Fri 19 Jan
Nicholas Felton of the New York design studio Megafone does some beautiful work, but the piece that’s really caught my eye is his Feltron 2006 Annual Report. Not a corporation, “Feltron” is Felton’s nom de guerre, under which he publishes, I suppose, personal projects and experiments. It’s hard to say because, like many designers’ indulgences, there’s frustratingly little information available at Feltron.com.
Doesn’t matter. Because this ‘annual report,’ a follow-up to a similar project he did at the end of 2005, is a work of delightful inventiveness. Using the pro forma conventions and banalities of corporate annual reports, Felton summarizes the notable trivia of the past twelve months of his life: the number of days he spent on vacation, the amount of time he spent on jury duty, the many remote geographic locations visited, and even a summary of plants he’s killed. All of it is executed in the kind of highly detailed diagrammatic vernacular that designers tend to fetishize — “info-porn” is the term — and with Felton’s precise, disciplined and, here anyway, his nearly unfailing aesthetic eye.
None of it, however, is Web standards-compliant, 508 accessible, semantic, social, interactive et cetera, and all of it is riddled with that most unseemly of all HTML tags: tables. Here in 2007, it’s the least Web 2.0 thing you can imagine: a series of static images that dramatically, unabashedly privileges presentation over content. (To be fair, the site does state that this year’s annual report was conceived as a print publication, but it’s formally identical to its predecessor, which was published exclusively online.)
But who cares? Who really cares? This is the most exciting bit of design I’ve seen online in many months. It may not be in perfect sync with grander ideas for how digital media can change the equation for design consumption, but it does something wonderful in that it provides global reach to a very personal expression.
This is what design on the Web was like when I was first attracted to it: a series of sometimes crass, frequently oblique and overwhelmingly indulgent playgrounds for graphic experimentation. Designers, previously so often bound to the precepts of client briefs, were suddenly able to exercise their creative voices without constraint.
Clearly, it wasn’t a scalable phenomenon, and though it perseveres, it’s lost a lot of its luster. For my part, I have no qualms about the direction Web design has taken since: efficient, semantic, truly in service to what users want. That’s how I make my money every day, I like to think, and I enjoy it immensely.
In the process of transitioning from ‘graphic designers’ to ‘interaction designers,’ though, we’ve abdicated much of the role of visual entertainers to those graphic practitioners who traffic mostly in currencies of style, fashion, and ornamentation, where we can more easily ignore and dismiss it as somehow inferior. We’ve forgotten, I think, that there’s something powerful and engaging about expressions like these, too, that one of the functions of design is to delight and amuse the audience. There’s something to be gained from indulging ourselves, once in a while, in purposeless acts of design whimsy, even if we spend our days building minutely optimized interfaces that give no quarter to artistic idiosyncrasies.