This blog post is a mess. It was obviously written as a defense of the author’s previous actions, and instead of actually listening to the defenses of the 24ways piece that triggered the whole thing, he decided to double down on “everyone else is wrong”.
The original piece is clearly meant to be a resource for developers who have their friends and close relations come to them to build a simple website, or just want to build their own website, but don’t know anything about graphic design, and really are just looking to slap a nice veneer on top of their pages.
Yes, design is not veneer, but as someone who’s entry into design was through “I want to make pretty websites”, there’s nothing wrong with starting by caring about the veneer. Plus the 24ways piece isn’t even about introducing someone to design, it’s explicitly about turning a basic website into something at least somewhat pleasing to look at. The final point of the piece is even “hey maybe you found this cool and want to learn more, here’s some resources”, which actually point to design resources.
This guy found this random article about how to quickly make a decent-looking front-end and decided to trash it all to hell because his ego was hurt. The great thing about the web is that anyone can use it and you don’t have to attend a bunch of design classes to write a blog post. Maybe this post would have worked better on its own rather than attacking another developer for no particular reason.
There is so much to pick apart, but I’ll just point to the inaccessibly light gray text at the bottom of that site. Maybe he should check himself before yelling at someone else about how design works.
The wonderful Lea Verou wrote something about this a while back : http://lea.verou.me/2013/12/css-is-for-developers/
I like Aral, and am disappointed to see this. Do note that it is from back in 2012. Since then he has launched ind.ie with his Indie Manifesto (https://ind.ie/ethical-design/) which I find to be quite inspirational. When he says design, I understand it to mean the entire behavior of the application and how it interacts with the world, including things like privacy, and how data is used behind the scenes (who is it sold to? how is it combined with what other data?).
I disagree with this article. As much as visual design matters, it is veneer. Data is a lot more permanent than the front end, and the fashions of visual design and workflow change quickly. I have worked with databases that have existed since the 1980s, that have had DOS green screen UIs, thick Windows clients, early CGI web apps, heavy C# web apps, and now a “reactive” front end backed by web services. Through it all, the database has endured, and it’s that which has delivered most of the value over its lifespan.
It’s a lot more common in industry to put too much focus on front end design than it is to ignore it.
As much as I disagree with the article, I also disagree with your sentiment.
In the end, most databases to be consumed by humans go through a process of remodelling to allow for many useful frontend interactions. (But I give you that: it rarely means a switch of backend technology). But what’s important for it is a good, data-driven design process in front. And as much as tastes change, people like to use tasteful and usable interfaces - it makes their work enjoyable. So design is much more then veneer, which means it has to care a lot what’s behind.
What I hate about the article: at its core, in rails against commodity design. Yes, picking a font isn’t the whole art of typography. Caring a little about making stuff readable still goes a long way. Making a page half-decent instead of plain ugly is a good first step. Using a standard set of solutions to at least make things somewhat approachable allows people with not much information display experience to come up with something that is okay. At that’s the great win of HTML/CSS-Frameworks nowadays. It raises many applications far higher by at least fulfilling a decent set of standards from the beginning.
This is certainly true, and a horror for my field (I do databases, and often end up with clients that have broken systems with beautiful interfaces). But they also have another problem: they mostly have beautiful interfaces, but not designed interfaces. Everytime you ask about how that works and what answers it should give you, people give you a blank stare. But the buttons sure look nice :).
And as much as tastes change, people like to use tasteful and usable interfaces - it makes their work enjoyable.
I strongly disagree with you here, because I think you’re kinda blindly repeating a meme that has soaked deep into modern software circles.
Tools used for work are not meant to be enjoyed, they are meant to be useful.
People “enjoy” things that are fun. People “enjoy” playing, reading, eating, and fornicating. It is absolute bullshit that a slightly nicer font is going to somehow bump the happiness needle significantly for any reasonable duration.
Go look at the boring line-of-business apps, made in VB. Go look at the boring mainframe and SAP stuff used by airlines and other places where data entry is important. Clever design and “delightful fonts” and all that other crap is totally secondary to being able to get the job done.
Design is important, insofar as the interface has to be simple to use and has to expose whatever needs to be accessed reliably. Anything beyond that is, I think, just designers trying to justify their salaries.
The interesting thing is that, once you have standardized affordances and ergonomics, a lot of the design stuff simply becomes obvious as the veneer it truly is–useful for branding and marketing, but not fundamentally differentiating.
I’ve seen mostly additions to support new functionality; I’ve never seen a well-designed database need to be redesigned in order to support front end functionality. Can you give an example of what you mean?
It raises many applications far higher by at least fulfilling a decent set of standards from the beginning.
This is very true. Just having a basic design template is a major win.