Originally published in CreateOnline Magazine, September 2001

WebDogme

 

Tricky things, manifestos.

 

They can’t be reasonable, anodyne or sensitive – no-one marches into battle to Belle and Sebastian. Blood and thunder are it’s prime requisites to shake up the status-quo, and get people thinking.

 

Designer and critic Jessica Helfand gives us the basic formula in her excellent piece on design manifestos ‘me, the undersigned’:

 

“Here’s the basic formula, as I see it: Take an idea. Break it down into its component parts. (Write short sentences: think doctrinaire.) Add paragraph breaks. Bullets. Numbers. Now add Lots! Of! Punctuation! Assume everyone on the planet will agree with you and proceed to express yourself with the much-anticipated collective enthusiasm of the madding crowds. Upload keywords. And post!”

 

So there’s the craft in a nutshell. Beware though pilgrim, craft it too well, and it’ll bite you on the arris.

 

You may end up with unthinking followers processing your points as stringent rules. Whether it’s rampaging through museums and burning books while waving Mao’s little red book, or parading PowerPoint after tedious PowerPoint in design meetings while waving Jakob’s ‘Designing web usability’; dogma can be dangerous stuff.

 

However, dogma was exactly what was demanded in the mid-1990’s, according to a group of avant-garde filmmakers.

Two Danish filmmakers, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg in 1995 responded to what they saw as the increasing inhumanity and formulaic commerciality of effects-heavy, franchise-friendly feature films. They created a vow of chastity that placed the stylistic presentation and formal tricks of film subservient to the narrative and characterisation.

Earlier this year, In a feature on game designer’s industry site, Gamasutra – Ernest Adams took Dogme95’s objectives and focussed them on his craft. Much as Von Trier and Vinterburg had wanted to remove the ‘auteur’ ego and the excesses of technology from the equation – Adams’ manifesto strips away improbable, tenuous plot-lines and the worship of ever-smoother rendering engines from games design to focus on the simple, addictive essence of gameplay.

 

2001 seems to be a year of reflection and retrenchment in our industry, while there has explosion in personal sites, and the self-expressing web-author/artist as ‘a-list’ hero or heroine is in the ascendant.

 

Could the time be ripe for WebDogme? How could one apply the energy and trajectory of these manifestos in our medium?

 

Films and games are both experiential, narrative and usually ‘completable’  – websites are far from this. They often are dynamic, changing systems whose edges blur into the web as a whole. In the main they are hypertextual, not serial experiences.

 

Unlike film and games, we’re never spolit for choice in terms of expression. It’s mostly the constraints that define our medium, and happily in the main, these same constraints cast content into sharp relief, and inspire creativity with the form.

 

Witness the 5k competition – conceived by Stewart Butterfield. Butterfield states on the site that hosts the contest: “Since the space we have to explore is so small, we have to look harder, get more creative; and that's what makes it all interesting.”

Of course, the 5k is like the cannonball run… get under 5k by any means necessary, do whatever you want in there.

 

Not nearly limiting or inflammatory enough.

 

No. My manifesto needs more bricks to kick against than just memory resources.

 

So let’s look to other parallels to the other Dogme. Accessibility, separation of content, structure and presentation, the fundamental nature of the medium as an asynchronous and global network… good, GOOD!!!

 

Now we’re getting somewhere.

 

So, here’s my  Dogme for the web, WebDogme 01.

 

 

I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by WebDOGME 01:

1.       The designer must code.
If the designer cannot code the design, then he is not the designer.

2.       The code must be produced in a text-editor, not through the distorting filter of a WYSIWYG editor.
What you get is what you type.

3.       The browser must not be violated.
The use of Frames, Flash, dhtml, pop-ups, or any other device in a fashion that would remove the browser back-button’s raison d’etre must not be used.

4.       Time is not yours to control.
It is the user’s to control
.
The use of any time-based media should be subservient to the asynchronous nature of the user’s perception of the web.

5.       Presentation is not yours to control.
It is the user’s to control. It is only yours to influence. If design is fundamental to the experience you are creating, then it must be a system, malleable and adaptable to the user’s preferences. Let your design be a conversation.

6.       Your experience must be part of the web, not just a website.
Do not trap people with devices to keep them on your site, and use URLs that will be permanent, clear and distributable.

7.       Never use a graphic when text will do.
Don’t destroy meaning for presentation’s sake.

8.       Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden.
People will experience what you have created at their leisure and expect it to be relevant, rather than when it is relevant to you. See also point 4.The web is a global medium – while staying true to your content, do not be parochial in your language, symbolism or other conveyance of meaning.

9.       The experience should have meaning.
Content (or functionality) maybe self-referential or autobiographical, but the designer must remember they are in conversation with a visitor. Silence from that visitor could be reverence for a monologue, but more likely indifference to a self-obsessed bore. This applies as much to companies and brands, as individuals

10.   The designer must not be credited.

Furthermore I swear as a designer to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a 'work,' as I regard the whole web as more important than the work. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my content. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.

Thus I make my Vow of Chastity."

 

 

 

 

So there it is… Easy to follow? Hell no… Hideously exclusive, and bent towards my personal prejudices? Of course! But my righteous path shall reap it’s own rewards, my children.

 

As shall your own heresies from the path. That’s the beauty of manifestos.

 

And needless to say, along with most manifesto-writers throughout history, I unashamedly reserve the right to do as I do, and not do as I say…  but, my disciples, you’ll forgive me that, won’t you???

 

 

 

 

Weblinks:

 

Dogme 95: http://www.dogme95.dk

 

Jessica Helfand, ‘me, the undersigned’: http://www.brushstroke.tv/helfand/helfand.html

 

Gamasutra: ‘Dogma 2001: a challenge to games designers’ :

http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20010129/adams_01.htm

 

The 5k competition: http://www.the5k.org


©2001 Matt Jones

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