Brendan Dawes
The Art of Form and Code

Strangelove. Or how I stopped worrying how web design is meant to be and got back to experimenting has been online since 2000. Over that time it’s been through various incarnations, from purely Flash based (gasp) to super-minimal text and image to its present incarnation which is grid based all be it fluid courtesy of some good old Javascript. It’s far from perfect — but it’s mine —my corner of the web where I can plant my flag in the ground and say this is me.

Yet sometimes I look at my site and wonder if it actually represents me, not just in its content but how that content is displayed?

When I first fell in love with the web I loved playing with what a website could be in respect of an interface and the consumption and display of content. I was heavily influenced by my heroes — people like Doug Engelbart; Ted Nelson and Xanadu et al, Roy Stringer with his joyful Navihedron; Danny Brown and the classic Noodlebox; Antirom and pretty much anything they ever made (though most of it for CD ROM) and John Meada and his Reactive Books. These were all people who understood that this was not a medium with its ancestry in print but a place where coding and design worked together to create something new.

To me the web was a giant playground where I could publish my ideas born from the combination of code+design+art. It was free from being bullied by the past, especially in respect of print. I built things like the now defunct Doodlebuzz — an interface that celebrated chaos, made for serendipitous discovery.

Obviously something like that is a little too crazy for general browsing of the web, but what I — and others—liked was how it broke out of the prison of the printed page. There were no walls or edges, it was infinite and encouraged you to wander (and bump into things) as much as you wanted. This had nothing at all to do with the history of print or how things should be.
Recently I’ve started to think about systems like this again. Maybe I’ve never stopped thinking about them, it’s just that I’ve probably been seduced a little too much by the orderly nature of the grid, which you see pretty much everywhere on the web. I don’t mind that at all — I love grids too— but what I do mind is the idea that that’s all there is. Grids inspired by the age old medium of print. Is that really it? Is this the best way for code created forms to exist through a screen? Essentially all we’re doing there is using code to lay things out, instead of having code be an essential part of the design, using time and motion and other things to respond and react.

So in the spirit of invention and constantly trying new things just for the sake of it I’ve been getting back into re-imagining interfaces, starting with the archive of all my work from the last twenty years or so. I wanted to create something that not only encouraged exploration but created shapes from the work. I always think in terms of shape and form — even with seemingly flat things—and so this interface attempts to create shapes born for how I categorise my work, from things made of electronics to universal concepts such as memories and time.

You can try it for yourself.

This interface is meant to be a view of my work in a way that suggests time is passing, that things don’t stand still and how combinations in themselves create an aesthetic all their own. Time itself actually creates the abstract forms, with older projects nearer the centre and newer ones at the outer edge. As you change the category the networked shape will change. Choose the web category and you’ll see that shape is pretty sparse yet things made with data reveal a large almost unwieldy form, slowly moving through the space. You can spin it, play with it, watch and actually listen to it — the amount of selected work creates a weighted soundscape, creating a drone like hum. Maybe that’s the sound of the work being stored on the server?

This thing is in no-way perfect but it’s something I want to build on, maybe have links expand further. For now it’s probably the best representation yet of my work, formed by the work itself, eschewing ideas derived from print layout.
This to me is my favourite kind of web. A web free from the tyranny of how things should be and a place that celebrates and allows for the new.