Web Aesthetics Interview with Vito Campanelli

Interview with Vito Campanelli about Web Aesthetics
By Geert Lovink

Ever since I worked with Matthew Fuller in 2004 on A Decade of Web Design, I have been interested in the question if there is such a thing as ‘web aesthetics’ that could operate beyond the overheated nineteen nineties Internet rhetoric. It is easy to historicize ‘net.art’ as a pseudo historical avant-garde and then declare it dead, but what’s the point of such an all too obvious statement? The Web continues to grow and change at an astonishing rate. It is not sufficient to criticize Web 2.0 as a remake of dotcommania. Corporate and state dominance of the Web continues to be a threat, but this should not shy us away from a rigorous theorization of the Web in all its aspects. It was on the Web that I first encountered the works of the Italian theorist, Vito Campanelli, culminating in a visit to his hometown, Naples, in October 2006. After an inspiring meeting in-real-life we continued our exchange online, culminating in this online interview.

Vito Campanelli is assistant professor of “Theory and technique of the mass communication” at University of Napoli ‘L’Orientale’ and a free lance contributor to magazines such as Neural, Boiler, and Memenest. Vito also co-founded the web designers collective Klash. From there, he joined USAD in 2005, a research and development group focused on e-learning. He is also an independent curator, working for cultural events in Naples such as Sintesi, the Electronic Arts Festival, and is the originator of the Web aesthetics research project called The Net Observer. More recently he co-founded the Napoli new media initiative MAO, the Media & Arts Office. Vito Campanelli published the book, L’arte della Rete, l’arte in Rete. Il Neen, la rivoluzione estetica about the artist Miltos Manetas.

GL: Let’s start. You’re working on ‘web aesthetics’. The first association, of course, would be with web design, HTML and the look and feel of a website. But perhaps that’s not what you’re aiming at.

VC: In my research into aesthetic forms of the Net, I make a clear division between commercial expressions and aesthetic expressions, without qualification. I’m not so interested in the latter, while I’m fascinated by the former – those aesthetic forms that exhaust their essence just in being there, without any intent or aim that exceeds the personal expressive needs of whoever designed them. This distinction could seem arbitrary- it could also find a basis if we consider that modern mediated mass communication is poles apart relative to any aesthetic feeling: vulgarity and arrogance nullify any hypothesis of meaning. On the contrary, the research of an aesthetic point of view is the attempt to assign – again – a sense to our human paths.

In my opinion aesthetics is the more powerful answer to the violence of mass communication (or modern commercial communication). Mass communication eludes every determination, it aims to be contemporaneously ‘one thing, its own opposite – and everything between the two opposites’. Exposing the message to all its possible variants, it finishes to abolish it. Indeed, the goal of mass communication is always the dissipation of any content.

The only alternative to the effects of mass communication is a return to an aesthetic feeling of things, a kind of aesthetics not so much ideological, but rather more active (e.g. Adorno) – a kind of aesthetics able to bring again into society and culture feelings of economic unconcern (rather an unconcerned interest), discretion, moderation, the taste for challenge, witticism, and seduction. Aesthetics is exactly this.

Talking about feelings and emotions means to free oneself from the communication domain, while facing a category of beauty has become one of the most subversive actions we can devise in contrast to the reigning ‘factory of culture and consensus’. Within this view I’m suggesting, technology stays in the background: it creates the necessary conditions for spreading one’s own creativity through digital media. If we accept this position, no matter if a website is made using HTML or Flash, what’s really important is the beauty it expresses.

GL: Do you find it useful to build a bridge back to the “classics” of aesthetics – from Kant to Croce? How should we read such old authors in the light of the Internet and its development?

