15 years of Dao

It’s amazing to think that John Allsopp’s oft-quoted article, A Dao of Web Design was published fifteen years ago today. A List Apart asked me what John’s article means to me now, but rather than focus on Dao’s flexible design principles, I wanted to talk about a passage that never seems to get a mention.

Here’s what I wrote for A List Apart:

If you ask many people for a memorable passage from A Dao of Web Design they’ll quote “the ebb and flow of things’ and John’s call for us to “embrace the web as its own medium” but for me there’s more to ‘Dao’ than flexibility. This passage sticks out:

Think about what your pages do, not what they look like. Let your design flow from the services which they will provide to your users, rather than from some overarching idea of what you want pages to look like. Let form follow function, rather than trying to take a particular design and make it “work.”

Over the fifteen years since John’s article we’ve seen the call for function over form, content over creativity, taken to an extreme where much of today’s web design lacks the spark of an idea and the creative soul that makes what we do memorable.

Ideas still matter, and the look of websites matters too, to communicate ideas about a product or a service or a brand.

Making a website ‘pretty,’ understanding layout, seeing typography, really seeing it, and creating colour palettes that evoke emotions are skills that designers should be proud of, even while they’re being told that content strategy, performance and user experience matter more.

If John were writing ‘A Dao of Web Design’ today, I’d ask my friend to remind his readers that the web is a medium for communication outside of ‘function.’ That it’s a place for creative experimentation as well as for ‘services.’ That it’s all these things and more.


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