Found a little link in my Twitter stream, can't remember who from but it took me to a small site called printedbysomerset. On first impressions it felt slightly gimmicky, a black cardboard strip tears through a black cardboard envelope revealing a sheet of white paper, or is it more cardboard.
Up pops an interface of black box frames and er printed looking print. It was pleasantly and unusually reminiscent my Mac Classic’s UI from the mid nineties.
Puzzled, I wondered if it really was printed in er...Somerset?
A quick check on Google maps revealed it’s connection to a printing company based in Canada. Nothing in the slightest to do with a county in little old England.
It sparked my interest by standing out from a crowd of sites and for not following more typical trends. It takes skeumorphism on a literal origami ride, not just a metaphorical wander, like those eighties desktop folders and files. It’s a website that you can touch, unfold, perforate and explore. From the bookmark that adds to your bookmarks, to the team profiles that tear out like perforated stamps and turn over in a light breeze to reveal contact information, everything about this site feels overwhelmingly printed or paper cut, not digital! The iPhone encapsulating a scrollable twitter feed is a notable exception. You can order a printed copy of the website by penning a postcard (or was I submitting a form?)
You can fold, tear, pull out and scrub bits of the interface to reveal further messages or hidden meanings. A great deal of careful attention has gone into each little animated corner of the page and it has deservedly won bronze and silver lions at Cannes. It captures attention and there’s great cohesion between on the ball copy and playful design.
It’s choreographically and semiotically excellent but for the digital execution to be as good as the postal copy, it needs freeing from keyboard traps and topping up with good semantics inherent in mark up, not just on skeuo paper.
I read a great article on the manual by Simon Collison about the fragmentation of expertise in web design, the sheer number of fields to keep abreast of, the new tools and patterns to keep on learning or the opportunity to build a lexicon. One sentence in particular caught my attention as a friend had been asking about ways to measure design:
“Design is certainly not a science, but coupling visual grammar with the science behind semiotics, mental models, human senses, and emotional response provides us with a far stronger approach to our work than making choices because they just feel right.”
Design is both art and science. Perhaps that's why you can attempt to measure a website's emotional impact, memorability, viral propensity and usability then find that each enquiry paints a different picture or tells a different story.
A design can be beautiful, functional, useful and playful but the lens or technology through which you interact or investigate it will with no doubt fashion those judgements.