VC: A theory that doesn’t interface itself to the historical presupposition of our thinking is nothing more than a stupid and useless utopia. Nevertheless, the authors you mentioned are not at the center of my thoughts. Kant doesn’t attribute any cognitive value to art, while Croce is sidelined with respect to Internet and its socio-cultural postulates. In Croce’s aesthetics there is a strong devaluation of technique, as he considers it extrinsic to the art and linked instead to the communication concept. Moreover, Croce himself doesn’t pose the question of communication. The intuition-expression is indeed already communication in itself. Croce would never say that the medium is the message. I refer to other authors, above all Deleuze and Guattari, who had the merit of prefiguring the actual rhizomatic structure of the Internet society, and Panofsky, who is a source of inspiration for Manovich. I find the approach of Rudolf Arnheim very valuable: according to him we must build aesthetics, starting from the perceptive and sensory world, not from the idea. If we consider the relational nature of most Net Art, it becomes interesting also trying to read, under a different lens, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization.

GL: It is hard to move away from the postmodern chapter and the way that era defined aesthetics. Is that a struggle for you? Could we say that we, still, live in the aftermath of that theory storm and merely apply the collected insights of the late 20th century to a phenomenon like the World Wide Web?

VC: What you emphasize is a concrete risk and perhaps it is also a reason for the difficulties academia has in opening itself up to a dialectic comparison with the issues the Web has introduced. If we look closely at the more relevant aesthetic phenomenon in the last twenty-year period, Net Art, it becomes hard to refute that this movement, even in its heterogeneity, has introduced new and confrontational aesthetic canons. Above all, it seems crucial to me the overtaking of any distinction between content and form or medium: the interface (that, as Manovich asserts, replaces the form and the medium into the modern paradigm) is so merged with the content that thinking of it as a separate level means to eliminate the artistic dimension. Broadly speaking, I think that authentic advances will be reached when we cease thinking of the Web as an expressive medium, and more of a cultural and social interface.

GL: It is said that Deleuze and Guattari’s concept have become so virulent, so active, that they have passed the point of anticipation, and are now an integral part of our media life. It doesn’t mean that D&G and their followers were wrong or sold out. In fact, it points at a new condition of theory in which critical concepts start to open up spaces and come alive, in the midst of the mess called global capitalism. Seen in this light, what role should a theory of web aesthetics play?

VC: What happened to Deleuze and Guattari’s theories is merely what always happens: human thought is faster than technical progress. It often occurs that we are not able to understand the true significance of contemporary thought, nevertheless,afterwards, inrereading a book, we see clearly its capacity ofbeing ahead of its time. It’s a situation that characterizes not only philosophy but also, in general, literature. I’m still amazed, for example, at how some cyberpunk novels have anticipated the focal themes of our times, according to simple literary inventions. Gibson wrote Neuromancer(July, 1984) without any knowledge of the Web’s reality, still, he had not difficulty carrying his thought over technologicalart’s state.

My idea of aesthetics has – above all – a factual dimension. I’d like to think about a kind of aesthetics busy with ‘dirtying its hands’ with the concrete and daily world.Its role should be therefore giving back to us a beauty dimension which we can contrast against the widespread vulgarity. To contrast an ephemeral aesthetic act to the actual dogma of ‘creativity under command’, means to take oneself away from the alienation that characterizes contemporary creative production. To affirm that aesthetic forms possess a social and cultural (even pedagogic in some ways) value, it means to negate – at root – the modern social organization that comes to measure any expression, including artistic ones, on the basis of market value.

Again, to affirm that a message, a form, a thought, has an intrinsic value before the commercial one seems banal, nevertheless is an aversive affirmation if compared to that you describe as ‘the mess called global capitalism’. In my opinion, the diffusion of a Web aesthetics is ultimately one of the few practicable ways to liberate our new (digital) world from the slavery in which it has been condemned by commercial communication.

GL: It’s so easy these days to proclaim that theory is dead. How do you deal with such cynical observations? Is there an Italian equivalent of pragmatism?

