From Web Nouveau to Webhaus


Art Nouveau interior

Art Nouveau interior

Where is the web headed? We’ve had our era of untidiness; now it’s time to reassess and clean up the mess of table-layouts, IE fixes and Javascript overrides. Do we need to create a new movement based on all the tools we now have at our disposal and all the techniques we have learnt?

If you know anything about Art and Design the term ‘Art Nouveau’ will undoubtedly sound familiar. To refresh your memory: It is a term used to describe a particular trend in the creative industries which originated around 1890 and continued until World War I. The characteristic use of flowing curves inspired by organic forms and images of nature could be seen reflected in anything from architecture to print. Artists and designers of the time had become comfortable with surface pattern and texture; furniture was covered in floral adornments; buildings had staircases made of an organic weave of iron vines and windows were organic stained glass masterpieces.

The period of worldwide political conflict that followed the Art Nouveau era saw people tearing down ornate metal railings for supplies to the war efforts, manufacturing was streamlined, techniques were simplified, factories were repurposed to produce munitions and steel. As manufacturing techniques became more refined, so did Art and Design. WWI drew to a conclusion and people were poor and desperate to return to normality. Simplicity was the key.

Bauhaus School Building

Bauhaus School

Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in 1919. It was a school of design that was characterised by its design principles in functionalism and simplicity. Famous for its revolutionary teaching methods, many of which are used in schools internationally today (such as the colour wheel and colour star theories by Johannes Itten); it lead to a movement in Art and Design that echoed throughout Europe and changed the outlook of Design for the better.

A chair was a chair for sitting and not necessarily for admiring. Tables were flat, smooth and clean, not carved. They were all made from the most up-to-date materials using pioneering manufacturing techniques, designed to be cheap to produce and cheap to own, with form truly following function.

What is the relevance?

After the great war of the browsers, as Internet Explorer is given the ultimatum: “evolve or die”; we, as designers and developers, find ourselves with greater power in terms of the technology and techniques we can utilise. HTML5, CSS3, canvas, native audio and video are all now at our disposal in one way or another. Some aspects have been available to use for a while now, some are only just starting to become useful. Take CSS based rounded corners for example, we have been doing this on decent browsers for some time always falling back to sharp right-angles in IE 8 and below. Text-shadows, box shadows and opacity effects have all been toyed with and used with little regard for IE and its short-comings. This is our neo-Art-Nouveau movement; a Web Nouveau.

Web designers continue to rebel against IE and its inabilities by (mis)using CSS to create illustrations etc, (, but now Microsoft is starting to get the message and we are winning the war against aged and incapable browsers, it’s time to tone it down a bit; It’s time to streamline and be honest.

As Technophobia’s understanding of user experience continues to grow, we find ourselves doing more preparation to help our clients’ users in ways that make our clients more favourable in the opinion of the public. This is the ‘honesty’ that needs to be seen and felt through any front-end design. I’m not saying that everything should be plain white with a logo at the top, but we need to make sure that nothing obstructs the underlying experience that we work so hard to streamline.

The beginning of the Webhaus movement

Back in January, the whole Design team took a trip to Nottingham to attend the “New Adventures in web design” conference. As this was a brand new conference, we had no idea what to expect. It was well organised, there were some good speakers, some not so good. But the main thing I took away from this conference was that we as an industry need to let go of all our bad habits and tidy up the web. Mark Boulton argued that we have been creating edges on web ‘pages’. Treating content in the same way as if we were designing for print: on the web, there is no physical ‘page’, and therefore no edges.

Many of the speakers seemed to be on the same wavelength and I felt a change was in the air: even the “New Adventures” logo looks like a 1920s-esque symbol for change. The Webhaus movement is beginning.

New Adventures in Web Design logo

There seemed to be a lot of mention of “Responsive Design” which is a term that can be adopted by all design disciplines, in the context of the web; this simply means websites that are optimised for the best possible experience on a whole manner of devices. Content is designed to fit the situation, screen size and orientation; a site that can do all of this well is truly responsive design.

Websites need not be distracting and thankfully we are seeing less full-flash websites with animated intros and splash pages; let’s not forget that they are essentially there to provide information, or as a means to a service: we should be making sure that we are providing the easiest route. In order to do this, as with the Bauhaus movement, we need to be true to our materials and use them honestly and we can liken this to content. Content is the main focus and everything else should follow. A beautiful website is not simply that which uses the most vibrant colours, textures, and javascript acrobatics; but that which is, at its core, true to the content it holds and helpful to its users: form following function.

What does it mean?

Our clients are beginning to realise the importance that content plays with regards to the user; get the content and experience right and the users should keep returning. We explain this using terms like ‘User Experience’ to help clients think about their users more. Yes, ‘User Experience’ is an industry buzz-term, but it does stand for more than just marketing products to users or clients. It stands for honesty, it stands for truth to materials (or content, in the context of the web); and it stands for form following function.

The best design is almost always taken for granted - if it works well, we don’t notice it; if it doesn’t, we pick on its flaws.

As we continue to carve a fresh movement for the web, we must remember that despite all these relatively new industry buzz terms, the underlying methodologies are, in some form or another, tried and tested. Honesty is the way forward, we just have to convince our clients to drop some of the sales talk and be true to their users’ experience.

2 responses to “From Web Nouveau to Webhaus”

  1. Francesca Toone

    May 17 2011 - 08:15AM

    The information is very interesting and is very imformative!!!!! And the pictures are cool and good quality!!!! And that thing about farmer giles and other cow related questions are just typical you!!!!!!!

  2. Jim

    May 23 2011 - 13:40PM

    I'd take Art Nouveau over Bauhaus anyday.

    give me something with flair and form as WELL AS function like the paris metro ironwork as opposed to the gates at the bauhaus school which look cold and municipal.

    however, if you're applying this thinking to the underlying structure of a website and the way it is built, then I agree with what you're saying, just remember to use a quality veneer.

    Oh, no cows - foot and mouth was rife.

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