History of Authentic Design in Web Development
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History of Authentic Design in Web Development

By Mainak Biswas December 13, 2013 - 1,081 views

While we all know that authentic design is catching up with web designers, let us take a historical look into the anecdotal evidence and the importance given to authentic design early on and how these designs evolved can reveal a lot of trends picked up in the web development now. A lot of contemporary designs have their roots deep into this historic past.

What are its roots?

Some of the pioneers in design like the Austrian architect, Adolf Loos had pointed way back in 1908 in an engaging essay that modern ornamentation was bland and the ornamentalist himself discarded his work with its aging, after say three years. True to his word, every work painstakingly executed loses its sheen in the eyes of the cultured man and is disposed off.

Excess ornamentation is usually synonymous with compensatory behavior, something to hide a case of deteriorating quality.

Evolution of modern design

An insight into the advent of the steam engine can reveal a lot about the evolution of modern design. The steam engine revolutionized the idea of mass production and was no doubt an engineering marvel a couple of centuries back. Because of its invention, a lot of machines came into existence. This is mainly due to the sheer power of it harnessed, thus cutting and sculpting any substance more efficiently and with great precision.

It was profitable for business owners and the idea of mechanized mass production was welcomed with open arms. The style of goods suffered as it could not match the mechanized mass production ways. This was very much evident in almost every product such as buildings, furniture, fabric and cutlery. All this was privy to the famed Renaissance era.

Mechanized mass production took precedence

Handcrafted products became very expensive and were reserved only for people with a lavish lifestyle. People involved in mechanized mass production blatantly imitated the historic styles rather than developing their own authentic style. These products found way into a number of categories of people because of its cheapness and affordability. Ornate mass produced products became more and more ubiquitous. Quantity took over quality and products suffered as a result of this.

More insight into a trend towards ornamentation

As a result of this haphazard evolution, many products that come in the market nowadays are intricately dressed and presented with ornate designs. But it should be noted that they lack in form or simply put, they do not meet the artistic standards when denuded.

When this analogy is applied to skyscrapers it can reveal this disastrous trend wherein the artistic side is ignored. For example, if you peel off the outer plaster of the skyscrapers that dot the horizon, one is bound to see a lot of unfinished work which lacks in art. This may expose you to haphazard and a rough design of bricks and mortar less appealing artistically. Beauty should be exuded from the insides of the product and not the outside.

A cast iron stove too with all the ornamentation costs more than a plain one. This is because of the huge emphasis laid on mechanized mass production wherein the idea of producing ornate products was not entertained and this aspect of form too took a backseat.

In this aspect of design, a healthy trend towards architectural design would have been established that would give respect to the true form or the soul of the design in any product. In other words, products with ornate designs would have been cheaper and in vogue. This is not the case these days and a lot of design enthusiasts lament over this.

Louis Sullivan, an architect who rightfully earned the sobriquet ‘Father of Skyscrapers’ and widely accepted as a legendary architect has to his credit many skyscrapers from the 19th century that could even now pass for a twentieth century building. His Carson Pirie Scott store originally designed in 1899 for Schlesinger & Mayer is a striking example of this aspect of designing wherein emphasis is laid on the product to look comely and attractive in the nude.

This building has a lot of ornamentation on the lowest floor but the architecture from the first floor up looks strikingly modern. This is what an emphasis on form can do to a product. The intrinsic beauty of a product can do a lot of wonders to the architecture as we see in this skyscraper.

German categorization of design

Two German words can be used to categorize the designs. This can be the most effective way to do it. There are two types of designs:

1. Sachlichkeit

This category can be explained as encompassing designs which are aptly termed as factual, matter of fact, practical or objective. The connotation of the word is rather obscure if one wants to put it in the English language. But these four words can describe it to an extent.

2. Maschinenstil

This word’s English translation being Machine style, the word itself can convey a lot about this category of design. This category of products are found in railway stations, bridges, exhibition halls, steamships and the like. Here emphasis is entirely laid on the design meeting the purpose of its construction. Outward design is entirely ignored.

Digital design compared to the general one

A parallel can be drawn when this general design is compared with the digital one that became popular with computers. Mechanized mass production saw an increasingly evident revulsion towards form and the ornamental aspect of design gained prominence. This was particularly seen in software interfaces and websites.

The use of bevels to denote file directories or buttons was in vogue. These icons were then construed as being modern. The folders too were used with images inspired from real-life. But this style did not grow as the designer’s abilities were limited because of low resolution offered by the black and white displays. All this stunted growth was in the visual aspect of design.

Evolution in digital design with Apple and Microsoft

With the evolution of technology in digital design, designers were granted more freedom to come up with interfaces. Windows XP saw Microsoft play with a colorful style, giving it a physical feel with a lot of highlights, shadows and gradients. This was followed suit by Apple with the introduction of an interface styling bubbling with shiny plastic bubbles, brushed aluminium and lifelike icons.

More and more designs became an object of skeuomorphism or the term used for a design borrowed from the real world. Apple’s iOS7 has done away with this aspect of design and introduced a different take on it. The most recent iOS7’s calendar app has the grainy texture, shiny glass and beveled buttons replaced with a mostly flat, functional surface.

What is authentic design?

Authentic design is doing away with the superfluous side and concentrating on the intrinsic beauty of the product, of being comely in the nude. It is to build a product strong and durable regardless of the purpose of designing it for.  The strength of the products should be highlighted rather than superficial hiding of its weakness. Elegance and efficiency should be focused upon and instead of external ornament, beauty should be found in pure content.

How can web design be authentic?

A few points can be enumerated to achieve this purpose of conveying the feasibility of authenticity in web design:

1. Go beyond the natural

This can be precisely put thus: Do not mimic textures such as wood, leather or anything from the natural world. There are a lot of other things to find inspiration from let alone imitating real life objects.

2. Do away with skeuomorphism

For example, a note-taking app need not be exactly imitating a paper pad. It can resemble the paper pad with torn or folded edges, leather cover and handwriting-style font. A note-taking app should look more like a three-dimensional notepad.

3. Keep the style content-centered

Do not arrive at a theme with dummy content as a guide. This may not produce style that is optimal. It could lay unnecessary emphasis on styling and decoration, thus doing away with the form.


In this article, we have taken you through a tour of the historic past that affected designing and making it what it is today. You can arrive at an authentic design by bearing in mind the three points mentioned above and a more in-depth understanding of the designing aspects through the previous paragraphs of this piece of information given here.

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