VC: To ask an indolent idealistic Southerner a question about pragmatism could sound like a provocation, even if – to tell the truth – you get the point when highlighting the possibility of different approaches. I do believe that there are peoples who, due to historical and cultural traditions, are more inclined to theory, while others are more inclined to direct experience. Even with regard to new technologies, it seems to me that it’s possible to highlight an approach, predominantly European, that tends to make an issue of technique and to design paths between actual technologic conquests and the classic thought. There is another approach, one that finds its fulcrum in California, that appears instead much more focused on technique in itself. Manovich is an exception, but in his theories he continuously betrays his Russian origins. ‘Theory’s death’ is like ‘spring and autumn’s death’: a good topic of conversation for boring living rooms. History teaches us that theory always returns in unexpected ways. Theory is dead, long live theory!

GL: Do you teach Web aesthetics? Can you tell us something how students are bridging theory and the immense drive towards tinkering and producing?

VC: I wish I was teaching Web aesthetics! Actually, I teach ‘Theory and techniques of mass communication’ and I try to feed pills of aesthetic evaluations into these lessons.

As for students, they seem to me mainly oriented to use the more various objects (PC,digital devices, books, etc…) and not inclined to ask themselves questions about the things they are using. They use them without asking themselves where they come from or which valences they express over the function of use, or even, which evolutionary paths they design? This attitude is probably the fruit of the ruling consumerism that represents, de facto, the only historical reality that new generations know first hand. Nevertheless there is perhaps something more: the more or less widespread resignation and renunciation ofplaying an active and critical role in examining what surrounds us. Most of the students I usually meet seem to incarnate the ideal consumer model dreamed up by marketing gurus. They uncritically accept a lifestyle that other people have designed for them, rather than shaping their own. The picture of the situation could appear tragic, nevertheless, it’s amazing to look at the reactions that you can breed in them when you are able to uncover some conditioned thought processes of which they are victim. When it happens, you can clearly see how a growing interest rises in them, together with the determination to react (also in a creative way). The walk is quite long, therefore it’s important that none of us give up the responsibility to educate and make new generations aware.

GL: Can you tell us what your theory of Web aesthetics consists of? Is it a book that you’re working on?

VC: I’ve published a book on Miltos Manetas and the Neen movement that, in my opinion, is one of the more significant artistic avant-garde expressions in the last twenty-years. To state that “websites are the art of our times,” as Manetas did in his Manifesto, means to put intangible and immaterial artworks outside of the art merchant’s tentacles. Indeed, the market still doesn’t know how to sell objects like websites, but if we erase the commercial layer, then Art returns to its natural function: to open windows where mankind can look at its own condition.

At present I’ve finished, together with Danilo Capasso, another book that has moved from five questions about digital culture that Lev Manovich thought for us at the occasion of a lecture that Danilo and myself organized in Naples in April 2005. We asked more than 100 persons (artists, theorists, curators, mathematicians, etc.) all around the world to answer to Manovich’s suggestions and then we chose 50 contributions in order to publish them. The book is now complete with two different authors’ reflections but – unfortunately – we are still waiting for the editor to make up his mind and pass our work over to the press. This is one of the most significant problems of publishing nowadays: editors are far too slow to follow the velocity of circulation of modern ideas. More generally, I look forward to writing a book on “the aesthetics of the database” theme and lately, I’ve focused my research in this direction, but – to tell the truth – the visualization forms of data are so numerous that I’m still lost at sea.

GL: The first decade of web design was focused on speculative thinking about the potentials of the medium, followed by “best practices” literature and the long silence after the dotcom boom crashed. Where are we now?

VC: We are at the Web 2.0 point, and this indicates an evolution of the way we look at this medium. Despite a lack of unanimity on what Web 2.0 should be, we certainly have made some steps forward – for example, we have dropped the useless antithesis between texts and images: now we consider them as modalities of reading and representing reality, and we believe that a rich medium (such as the Web) has to enhance them both, instead of contrasting them. Nowadays we can easily observe, within the framework of the Net, words that become images and images that becomes words.

