In June 2022 i was invited to give a lecture at Never Ready In Hamburg, a conferance on the visuality of the Internet, organized by HFBK in Hamburg, Germany.
The conferance was truly remarkable, with speakers / idols from all over the world. Thanks for inviting me!
If you scroll down, you will find my lecture, with the notes written out.
The images are exported from Keynote and thus won't animate when there were animations and are a bit too lo-res, I am sorry for that.
(And no, the presentation doesn't really work on a smart phone. Sorry not sorry.)
Because the other day I kind of changed it — or at least added this sub title:
"In defense of the poor website"
Which of course is a reference to, and pun of, Hito Steyerls 2009 essay "in defense of the poor image.
Hito talks about reproduction and distribution of images in the digital era, and to be honest I am not sure this title makes sense in that context, but I kind of liked it…
We’ll see if it works out I guess.
This Is Beckmans College of Design, two of the four floors in its current building in central Stockholm.
It’s a small design collage with around 130 students, split up into 3 departments — fashion, industrial design and visual communication — where I teach. All programs are three years, and the students graduate with a bachelors degree. There is currently no Masters- or PhD-programs but that is likely to change in the near future.
Beckmans was founded in 1939 as private advertising school and was only around 15 years ago turned into a public art college — which in Sweden means without tuition fees.
It is important to mention this because this commercial legacy is still very strong in terms of peoples perception of the school, even though the actual education is free and artistic.
(And yes, it is always this dark in Sweden in the winters.)
I am senior lecturer in visual communication since 2016, at the visual communications department, with an emphasis in digital or web design.
The department has — as mentioned — a history in a quite commercial design structure, and was until just maybe 8 years ago teaching advertising. But these last years, the program has taken a more “artistic” direction, embracing the digitalness of our times with a strong interest in new technologies and contexts for design, while still maintaining one leg in traditional graphic design.
Me and my small team of colleges — we are 5 at the visual communications department — are trying to create a program where new thoughts on current times and media are present, while still maintaining a hands-on approach to design tools and topics. Many courses ar taught in collaboration with outide organisations and institutions.
All teachers work part-time, and the connection to the "outside world" is emphesized as a strengh; we also run design, art and academic practices outside of school.
When the students graduate, most go on to work as freelancers or get employed by digital and branding agencies or work in the big tech and fashion sectors like Spotify or H&M. The small design studio culture is not that active at the moment in Stockholm unfortunatley, even though there are a few exceptions.
This is usually how the result looks, very simple and rough, styling text and making hyperlinks. With the exception of webfonts, the websites basically look and work as they did 30 years ago.
But the feeling of empowerment this basic web programming can have on students without previous knowledge in code is sometimes striking. That the student can make a webpage on their own and change the look and feel of it by writing text.
It’s pretty amazing, even for me still.
The course is taught with a mix of workshops, guest lecturers and assignments. One workshop I often conduct is the Still Life Programming, a concept I remixed from Laurel Schwulst who is speaking here tomorrow.
Here the students, using CSS and HTML to visually replicate a still life. The still life always has an animated part — a rotating record player, or a lamp going on and off — in order to also practice movement in code using CSS animation.
I participate in the same way as the students but with my own code projected on the wall behind me, while talking out loud about what I am doing. And constantly googling all the things I have forgotten.
The result, this is by Sara Dunker who graduated a few years ago.
So in a way, we start with web programming from a completely different angle,
by how it looks and feels first, trying to make programming less dramatic and instead
fun and exciting.
A Single Serving Site (SSS) is a website that only has one purpose and usually feature
a catchy domain name that works as a title.
The phrase Single Serving Site was coined in 2008 by blogger Jason Kotke, and peaked in cultural relevance around 10 years ago.
It unfortunately lost momentum with the introduction of social media giants and the phonification of the Internet, but many SSS:s still exist and new ones are being made all the time.
This is vecka.nu, a Swedish SSS that most students have a relationship to already. Vecka.nu means Week.now and it basically shows what number the current week has in the year — a structure often used by swedes but not always found in for example software.
One and half years later, the students make work like this:
This is Squares and Stripes Forever by Sara Bris and Joel Eriksson — a website and guide to Peter Freudentahl, a Jewish Swedish artist.
The result I organize in collaboration with the Jewish museum in stockholm. The students make digital guides to the museum and the jewish Swedish history. These guides are made as websites for the visitors smart phones as starting points to different areas of interest byt the students.
I pretty remarkable development from not knowing any code at all just a little while earlier.
I think that is a pretty good example of how embracing code really can empower and that you can make quite a lot with very little knowledge.
I mean, personally I am a lousy coder. I know my CSS and HTML but more than that, I have to collaborate with others.
Outside of my role at Beckmans, I co-run design studio Konst & Teknik, and I want to talk a little of how we use simple web technologies as a process in our work, regardless of medium.
Konst & Teknik was founded in 2006 by me and Mattias Jakobsson - that is us here outside Eyebeam in NYC - and means art and technology.
When we founded the studio, coming from a web design background while having studied graphic design seemed way more technologically advanced than it does today, and the technology part in our name - among other things — refer mainly to web technologies rather than technology in general.
Konst & Teknik, focuses on digital identities and websites, this is our studio space in the Södermal district of Stockholm.
Usually the website is the main thing for our commissioners, the space were their organisation is visible on their terms. The graphic identity is usually based on how it will work, feel and appear on the web first, and then applied or translated to other medias.
The websites we make on commission are usually more complex than what the most basic web programming can pull off and contains CMS-systems and are usually done in collobaration with developers.
But I still think the process relates to my teachings, and want to show some examples here.
Now, this is of course nothing unique, to be aware of the restrictions and possibilities of a medium and use that as a starting point when designing - quite the opposite, you have to know exactly that in order to to a good job.
