Thursday, May 21, 2009

Auteur theory (2.0)

Film - though a medium well over one hundred years old - is still riddled with everlasting debate of the Auteur Theory, or the question of whom the creative direction belongs to on a film. A hundreds years is actually pretty young in the context of other cross-disciplinary collaborative arts like architecture. I wonder why - with this debate so common-place in film - is it not as heavily milled over in web-design, a similar but far less ripe medium. The director steers the ship according to the Auteur Theory. What's the equivalent in web design? It's an important question to consider in the face of highly trained artistic teams who craft fully immersive experiences. At this point I'm sure a boutique design agency somewhere has justified the cost of a 35mm film shoot for the sake of a site and a site alone.

What makes this parallel even more interesting is the fact that film (ok is undergoing a radical shift in the exact opposite direction - while websites are becoming more complex and members of web-design teams increasingly specialized, the craft of "filmmaking" is now subject to fewer barriers to entry than ever. Cheap(er) "prosumer" cameras with high resolution chips and well-rounded video production software packages make it easier for a single person to manifest a vision. Think of what you get with the Final Cut Suite (editing, compression, titles, scoring) now compared to your cheapest low-end Avid (editing) from years ago. Meanwhile the average flash designer now has to get up on Flex, integration with back-end data services, and have the ability to do 3d math. It's no wonder these teams are becoming more granular, and though perhaps we've boiled the question down a bit this much still stands - is it better to be the lone artist or part of a well oiled machine?

Firstly I wonder about a team's capacity to push the envelope. While more people on a project definitely increase the chances for groupthink, with the right people the process evolves into an iterative collaboration with each person elaborating on the last's ideas until the whole becomes more than the sum of it's parts. I suppose I've always been attracted to the idea of agencies or companies that encourage play, also. Google employees have a certain amount of time they're allowed to devote to projects of their choosing, and a person with the distributed support of a team probably has more time that sort of thing, in theory. Despite all the rationalization in the world, however, this much will always be true - a team of people will have more time than one. If you consider play crucial to the design process (and allot time for it), it only becomes another task weighing on the already limited resources of the freelancer.

But enough talk though - let's make with the practicality:
An amazing site created by one person.
An equally killer site that seems to be more of a group output.

The most obvious difference is in the information design. Both sites are essentially an entity's attempt at letting you know what services they offer, and selling you on them. I'd like to think it'd be blaringly obvious from the density of composition and the adherence to common web interface conventions which is which, even if the text here or on the sites didn't obviously state so. In2Media, though they use interesting effects on their visual components and make a bold artistic statement that gives the site cohesiveness with their use of the floating glass illustrations, these things are still secondary to the information. At the end of the day it's still very much a column-driven, moderately text heavy site. With Inside Piet the information takes a serious backseat to frill. This could be a case of function following form, except the function -is- to showcase the form, making it a "look at what I'm capable of" kind of site. Not to downplay it, though, because for him it works - just like the In2Media for them. has an interview with Matthew Jurmann of Chromatic where freelancing and small business are compared and contrasted.

A designer friend (who I highly respect) and I were having a discussion just the other day about specialization. He'd been learning a little code on the side so that he'd be less dependent on coders, or at the very least more able to understand the parameters when working with them. When I briefly mentioned something about wanting to be the next renaissance man, he told me about another designer at his job in a similar position who ultimately decided that he'd rather focus on design and be great at design instead of spreading himself thin over too many things. While I - regularly feeling more like a jack of all trades (master of none) - can totally see the merit in that, I think nod will always go to the integrator for thinking across multiple disciplines, whether that be one person with polymath-like skills or a team able to effectively brainstorm, delegate, and collaborate. This is something I'll probably be thinking about a lot over the coming weeks and months.

No comments:

Post a Comment