We have also dropped the ideas that the Web constitutes a return to the oral tradition or to the written word – indeed, both statements have proven fallacious, and we now prefer to speak about a continuum of languages. These conceptual advances also find a hands-on application in web design, as interface designs are responding to narrative and orientation needs that are miles beyond the early desktop metaphor. As a consequence, the web designer’s role is no longer to draw, but rather to arrange environments for interaction (between users, between image and text, between books and TV, between the symbolic and the perceptive, between the active and the passive, etc…). More generally, I think we have overcome that stage of excitement over the potentials of the medium, and we are now focusing on the nature of the Web itself – its developments and the interactions between the Net and society.

I feel tempted to suggest a bold comparison with the situation of falling in love: first comes the arousal over the ‘potentials’ of a body, then the attention shifts to the nature of the soul trapped in that body (a person takes the place of a body), and finally, all our thoughts are absorbed in imagining the possible relations between that person and people all around us (our family, our clan, our workmates, our flat mates, our playmates, our comrades, etc…). It’s also funny to note that, in accepting this comparison, we have to admit that network culture is a postulate of the early excitement over the Web (an excitement that had been driven by the dotcom boom), as a marriage is a postulate of the initial arousal over a body (driven by a hormonal boom), allowing us to put the two “booms” on the same level.

GL: Is theory in Italy a place of refuge because there is so little institutional support for new media in your country?

VC: Yes, it is. In my country new media are like Godot in Samuel Beckett’stragicomedy: all the institutions keep on chattering about the advent of the Internet and new digital tools, but nobody realizes that they already surround us. In this upsetting situation, theory becomes the only way to be in touch with such things.

GL: Could we also read the lively Internet scene in Italy as a subcultural necessity from the age of Berlusconi who managed to monopolize both commercial and state media when he ruled as prime minister? And, as a result of that could we say that there is a sort of ‘temporary compromise’ between autonomous cultures and more progressive part of the (IT) business community?

VC: On one hand the lively media scene in Italy is an answer to the Berlusconi monopoly on broadcast media, but we must not forget that the one you emphasized is not the only critical situation, indeed Italy is the country of monopolies, oligopolies, and cartels: Internet and telecommunications, banks and insurance companies, most of the vital business articulations are monopolized by the “usual suspects”. Onthe other hand there is a very deep-rooted tradition in media activism. It would suffice to remember the experience of Radio Alice that started transmitting in 1976, and introduced techniques such as linguistic sabotage and diffusion of arbitrary information. Many of the actual initiatives are expressly linked toones born at the end of the 1970s, although the needs of that period are replaced with more modern issues.

From my point of view, the most interesting aspect in media activism is that it leaves behind the dominant communication language; “breaking with language in order to reach life” as Artaud said. It’s fascinating to me how the language of advertising, as well as various modes of ideological communication, are revised into the best-made operations of subadvertising. Reusingelements of well-known media such as popular icons and clichés, along with the detournement of contemporary mass culture headlines, are very creative ways to criticize the context we live in. To my great displeasure I have to underline that often initiatives such as street TV or illegal radio exhaust their energy in building a new transmitting source but what fails is content. It’s like building empty boxes: after the initial curiosity, nobody wants really to get in.

I don’t see any progressive part of the (IT) business community in Italy. Sure, there is a part that looks ‘cool’: it’s the one that scans the autonomous cultures searching for ‘coolness’. The point is, there isn’t any dialogue. A dialogue presumes a predisposition to change one’s point of view and I’m quite sure that thebusiness communityabsolutely doesn’t want to put their assumptions up for discussion.

GL: You attended the MyCreativity conference in Amsterdam. Do you see any trace of the creative industries discourse in Italy? If Europe’s destiny is going to be exporting design and other lifestyle-related ‘experiences’, then Italy would be in the best possible position. Is it?

