A programmatic and pragmatic call for a wider discourse and better metaphors for designing and building digital platforms.
[…] there are no real public spaces on the internet. Here in reality, I can fuck off to a park and hug a tree and sit on a bench and do stuff without ads, without anyone trying to track me, and without having to pay a dime. There was a time within my memory when people tried to make websites feel like semipublic places — you could hang out on someone’s cool blog and enjoy yourself.
Gropius names three hallmarks of modern expression:
- A spirit of simplicity
- Modular construction
- The relation between the inside and the outside
All three ring true for the design of digital spaces. As in architecture, simplicity and modularity emerge from the designer's understanding and respect for the process of building as the unity of craft and industrial strategies.
(In Gropius' time, industrialization handed new tools to craftspeople. It invited experimentation, new forms of expression and enabled greater effectiveness at the same time. Soon, it replaced craft in the interest of economic gain. The same happened in Big Web Design.)
As in architecture, the relationship of a site (
Web Site || Building Site) with its environment is negotiated through transparency and transversality. Existing in a device-bound layer of perception floating on top of physical reality, modern websites should be mindful to leave open spaces and loose ends that invite connections to their user's intellectual and physical surroundings: opportunities to abandon them for IRL, and cracks for the world to seep into them.
"I think the reason I love making websites is the same reason I was so into architecture as a child. I would draw these elaborate floor plans of imaginary living spaces. Creating these diagrams was a form of playing for me. I’d navigate the drawings almost like a video game and imagine how each space would feel to live in. I think in many ways building websites is about creating environments to play in."
Architecture is architecture, only architecture, design and construction. But its very broad and varied scope of interest allows the project designer to conduct (their) own research and apply (their) method to wider areas – the design of entire cities and landscapes, of buildings, of internal spaces, of objects of use and furnishing, of jewellery.
— It's this breadth and untethered but wide-ranging relationship to society and psychology that unites web design and architecture. There is a tremendous freedom of expression that has to be brought into balance with the social, psychological and cultural contexts of the groups using both digital and physical architecture.
Are you humane?
There is a japanese term, ichigen-san otogawari, roughly: "by introduction only". It describes a practice of some restaurants to only accept guests they have a relation to – by introduction through a former guest, or by a prior conversation in person or by exchanging a couple of emails. It's not about exclusivity, since everyone is welcome. The prerequisite is solely to explain one's motivations for coming, and making a modicum of time and effort to understand the restaurant's approach. This way, it is protected from diners who come without actual interest and appreciation for what is offered – it can operate with a level of safety and comfort.
This principle may be an influence for better digital spaces – in contrast to the ubiquitous and immediate access expected in digital media. Direct relations disperse the focused pressure created by social media networks: Requiring a human mode of interaction, requiring users to momentarily think and consider the other, to consider language, is enough to transform expectations and ensure eye level in following interactions.
Ichigen-san otogawari acts as a kind of captcha – ensuring that the guest, client or user is actually human. Not in the sense that it is not a machine or bot, but in the sense that it has the capacity to be attentive for a brief moment, and considerate of others. It is a vetting system any human being is able to pass.