Why does the web have to be so hard?

Being an agency

Building digital properties should be made easier, but the complexity of devices and standards is still making it too hard. It’s time for a change,

Web platforms such as WordPress have the potential to make a profound way in which we use, build and interact with the web.

Back when we founded as an agency in the mid-nineties the web was a simpler place, it only worked on a desktop (usually 1024 dots wide) and we had a choice of 4 fonts and 16 colours. Life was simple, and so was the rendering of digital information.

Then, along came the browser wars and that started to change. New proprietary formatting appeared (anyone remember “blink” and “marquee”?) on some browsers and support for all of these funky new styling cues was patchy at best.

Thankfully, by 2010 a new and universal standard (HTML5) was putting an end to all this malarky, and in combination with a mobile-first approach we stopped worrying too much about device size and orientation.

However, this is still too complicated. We’re having to use ever more complicated layouts and technologies to make sure everything looks just right. It’s starting to become unsustainable and, even with frameworks such as WordPress, it’s getting expensive.

The learning is still valid and content-first, incremental releases and performance-focus are now ingrained into web thinking. Driven by a need to deliver a full-blown digital experience on small screen devices across slow links was a wake-up call. The approach of building out from a centre based on information structure is now core to how everyone now builds digital assets. And that is good.

We need to avoid getting caught up in the detail too much, the fractal nature of pixel and style-perfect digital delivery runs the risk of drowning us all – with little or no real payback. We must focus on what really matters and stop chasing unicorns.

Less really is more. If we become overly prescriptive, especially with regards to how it looks, we’re going to run the risk of creating dinosaurs. The dinosaurs were not very adaptable to change and the one thing we can definitely say is that the web is going to change. A lot.

Great new approaches are around the corner, the Extensible Web Manifesto springs to mind.

Lovely in principle, but trickier to deliver in the real world where clients drive the look and feel from a pixel-positioning point of view. To make this work we need to communicate differently and step back from the “brochure-led” approach used to deliver digital services.

This won’t happen overnight, but with a will there is a way. The story is easy to understand, and revolves around flexibility, lower cost, simpler management, greater involvement and, ultimately, wider democratisation of the web – the trade off is that things might not look so perfect. Meh.