VC: Debate about the creative industry in Italy still has far to go. The term ‘industry’ is still not used in association with the term “creativity”, as we usually speak about the ‘fashion industry’, or ‘shoe industry’ or, even, ‘furniture industry’. This layout doesn’t encourage the emersion of the creative work’s element as lowest common denominator around the different entrepreneurial activities that bring to life the famous ‘Made in Italy’ moniker. Creative work is – without a doubt – at the bottom of the product ‘Italy’; nevertheless, the emphasis is always on Italian genius (that is, the attitude to invent surprising things), or on “Italian lifestyle”. I guess that if we took a poll of strangers accustomed to buying fashionable stuff made in Italy, we would discover that they believe they are buying the right to participate in the “Italian lifestyle”, more than the fruits of Italian creative labor.

GL: Southern Europe envies the North for all its festivals, centers and cultural funding whereas Northern Europeans can’t stop showing their excitement for the Virnos, Berardis, Negris, Agambens, Lazzoratos and Pasquinellis. Isn’t that a strange form of symbolic circulation? How do you see this play between ideas and institutional cultures on a European scale? Shouldn’t we just stop thinking in those terms and start working on equal levels and forget all this regional labeling? Eastern Europe, for instance, has suffered for many years from the regional stigma. Where you come from overdetermines what you do. Northerners tend not to respond to that criticism.

VC: Maybe the answer is already in your preamble: due to the fact that in Southern Europe it is quite tough to get funding and support for cultural initiatives (especially when you move outside of the mainstream), and many people are more inclined to make intellectual reflections, rather then to plan events. I would like to avoid any regional labeling, nevertheless it can be said, with some justice, that those labels express a state of affairs that is still heavily conditioned by disparities and specificities working on a regional basis. Also if we assume a merely linguistic point of view, it is completely evident that non-anglophone realities suffer enormously from the inability to participate in an active way with the European (or international) cultural debate. This fact pushes these realities to retreat into themselves and to bring to life expressive modalities distinguished by perspectives that are more regional than global.

As for Italy, one of the most interesting specificity is that the lack in cultural funding has transformed the country into an amazing training ground for auto-production phenomena. Operating ‘from the bottom’ is, in my opinion, a key phenomenon these days, indeed, it puts into the cultural economy some truly innovative dynamics, as long these dynamics break (finally) the chain constraining cultural production to the economy of (induced) consumptions and needs. From this field, to put a lens on the specificity of this Italian phenomenon could offer answers more interesting than the ones you obtain considering Italy in the overall European movement.

GL: Is it desirable for you to overcome net.art, media theory, and electronic arts by integrating it into a broader praxis that would not have a techno prefix?

VC: My attempt is just that: to free media theory and electronic arts from techno prefixes in order to consider them just as contemporary culture. In a book I wrote a couple of years ago, I stated that we need, now, to surpass the concept of Contemporary Art in order to define a new contest, one able to contain the theory and the culture born during the last years and centered around the new medium: the Internet. Indeed if Contemporary Art’s medium has been Television, it is right to close that chapter so we may open a new one dedicated to the cultural movements produced by the impact of the Net on contemporary society. It’s not just a question of definitions, rather, it is an issue of a cultural shift: giving up the critical and interpretive tools still in use, to build new ones rising from the awareness that the computer (or the database, as Manovich would say) has replaced narration as a predominant cultural representation.

GL: Let’s go back to web aesthetics. Besides beauty, could we also use the term ‘style’? Is there a positive and critical tradition of talking about ‘style’ or is that merely something for fashion magazines? Maybe it is not wise to look down on fashion… Is there style on the Net?

