Sunday, March 31, 2013

Your Web App is not Beautiful

I realize that what I am about to write is useless, my participation in a long and futile tradition of pedants and curmudgeons trying to stop the shift of a living language beneath their feet. I realize that language is too big and too messy to shape by will.

Still, I feel compelled to say something about this particular linguistic shift.

Listen, your digital mailbox application is not "beautiful."

Your widgets are not "beautiful."

Your web toolkit is not "beautiful."

Your bookmarking application is not beautiful. Your css template is not beautiful. Your CMS is not beautiful. Your LMS is not beautiful.

Oh, they are slick and pleasant and well-designed and nice to use. You deserve credit for that, it is nice to have well-designed stuff in one's life. But these things are not "beautiful", I really must insist.

What is beautiful? That's going to vary, person to person but let me give a quick catalog of things that work for me, just off the top of my head.

The final few lines of "O Holy Night" (the bit that goes "fall on your knees/oh hear the angel voices...") sung by a really good soprano in an old echoey church at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

The moment when you first emerge from your cabin in the Las Cruces, New Mexico KOA after rolling in after dark the night before and dawn reveals that there is a whole valley down below you and another ridgeline across from you and the pale blue desert sky above.

Blowing off undergrad classes to lie on a cold concrete campus bench and feel spring come back into the world and the afternoon goes on for what seems like forever.

Crossing the dunes between the bay side of Jones Beach and the ocean side for the first time as a child and being stunned by the vast purple expanse of the Atlantic being right there when you thought all there was was that muddy brown bay.

What's common for all of these is some sense of the profound, the larger than the self. Some sense of relief, for just a moment, of the pressing limits of human mortality. A brief and transient experience of the eternal.

Do the lovely, pleasant, rounded buttons on your web console do that, even for you, it's creator? No?

Then please, don't call it "beautiful."