Sunday, January 02, 2011

The 'Web' needs to learn from the Mobile Web

Not every device is going to be high powered and able to render every manner of script, plugin and rich media thrown at it. The Web as we thought of it, now needs to learn some heavy lessons from the Mobile Web. Here are a quick few thoughts why I believe it is time for many heavily used desktop web sites to go back to some basic principles, and learn from the mobile web.

The Mobile Web has evolved through attempting (ideally) to render the most appropriate level of richness to the device based off capabilities, screen size and bandwidth. Sometimes this can be done automatically with elegant results, sometimes you have to design for the differences. The desktop web has unfortunately become almost unusable, bloated and reliant on a fast browser and processor. For instance, my laptop isn't that old, however it isn't that new either (about 3 years old) and it is starting to have trouble (regardless of browser) to cope with the amount of JavaScript on each web page alongside the large amount of Flash adverts. I mean do you have to have an advert covering the entire background of the visible area on the browser, behind whatever content you are trying to read or watch. All the browsers now encourage you to open multiple tabs, bloated web pages do not work well unless your computer is beefy enough to handle it.

One of the problems with an open medium such as the web, where you can use plugins it is naturally open to abuse, you don't need to work within or understand the limitations of the browser. Well time to go back to school ... it really is all about design, something that a huge number of websites appear to have forgotton or ignored. For instance, I don't always need autocomplete when searching, it really slows down my user experience (Google, Amazon etc...) when I know what I am looking for. Commercial pressures to litter every page with every possible way of catching the user out seems to be on the increase ... whatever happened to good, simple design?

Several years ago, there felt to be a bit of an industry epiphony moment when the now very well coined phrase Web 2.0, or at least many of the design principles behind it, were seen as the future. "Less is more" seemed to be the way forward (and that was an idea dating back to the 1920s from architect Mies van de Rohe). Which is a driving force of the mobile web, typically because of on screen space and bandwidth. It appears sites are now being greedier and greedier for resource, running multiple scripts, animations and so on, this just makes my laptop processor hot, switches the fan on and gets on my nerves. Didn't think that was really an aim of the web page but perhaps I am wrong?

I think the web of 2011 should revisit these basic principles, start the building blocks to creating content that can be elegantly purposed to use from small screen, to mid screen and onto large screen. If you don't start from these principles, you are going to find it very hard down the line retrofitting to whatever devices come in the near future. Architect quote time ... Walter Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus said "many of the things that seem to be luxuries today will become the norm in the near future" ... I like to feel he was talking about design but you can assume the top end devices we see today will eventually become the norm. Otto Wagner said "something impractical cannot be beautiful", I totally agree. Alvar Aalto said "Modern Architecture does not mean the use of immature new materials; the main thing is to refine materials in a more human direction", the richness and level of content on your web site and individual pages needs to address the human in front of it ... I think these pioneering thinkers could still teach us something!