VC: Nowadays the term ‘style’ appears to be monopolized by fashion and design gurus, nevertheless, we should be able to overcome the nuisance that this linguistic abuse causes, in order to reactivate a genuine critical debate. To deny the existence of style means to erase more than five hundred years of philosophical and aesthetical reflections: the term “style”, in fact, has been used since the 16th century with the ascendance of the Renaissance ‘maniera’ that indicates the personal style of an artist. Style is not a genre and not prearranged forms that the artist can choose according to his preferences. Instead, style is a need because it reflects a way of living, thinking, and imagining the world in which the artist is immersed. Style is a reflection of the times, and very often the choice of a style is not even an aware choice: the artist applies the style of his environment/times without any consciousness (in this sense the critic is much more aware than the artist).

Style is always related to an epoch, thus it changes along with the life and the culture existing under the influence of social, economical and psychological factors. This is the reason style (as the expression of an epoch) is not transmitted from one generation to the next. Sometimes the term “style” is inaccurately described as ‘artistic individual preferences’ (‘le style c’est l’homme’), but we have to refuse this equivocal interpretation: individual forms and preferences need a different denomination, while style is – today as it was 500 years ago – the common language of an epoch. If we accept this interpretation, the pretension of ‘being without a style’ becomes silly and disingenuous: can we imagine an artistic work that doesn’t reflect its times?

When I hear speeches about the refusal of style, my mind goes immediately to the characters of an Orhan Pamuk’s novel: My Name is Red. The main characters in this novel are miniaturists of the Ottoman Empire that discuss (and fight and kill each other) around the subject of style, the question is: which is true art? The expression of the individual artist, or a perfect representation of the divine (in which the artist suppresses any trace of his personal vanity)? The Nobel Prize-winning’s novel describes a very paradigmatic situation: two different cultures are colliding (the Ottoman Empire ‘meets’ the Venetian Empire) and a new epoch rises. There is nothing to do for the miniaturists – a new epoch introduces a new style, and all their efforts to keep the traditional approach to the miniature are in vain.

If we look at the Net we can clearly see a lot of genres (mail art, ASCII art, generative art, hacker art, pixel art, and so on…), but we can also identify a style. A couple of the main elements of this style are – in my very personal opinion – the remixing attitude and the D.I.Y. practice. Human culture has always been defined by its ability to remix ideas, concepts and inspirations, but nowadays there is something new: the new media advent has extended our potential to such an extent that we remix continuously, even when we are not aware of it. New media force us to do a continuous ‘cut and paste’ of the endless digital data surrounding us. Thus, we can assume that remixing is the composition method of our times.

At the same time, new media give us the potential to get our hands around this growing digital data sea, indeed, we can manage and shape it even if we don’t have particular expertise. So we draw data from an endless source and we recombine them using all kind of digital tools, in few words: we remix culture on our own. In this situation, can we imagine an artistic expression that is immune to the two most popular practices of our times? I don’t think so. Instead, the style of our epoch can be found into what I am tempted to call: R.I.Y. (Remix It Yourself).

Obviously, there are other elements that contribute to the actual style, for example, it’s easy to observe how non-linear narrative is taking linear narrative’s place. Instead of denying the concept of style, we should look around us to identify what are the characteristics of our times, and in doing that, we would also understand what the actual style is shaped by.

GL: How do you deal with the popular in web aesthetics? Often it is said that popular culture is so trashy. But with Internet culture the masses of users these days are so advanced. Theory and criticism have yet to discover blogs, Second Life, Wikipedia and all that. Having said that, it’s clear we no longer live in the 1980s and have to promote a serious study of popular (media) culture. Cultural Studies has established itself in such a big way, we shouldn’t have to make such calls… Still there is the question, from a theory point of view, whether or not to overcome the popular.

VC: What is the “popular”? This is a good starting point, if we refer to the Web, and broadly to digital media. Common people are the vanguard we need to test our theories, our hypothesis, our projects, and our products too. Who’s discovering a new world like Second Life? Who’s populating our databases, our wikis and our blogs? Who’s testing our new digital tools? We need them to reach a critical mass. As a consequence all the communication is directed to them: ‘try this new product for free’, ‘trial period’, ‘make a free tour’, ‘open your own blog’, ‘publish your photo album’, these and many others formulas witnessing that we need the masses of users in order to get feedback, to give basis to our theories, to shape our products.

