Friday, June 7, 1996

David Who?

Back in November, 1995, when I was just trying out my new "Web Legs" for the first time and long before I even thought of having a corporate WebSite, I found David Siegel's WebSite. It was all about WebSite design, graphics, attraction of readers, typefaces, HTML tips, women's issues, nutrition and other areas of interest. It also had a lot about the author, a 36-year old type designer and ex-computer painter who had turned an idea into reality by asking, nay, demanding the very best from
every graphic designer on the Web. I was intrigued, so I stayed for a while.
If you've been out there looking around as long as I have or longer, you know he's got quite a job ahead for himself. I think he's smart enough to realize that he can't change the world, just a little piece of it. The effort is what counts.

What's a High Five?

It seems that Dave Siegel has been harping on quality design for a while, but you can readily see from the tens or hundreds of millions of Web pages out there, not people many listen. Most of it is not up to his standards. Yet there is a comparatively small handfull who abide by good design precepts: "banish the garbage, sweat the details." Those are Siegel's words.
His Design Awards WebSite, High Five, showcases an elite few of the design-oriented Websites on a weekly basis. I visit each Wednesday to look at his choices, deciding if it works or not for me. You really should bookmark that URL for your own cruising pleasure
and edification.
Be sure to let me know when you're going to his WebSite: we'll meet Dave at one of his favorite bistros in San Francisco for a gourmet vegetarian lunch and a fine bottle of 1995 Napa Valley Chardonnay. It's his treat this time; I've picked up the tab for the last several lunches!

Design vs Content.

Keep one thing in mind: Siegel preaches design, design, design, but the content on almost all of these sites he reviews is woefully lacking. That's not his area of expertise, design is. On the other hand, he has rich content in both his personal and corporate WebSites.
He critiques and awards a WebSite based upon his design criteria only. There are no points even considered for content, because there are no categories for content. He does mention that content is considered, but what does that mean? It's the copywriter's responsibility to insure the content in any ad or WebSite. The designer is given certain content parameters to work within and around, but designers are not copywriters. There's nothing else but good design on most of these WebSites. Here's a typical High Five rating synopsis, with no tangible content category:

Degree of difficulty: 3.8
Execution: 4.2
Aesthetics: 4.3

(5.0 is perfect.)

I was a copywriter for 12 of my 17 years on Madison Avenue in New York City. Many of the print and electronic ad campaigns that I wrote or co-wrote are legendary and some are still running in one form or another. Then I was off to becoming a vice president & group creative director of the third largest ad agency in the world, so I know a little bit about content.
Content must come first and foremost, with design following smartly behind. Both must work together. In the advertising agencies that I worked for, we always had a large staff of the world's best graphic designers who could solve content constraints with award-winning graphics.
There is a major problem on the Web today with all but a very few Sites: either they're well-designed and have no content, or have rich content and marginal design, or bad design and no quality content. Three major categories, three crippled results. But there are also Sites that are well designed with rich content, a fourth, but unfortunately a very minor category in cyberspace today. Hopefully, as the junk sites and worthless pages begin to fade and go away, a more tasteful generation will emerge, survive and prosper. Then content and design will rule.
Keep in mind that content is subjective in the mind of both the writer and the reader. ("One man's ceiling is another man's floor.") What seems like trash to one may be nuggets of wisdom to another. Often, it's best to stay away from judging another writer's level of content quality, and deal with an objective approach like design, a more neutral area that won't get someone upset if changes need to be made.
I used to make those content and design calls in advertising agencies all the time. It was just one of my jobs. But it's a tricky area, full of dangerous quicksand, hurt feelings and political overtones. Dave Siegel is probably smart for staying in the design-only area of evaluation.

High End WebSites.

His new company, VERSO, is on the leading edge of Web page design. Stop by and check out their client roster and Pages. Read about his staff, a very impressive line-up of talent.
VERSO? I had eight years of Latin, so the verb verso translates literally from the first person singluar as "I am flexible and multi-talented", and portrays his company's talents and abilities very well.
It will be nice to see their corporate WebSite when they finally get it completed, instead of the temporary digs they're now using. Their own WebSite should reflect an ability to showcase a client's image. After all, their Image is their Position.


