15 Questions for Lance Arthur, cont'd.

The author meets the Arthur.
Author (left) and Arthur (right), through a glass dogly.

11. Where else have we seen your work? Why do you collaborate on other people's sites?

Usually I only contribute writing to other sites and leave the designing up to the owners, thankfully. I partially designed one of my stories at The Fray but that was an exception.
          I have articles all over the damn place. Leslie Harpold went insane and invited me to contribute to SMUG on two occasions, now. I was featured in the Opinion Journal at flabjab, contributed a total of three essays to The Fray, three or four at afterDinner, a RealAudio piece about faith for "regarding", wrote a thing way long ago for Project Cool's "Future Focus." Uh, I've been interviewed at High Five and Swanky. I had a teeny part in a little article at The Obvious. Participated in the Cryptofabulism cabal at The Finger. Bored, yet? The most common theme here is, of course, I never write for real money. There's a lesson there, probably, but I choose to ignore it.
          The reason I get published at places is that I submit work, not much of a mystery there. Sometimes I get asked to write something and, you know, why wouldn't I? It's fun!

12. Elaborate, if you would, on your email sig: "Content, schmontent. Interface, baby."

It has two meanings. First, it's a comment on glassdog. As you mentioned, I am known as a designer, not a writer. For all the pages and pages of written word there, it's all fairly well ignored in favor of what it looks like. It's the smarmy voice of corporate yes-men giving the public what they apparently want. Damn those glassdog corporation middle managers! Bunch of black-hearted suck ups!
          Second, it's a comment to portal sites killing each other and spending literally millions on more and more crap to fill their bland pages with in an attempt to lure the viewing audience to use them as their start-up screen when you know damn well half the audience doesn't even know they can change their start-up screen! At this point, one portal site is the same as the next and what people will want has nothing to do with the most up-to-date stock quotes. They'll want pretty colors, baby!
          Anyway, it sounded funny.

13. Do you ever tire of topping yourself? Will we ever see a rudimentary site designed by Lance Arthur?

Lick the other boot.
          Uh, sorry.
          I think I'm just in a constant state of refinement. If I have a style, and I'm not sure that I do or maybe it's just not so overtly different that its noticeable like a David Carson or I. M. Pei design, I think I am shaving off the edges and trying to make it cleaner. I'm not very good at chaos. I admire the types of design that embraces rough edges and blurred type and so forth, but when I attempt that sort of thing it just ends up looking like crap. It isn't elegant in the way the titles for "Se7en" were. It's a sort of controlled mess, rather than messy control if that makes sense.
          I want to strike a balance between design and usability. I want them integrated so they work together rather than making the design so beautifully complicated that you never investigate where to go, nor do I want the navigation so overt that it detracts from everything else and points most directly to itself. These would be my best of all possible worlds scenarios.
          In the real world, I make Intranet interfaces designed to present thousands of Oracle reports or provide timesheet input forms. I make company sites that have to conform to strict standards regarding use of color and images and logo sizes. I have to stick banner ads in my otherwise cohesive designs that stick out like banner ads. None of these things is particularly ingratiating, other than they tend to pay a lot better than my personal projects, and I don't often point anyone to them. They blend in with pretty much every other design out there because that's what the client thinks they want. And as Sam Walton pointed out, "the customer is always right. If the customer is wrong, see rule number one."
          I will always attempt to improve. If there's nothing that can be improved, why change it?
          Except for the sake of changing it, of course. Which is particularly important when you're paid by the hour.

14. We all get imitated, but you may be the most ripped-off web designer of all time.

A dubious distinction, surely.
          I think having a somewhat higher profile than other personal sites contributes to my reign under this title.
          Possibly those who appropriate the work think they'll never get caught because the Web's such a big place and glassdog is, after all, a rather esoteric site. It isn't as if anyone goes searching for it, usually people find it through word of mouth or by clicking a link with no expectation of what's at the other end. So maybe they believe that it isn't really so bad to take from me since I'm just some pissant nobody who'll never find out and they can take the credit and no one is the wiser.
          Unfortunately for them, I have this group of repeat visitors who seem to live on the Web and, one way or another they eventually dig up the sites that have taken the term "inspired by" to unforeseen new realms of definition. And then they run back and tell me and I post the URLs on my front page that gets about 600 visitors a day and those people might be feeling some pent-up frustration because they can't yell at their boss or significant other but they can sure as hell dash off a flame to the thief of the moment. The results are surprisingly quick.
          Some people respond that I have no right to protect my work, explaining that it's merely a collection of HTML tags and the Web provides a method of downloading the source which they can use as they see fit. To some extent, I see their point and I sometimes have trouble defining the line between theft and inspiration. Generally, if I look at the site and it looks like my site, I consider that theft.
          Then I have to decide if the person using my designs is attempting to seek monetary gain from them, claiming for example that they're a Web designer and this is an example of their capabilities. Or if the site is a commercial site, I want to get paid for the work they're using since they're making money at least in part from my design. It's a hassle and a headache and I don't see it getting any better.