But for us, starting with an empty html and css file is still so the most fun way to approach a new project that it becomes part of our process and influences the end result quite drastically.
How does this relate to web publishing?
Well, for us the process of making these flyers and pamphlets are all about making a system and tool that allows us be quick and have fun each time something needs to be done. And writing simple code is writing text and we wanted to make a structure for ISSUES where we would be using the text tool — influenced by web code and publishing.
The identity is set in the typeface Quadrant Mono by Vincent Chan, using one size only — exactly the same way that my code editor works and looks.
So even though this is work mainly done in software like indesign, the connection to web design is strong… for me at least.
Which leads me into the next part of this talk:
I am since 2 years — but actually more since less than one — year working on a research project connected to my role at Beckmans, with the loose title ‘How Can we perserve digital design for the future?”.
With design and education becoming more and more digital, the temporary nature of the medium might become a problem over time if we want to look back in time and learn from the past — especially in a context where students come and go and teachers too.
The project is an artistic research project, I am not an academic in that sense, and feels more like an investigation into current tools and thoughts through my web designer lense.
The project stems from the feeling of loss of the websites I have spent countless hours working on and with — and maybe the strange nostalgia it brings not being able to look at many of them any more.
But that feeling is quite ambivalent too because the momentariness of the web medium is also what makes the web interesting.
Maybe websites shouldn’t be saved forever?
I mean, isn’t one of the many problems with social media that nothing can be taken down properly even if it looks like it? An Instagram Story still lives on Mark Zuckerbergs servers forever and ever if you press delete — it is in fact just hidden from you.
I am looking at things like the main museums for art and design in Sweden and understand how they collect and save digital design but also digital documents in general. In Stockholm we have two museums who both claim to be design museums, Arkdes and Nationalmuseum.
I am also looking into the modern museum, which is an art museum,
Kulturarw3 — which translates into Cultural heritage 3 — with the 3 being there as a reference to WWW I guess? — is a project hosted by the Royal Swedish library that automatically saves down webpages on the .se top domain name since 1997.
The webpages are stored on tape and can only be accessed from within the Royal Library in Stockholm with a researcher grant, something I yet have not been granted. Rumours are that the machine — however it works? — stopped collecting 10 years ago, but I am working hard to get access and see for myself.
On the Royal Library Website KB.se it says (roughly translated):
"All contents on Kulturarw3 is saved on tape. That means it takes several minutes to load each page after searching. KB is working on a faster version that loads all information from hard drives."
And of course we have the Wayback Machine by the Internet Archive — a non-profit in the US, founded in 1996. The wayback machine is very much still active and works many times very good. But not allways, especially not with technology that isn’t supported anymore.
Wayback Machine also seems to have a more US-centered focus, as many of the Swedish websites I looked into are not that present in their archive.
Speaking of wayback machine, this is one of my first websites - maybe the first one actually.
It is from 1997 and features a few sections:
— My about page called "om"
— My links page called "farväl" (goodbye)
— My online diary called "hej" (hi)
— My contact page called "brev" (letters)
— My guestbook called "tankar" (thoughts)
Three links to more external sites, one to a pop band called shallow I made a website about, one for a concert I organized called "Drömpop", and one that says "gammalt", meaning OLD.
It also features text that says “last updated” and “last thoughts”, automatically updated references to my diary or blog and guestbook.
So far so good, wayback machine did its job.
A while back I managed to access an old Zip file of a project server I had around the turn of the millennium. It's called skale.zip, skale being the name of the server (a word that doesn't have any meaning in Swedish at all).
Since I got access to the file, I unzipped it and started going through the contents. Many files are broken and do not work but remarkably many actually still do work, however sometimes in need of a bit of renovation.
I don’t know if digging up these experiments in content, form and publishing serve any purpose whatsoever in 2022, or are just all about my own personal nostalgia and a way to connect to my own past — and completely unimportant to anyone else.
Or do they say something about those times in terms of culture, visual language and technology and actually shoukd to be saved for the future?
As a digital first designer — or whatever we want to call it — the idea of the past in relation to my current digital practice always felt a bit awkward.
I promote embracing the medium and understanding its conditions in my teachings and part of that is that the work often dissolve by nature. A website is NOT physical, a website might only live temporarily.
Yet I have feeling and emotions about things I have seen, read and experienced on the the thousands and thousands or web pages I have visited over a quarter of a century. Should they only live in my memory?
When the word nostalgic appeared in the invitation to this conference, I at first shrugged. Nostalgia often feels conservative, counter productive.
But the more I thought about it, the more I came to an understanding that this might be exactly what we need. To look back to look forward.
Recently there has been much talk about Web3 - the umbrella term for all things based on block chain technologies - a complicated and probably provocative term that I will not get into too much.
I don’t know what I think of Web 3 yet, but one thing I have noticed is that people in the web3 world seem to look back at the first version of the internet in order to look forward — as the narrative is all about decentralization, escaping the walls of the facebooks and googles. And I think that attitude is worth paying attention too, regardless of we believe in blockchains or not.
Because what it all comes down to, to me at least, is that the web still works as it did 30 years ago, its foundation is still simple and easy and publishing, contributing while still owning your data is still as possible as it was 25 years ago.
American designer Frank Chimero gave a lecture a few years ago that he published on his blog, that really struck a chord with me. When trying to get back into designing for the web after a couple of years off, he had this feeling:
"I wonder if I have twenty years of experience making websites, or if it is really five years of experience, repeated four times."
30 years since its foundation, the web is still such a simple but creative space and tool to through design, content and — well — domain name titles make something and put it out into the world — while still maintining ownership of what you make.
25 years into the web game, I still find this too beautiful to stop with and I hope I will be publishing on the web in another 25 years too.