more? It saps my strength. It gets so tiring listening to people bitch about what they think would work best.
Excuse me? You hired me to handle the creative aspect. Don't tell me what would work best, because I've already considered it. I'm hired not to do gruntwork, but to inspire the project with an amazing layout.
And I doubt many designers are allowed to do that. There are restrictions, image sizes, aversions to certain Web techniques, time requirements, and all that shit. Any restriction at all absolutely kills my energy. Call me a control freak, call me selfish, call me stubborn, I don't care. What I know is I'm tired of creating slop for people, and it's so hard not to do sub-par work in this industry.
Don't you UNDERSTAND that telling me to change the tint of this or that image detracts from the overall picture? Don't you understand that that fucking image is intended to work towards the overall idea of the image, not the nit-picky interpretation you got out of it? What's your problem? Why do you have to carry on cheesy metaphors, when a subtle hint at it would be enough? Why are you putting aside my judgment, when you don't even do that shit for a living anyway?
I need to get to know more commercial web designers. Seriously. I can't imagine how they cope with it. I suppose you can get by by saying that that's what the employer wants, but I don't know. I'm not proud of a lot of the commercial work I've done. It's been updated so many times that it's lost its original flow and freedom. Even changing names of links and messing with pixels just draws the fucking life out of it. So just stop it, okay?
I have an idea: tell me what you want the first time, not after I've already formulated a whole plan around a misguided idea. Does no one know what they want? Jesus. "I want this." "Oh, wait, you've already done it? Now I want this." "Hmm, change it slightly to this..." A successful site is extremely well-organized and laid out.
There's nothing more harmful than a forced web site. You know it and I know it. You can just LOOK at sites and see which ones have been hacked up by whole boardrooms of people and dismantled such that it's only a flurry of various ideas. You can just LOOK at sites which went through the first time and retain their ease of use.
I look at my personal site and I'm quite pleased with it. I've had people write me commenting on how they notice my satisfaction with it. This isn't rocket science, folks. Having this or that phrase in a fucking graphic isn't going to make someone buy your fucking product. benturner.com is 100% what I want on it. Absolutely no one tells me what to put on it or how I should do something. Whether it has design flaws and imperfections or not, I don't care. That's what makes it a site. That's what gives it personality. I'm not here to teach people HTML or design standards. I'm here to show you something interesting, something good. I love my site because I can create whatever I damn well please on it. I start with an unrestricted blank image -- I'm not, from the beginning, given fifteen rules to start working by. Perhaps that's why the look at benturner.com is so superior to what I've done for companies. Plus, I know exactly how I want my site to look. Having a strong backbone is integral to building a successful web site (among other things). If you change the graphics, the content, or the links, that just ruins the site. The pristine nature of the thing is destroyed. I can't stand that.
So to anyone who decides to shut down their web site, fuck you. You may be pressed for time with your "busy life" and you may have other things going on that keep you from updating your site. You may think you've run out of things to say, or you don't care about your site anymore. But, look, if you found web sites important before, that feeling never goes away. You shut down your personal web site and you forfeit one of the few chances you get to express yourself. There are infinite possibilities for you when you design a web site for yourself, and there are infinite things to write about. You have the freedom to choose, and no one else has the right to force you to change what you've done. "So what?" you may ask. Well, I'm living through this right now and it's frustrating as Hell to create decent work for people who don't really know what they want. But it's so easy to work on your own site. Personal expression sets you free.
Imagery goes a long way. I'm talking about images of products and scenes and peoples' faces and that sort of stuff. Any halfwit can create a nice-looking site given nice imagery to work with. Case in point: themonster. Yes, yes, Alexis, we know you're in love with how you look, but for God's sake, show some creativity. If you're in the situation I'm in, I have virtually no imagery to work with. It's a real bitch when companies can't give you images to Photoshop the Hell out of.
The design for a site is as good as the information you provide to the web designer. It's as simple as that. If you're not happy with what a designer did, a lot of it is your fault. Even the best people can't pull a rabbit out of a hat in web design -- it's up to you to make our jobs easier, so we're not scouring the 'Net looking for shit to use, dodging copyright laws and God knows what else.
But going back to my main point, I've realized just how important my web site is to me, and if I were to shut it down, my frustration from lack of ability to express how I REALLY feel would grow exponentially. Give me free reign, dammit -- I know what I'm doing and you don't.
The death of personal sites signifies stagnation on the Web, and the loss of the creative, progressive energy behind not only Internet content, but also design content. The Web moves as the personal site moves, and right now both are slowing down to depressing speeds.
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