Ever since my WebSite went on-line January 26th, 1996, I've been doing my own HTML, and keeping the new Page design very much in-line with the original format. I'm not a graphic designer. I'm a copywriter. I enjoy writing my own unique and controversial ads. Okay, okay, so there are some things that need attention on my WebSite, like the evil horizontal rules. I've been trying to get rid of the damn things for months! But I've achieved a very recognizeable look and feel for John Shelley's Garden Center & Nursery. If you check my Recognitions Page, you'll see 18+ awards for various things, several of which are design awards. But no High Five award.
I'm not on the Web for awards; I want my WebSite to be the best it can be without
destroying what it has come to mean to the thousands who visit here each month, to those who send their friends to visit my place, and to those who come back to see what new things I've done since they were last at my Garden Center & Nursery.
To have a graphic artist like Dave Siegel help me make my WebSite a better place visually would be the greatest accomplishment I could think of in the short time I have left on the Web. The rich content is there; people respond very enthusiastically to it. The design and graphics could benefit from his counsel. The High Five Award Winners are extremely lucky to have a guy of this caliber help make their Sites a better place to live.

A Web Personality.

Dave Siegel gets a fair amount of press on the Web; he's a notable personality who deals with a very strict and narrow area of design: his own idea of what good design is. He also gets criticism and flame mail, but that comes with the territory. So he has to have a thick skin. That is the price one pays for being out front. He wrote a weekly column on design for WebReview, before it's demise last month, and has published several interesting papers on design, the InterNet, women's issues, population and nutrition. There are many references to him and his philosophy around the Web. A well-rounded and well-read individual, to be sure. And definitely Type A, like many of us.
He's also had numerous things written and said about him that were somewhat slanted by the writer or writers' own opinions. A recent MicroWeb article spoke disparagingly about his image and unfortunately, showcased very little of his quality work. The story is titled The Wayward Web: David Siegel's Guide To Automythology. Read it for yourself after you finish here. Then go spend some time at his numerous Sites absorbing all you can. It's an mini-education that you should not miss.

His Influence.

I discovered a section of Dave Siegel's personal WebSite called, My Journal and modeled John's Journal after it's graphic format and HTML. I read his design tips, studied his source code and learned how to use the single pixel gif, instead of the Netscape HTML construct. It's all over my WebSite now. I see the single pixel gif all over other well-designed WebSites, too; it's quick, clean, easy-to-use and very flexible. Kudos to whomever thought of it.
While reading his Journal, I found that although he talks tough and harsh sometimes throughout his other Pages, he's actually just the opposite. If you can read between the lines, you'll see that he's a kind and sensitive man; a pussycat who has to snarl a little to keep the "bozos" at bay.
Here's a recent page where I was quoted by him. The quote stayed up for two weeks, a bit longer than usual. Here's another he used after I'd sent him the URL to find that elusive swiss woman he talks about wanting to marry. I hope he does find her; he deserves the chance to know for sure. We all should have that opportunity for something real and meaningful in this all-too-short life.
There are a lot of designers on the Web, doing a lot of various things. Many manage to lose focus and become inconsistent. But Dave Siegel is very focused and consistent from area to area. I'm a pretty fair judge of that trait; I have it myself and it's easily recognizeable. That's a very admirable and desirable quality in any person these days.

So What?

Design has its place in everything we see and do. It's an important element that is often overlooked by many, just as many of us take air and water for granted. It helps make order out of chaos. It also makes things better to look at.
The egg is probably the most simple and elegant design ever conceived, with the
banana coming in a close second. But people didn't create those designs, someone else did. Our perception of design is very subjective; what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. We all appreciate good design and graphics in our own way.
David Siegel and his very talented cadre at VERSO are doing the Web Community a service by placing great design at such a high priority level; it gives us all something to strive for. In the final analysis, whether or not we hit that target is irrelevant. If we improve things just a smidgeon in our little own corners of the Web, due in part to his exhortations, we're that much better for it.
Thanks, Dave & Co.

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David Siegel "fame" artwork courtesy of MicroWeb.
High Five and VERSO are trademarks of David Siegel.