15. Does copyright law, as you understand it, actually protect an interface design?

I've discussed this issue with some other Web professionals concerning design elements and they generally believe it does, and why wouldn't they? I also spoke to a Harvard law professor and he said there are no statutes or precedents set so he wasn't sure.
          I'm not well versed in the legal ramifications, but I believe that copyright law protects "published works". That's a very broad categorization. If I publish a page on the Web, the code that underlies it is also published. It may not visible to the reader but the document I post to the Web contains all those layout definitions. Under those terms, interface design can be copyrighted.
          Taking it a step further, elements of an interface I design using frames may contain pages with no legible content. The frame may only contain a page with a background color definition, a sort of placer so that the other elements align to present the cohesive, uniform interface. All those elements are also contained in a frameset document which, again, has no viewable contents of its own. It merely defines the size and placement of frames or other nested frameset documents which may or may not contain viewable content. However, in order for the entire structure to perform, I must upload the containers and "publish" them. Is that semantics? I don't know. For me, it is a question of ethics. If you know you're stealing something, don't steal it. And I'm pretty sure people know when they're stealing something.

Bonus Round One: You've won Cool Site of the Year for Glassdog; you've made the Highfive award and been profiled in dozens of places; your team won Cool Site in a Day; you've pretty much won every honor or award the web has to offer. Are you sick of it all, do you want more, or do you pretty much ignore all that stuff?

Actually I won Cool Design of the Year. bezerk.com was Cool Site of the Year. It's a common mistake, but I wouldn't want to claim credit for something I didn't earn.
          The only thing I basically ignore is being awarded another badge to stick somewhere on my site. With very few exceptions, and I can think of only three, winning a badge for being an Of The Day or Of The Hour or Of The Minute isn't very noteworthy. The majority of these sites exist to send my traffic back to them so their click-throughs get clicked and their page views increase so their sponsors are happy. I once got Teddy Bear Site of the Day and I'll be damned if I know what my site has in common with Snuggle.
          For the record, I keep the Cool Design award up on my bedroom wall, I took down my badge page with the last redesign, I rarely submit my site for review by committees of people and never to sites that generally look worse than mine or have no content to speak of besides that badge. I used to be asked whether I would give out badges when they were more in vogue and I still find the idea uncomfortable and a little daunting. I've met the people who've elected themselves to give out those badges of honor and I know there's no way I'd have the patience and fortitude to wade through the jungles of average to find the gems of excellence.

Bonus Round Two: What constitutes a great website in your opinion?

The answer depends on the goal of the Web site. Commercial sites don't have the same goal and a personal site, obviously, and they will be successful on differing levels. It's a bit like comparing PBS's Frontline and The Simpsons. Both shows are uniformly excellent with occasional brilliance thrown in for good measure but I don't think either would enjoy being lopped together even if they're both television programs. But rather than dwell on corporate branding sites designed to make you feel better about Rice Krispies, let's talk about personal sites.
          It's strange that I should qualify goal achievement as a qualifier since I've already stated that glassdog has no real goal. Just what the hell is it? How would you qualify it if you chanced upon it by accident? Perhaps that individuality is its most singular feature. And it's the one that's hardest to promote to others.
          I think one should think of a personal Web site as a gift. You can certainly do as you please with your slice of bandwidth but what you have to also consider is that this isn't your annual Christmas letter to the family that gets enclosed in your Hallmark holiday assortment each December. What you present has the capability of being seen by the entire world. Even some television shows can't make that claim. When you publish something, it is instantly accessible to everyone who's connected. Chances are you'll only ever touch a small fraction of that number and of those visitors, a smaller fraction will ever bookmark you and come back. What do you want to tell that audience? Those strangers who come to look, to read, to meet you through your one-way window. What impression would you share with them?
          I have as much or more fun than the next guy, y'know? I'm not about changing opinions. I'm old enough to know that there will be people who dislike you no matter what you do and there are people who will disagree to be disagreeable. But right now we have this conduit without control. We don't have to answer to the thought police, we don't need to worry that our fetish is too far out, we can speak our mind and say when we think things suck or when things don't suck. You can talk about love and life and sex and music and anything, literally anything else that tickles your fancy. It would be a shame to waste that chance, don't you think?


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