S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 

 
BranDead

 

[Suck Crown]

Consider Juvenal's time-worn

maxim, "a sound mind in a

healthy body," or something to

that effect. Online content has

been posited as the mind, with

design serving as the body.

Which leads to the inevitable

conclusion that the Web's

collective bean is on the fritz,

since its baud smells so putrid.

Debate the merits of authoring

packages, tables, plug-ins,

Shockwave, and Java all you

like: it doesn't change the

butt-ugly countenance of most

sites - viciously travestied in

the World's Worst World Wide Web

Site. Hell, even an enclosed

system such as America Online

can't manage to center featured

companies' logos in its hideous

little "Spotlight" boxes:

[AOL]

 

While issues of tech and content

get a lot of electronic ink,

news from the graphic design

front travels at 1200 baud.

Trapped somewhere in the bloated

body of blather about bandwidth,

browsers, and beta-tests,

there's a designer trying to get

two words in edgewise.

[Razorfish]

 

For every logo on, there are nine

logoffs. The sudden demand for

instant Web presence has driven

many a young Ogilvy

Mather-bound graduate into the

arms of HTML instead, and young

consulting firms, in turn,

accept the embrace of junky logo

designers - or worse,

fill-in-the-blanks logo

templates.

[Leggo My Logo]

 

The material world caught on

years ago. To paraphrase the

Miller Genuine Draft: For those

who care about design, the world

is a much cooler place. One need

only compare, say, The Gap's

loopy early-80s logo with their

current widely-tracked serif

nameplate. Even the big players

(especially the big players)

have internalized the idea that

sharp design can cover up the

shoddiest workmanship - in The

Gap's case, from underpaid

garment workers in the furthest

reaches of the Far East.

[The Gap]

 

The earliest Web clichés

involved naming - i-this,

e-that, and the inevitable puns

on net - not to mention the

host of highway and Web

wordplays. Now the palsied

imaginations of site creators

have moved on to logo

clichés. The vast

majority of the garbage logos

washing up on the net's

pink-flamingoed beaches can be

dragged into one of four Trash

cans, or "The Four Ts": Terrain,

T/ex/T, e-Ther, and TimeCapsule.

[Suck Compass]

 

Far and away the most resilient

visual metaphor is that of

Terrain and its navigation. You

see, the Internet is global -

you can connect to sites in

Australia just as easily as

Arkansas! And so if you've got

an "o" in your name, it surely

must be replaced by a globe.

[Lycos]

 

But the net is also a non-concrete

jungle. Never fear - there's no

shortage of bushwhackers ready

to guide you unscratched through

the webby underbrush, blazing a

path with the help of our trusty

compass.

[Pathfinder]

 

When aiming for a "friendly"

atmosphere, the dominant

metaphor must surely be a town,

preferably a small and suburban

one, as in the now-defunct

eWorld (now populated by online

orphans rather than happy

visitors to the "Lifestyle

Pavilion").

[eWorld]

 

All the mileage on the Terrain

trope's odometer doesn't, of

course, invalidate it. Some of

us are partial, actually, to the

vaguely Swiss look of Digital's

search engine, which resembles

in its type, imagery, and

palette nothing so much as an

ersatz bottled water label in

the Volvic or Evian tradition.

[Alta Vista]

 

And as town referents go, Feed

editor Steven Johnson has done a

bang-up job with the cityscapes

for his site.

[Suck Text]

 

Another school of logophiles

favors a more academic idiom.

Looking for inspiration to

radical magazines such as

October and Emigre, the Big 3

design schools at Cranbrook,

Yale, and CalArts, and the net

highbrows at the MIT Media Lab or

NYU's Interactive Technology

Program, these practitioners

convey their analytical bent

through a combination of

fracture and encasement. On the

one hand, words are splintered

by the various non-alp[ha]betic

c{ha}racters of the ASCII set.

On the other, they encase their

broken-up language in boxes and

ovals connected by a matrix of

dotted lines, like a flow chart

gone haywire.

[ITP]

 

By boasting of some of the best

new media designers in this

category, New York's VoyagerCo.

has secured its place in the

design heavens while

demonstrating that good design

doesn't necessarily translate to

profits.

[Voyager]

 

Another New Yorker, James

Hannaham, now a "cyber" critic

for the Village Voice, coined a

term several years ago for

another timeless t/ex/tual

cliché: The Logo of

Death.

[Suck Death]

 

Once you've noticed it, The Logo

of Death is everywhere. Even the

wholesome dairyland of

Minnesota.

 

We are spirits in the ethereal

world. Sure, the conceit of an

alternate universe called

cyberspace has lost luster, with

virtual reality superseded by

the new gods of raw information

and computational power.

Certainly, many of the tokens of

Gibson and Dick's videodrome

fantasies persist, whether in

Bladerunneresque cities or in

the vacuum of outer space.

[Suck Ether]

 

Marginally more appealing than

the sheet lightning and

floating globules of outerspace

Trekkism are the blurring,

fading words and planes which

slide past one another as in a

teaser for the Late Late Movie.

[Atlas]

 

And at last we turn wistfully to

the business of Nostalgia. Our

time capsule covers a lot of

history. When a site is either

family-oriented or Just Plain

Fun, a bopping, jumbled, 50s

typeface usually recalls the

heyday of drive-ins, milkshakes,

and waitresses on rollerskates.

[Suck Jetsons]

 

Or, if it's an Olde Time feel

one's after, throw in a faded

photograph, rotary dial telephone, or

old typewriter for good measure.

[Typo]

 

Writing in The Modern Review, Tom

Vanderbilt created a 7-part

taxonomy of Nostalgia: Instant,

Simultaneous, Displaced,

Virtual, Conservative,

Revolutionary, and Nostalgia for

Nostalgia. Lacking the space to

illustrate each of these here,

his discussion of Reality Bites

applies just as well to Web

logos: "These debased

tokens...are arguably necessary

stage props...but there is

something unsettling in the way

the film's characters, oblivious

to history, are surrounded by so

many historical artifacts."

[Mr. Showbiz]

 

"Less is More," goes Mies van der

Rohe's famous maxim; "Less is a

bore," was pop architect Robert

Venturi's retort. But for the

moment, more is a bore when it

comes to the Web, because

nothing's more soporific than a

long download. Even slick

designers are wising up; Danny

Drennan, whose zine Inquisitor

is as graphically sharp as they

get, opts on the Inquisitor

website for a cleanly organized,

all-text approach, with nary a

logo in sight. Until we've all

got fiber optic lines wired

directly into our cyborg heads,

perhaps it is time for a dose of

Luddism. Revert to text-only

browsing, and let the geniuses

of ASCII art and Figlet fonts

supply the pretty pictures.

[Suck ASCII]




courtesy of Ersatz