We don’t need them just as audience (the TV age model), the Internet age postulates an active participation, thus, the masses are required to turn themselves into players. What would remain of Web 2.0 and social networks without masses? A desert, I guess.

With all the digital media and contexts we are creating the masses have also produced an incredible amount of content. If that is actually what we define as ‘popular culture’, then the questions are: what are we supposed to do with all this stuff? Is this cultural production significant? Should we spend our time in studying and analyzing it?

For sure we don’t have time to do that, so (usually) we limit ourselves to give a bit of our attention to the events that, pushed by mass media, bounce under our noses. The most interesting thing for me is to observe how the top rated/most viewed videos on YouTube are all ‘commercial TV like’ products; the usual Second Life public spaces (streets and buildings) are crowded with more advertising than Las Vegas (most of them are dedicated to sex); the stick memories of the average MP3 players are filled with the same music you can listen to on any commercial radio station, and shall we talk about the subjects of the photos stored in millions of digital cameras?

What I’m trying to mark is that with new media we are repeating the stupidity and the uselessness of our TV formats, the advertising’s invasion of any public space, the boredom of the pop music scene, etc… Vulgarity and the dissipation of any significance are moving from old media to new media, and I don’t see any good reason to spend my time with such ‘popular culture’.

Besides this, it’s also very interesting to observe how the old media are becoming more and more permeable to blogs and D.I.Y. information. This phenomenon is not due to a fascination in more democratic information sources (the traditional media holders hate new media and people involved with it), on the contrary – the pressure is rising due to the growth of the ‘eyes’ (digital cameras and all the new devices) that are watching the same events that mainstream media are reporting to us: the possibility of being uncovered are too many and broadcast journalists are forced to tell the truth (or – at least – a plausible version of it). As a consequence, blogs have become the major source of news and information about the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal (a scandal born thanks to modern digital devices) and the Iraq War. Then the question is: what impact is the blogosphere having on the traditional media’s control over news and information? We also have to consider that bloggers are often the only real journalists, as they (at their own risk) provide independent news in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under control.

GL: Is it your aim to promote sophistication in web design? How can we identify, and then design sophisticated communication?

VC: I don’t like sophistication very much, I prefer a minimalist approach to web design, with clear and linear interfaces that give intuitive access to sophisticated and very structured data. When you have to manage complex data sets or very rich multimedia contents, the best you can do is design a structure that is very minimal. Indeed, you don’t have to add meaning to the content you are representing, otherwise you make it useless and baroque. Nevertheless, minimalist doesn’t mean careless or dull, instead it means “not one sign more than necessary”, it means taking care of details, it means being moderate and objective.

We also have to consider that there are so many kinds of data that there can’t be one universal formula of access. In fact, some information, such as the structure of a network, need graphic expedients to be understood. Also, there are many realities that have no meaning if showed only in a textual format. In those cases we use graphs, charts, etc., and very often we obtain wonderful and unexpected forms. For example, if you look at the Manuel Lima’s project, Visual Complexity (www.visualcomplexity.com), you’ll easily find many wonderful visualizations of complex networks.

In view of such artistic representation of data the problem becomes: where is the line? How much graphic sophistication (or embellishment) do we need to solve a visualization problem? I guess the answer can found on a case-by-case basis, and the only line we can certainly detect is the one between the amount of complexity required by a representation (objective factor) and the self-satisfaction that pushes any designer into going over what is required (subjective factor).

(edited by Henry Warwick)


Vito Campanelli’s home page: http://www.vitocampanelli.it/
Media & Arts Office: http://www.mediartsoffice.eu/
Web designers collective Klash: http://www.klash.it
The Net Observer: http://www.thenetobserver.net
Boiler magazine: http://www.boilermag.it