Two Design Styles

Having already tipped my hat to the iPhone with an off-key post about finger gestures, let me now go rambly with the (distant) second biggest story of the week: danah boyd’s class division paper which argues something along the lines of “Facebook is for preps, MySpace is for Emos”. In the week since I’ve read it, I think I’ve noticed a deep effect on the filter I use to interpret website design. For a long time, I just assumed haphazard MySpace-style design was the way forth for everyone and I was just missing something; then when the recent Facebook hype began, I peeked at some screenshots on Google Images (since you need to be signed up to see the real thing), and was surprised to notice how clean they were, the shiny way successful websites are supposed to be ;). Had people got sick of the anarchic MySpace look? This new paper makes the point that individual differences still play a big part in web design, even among the culture Homogeneously know as “youth”. But mostly, I’m looking at website designs with an additional classification in mind (obEverythingIsMiscellaneousReference): MySpace or Facebook (AKA Emo or Prep).

Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion about MySpace. These teens are very aware of MySpace and they often have a negative opinion about it. They see it as gaudy, immature, and “so middle school.” They prefer the “clean” look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is “so lame.” What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as “glitzy” or “bling” or “fly” (or what my generation would call “phat”) by subaltern teens. Terms like “bling” come out of hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued. The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics. I’m sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the “eye of the beholder” – they are culturally narrated and replicated. That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook.

Also interesting is the way this single paper about two billionaire wesbites is turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. At just the right time, it’s telling people where they need to go in order to belong. (I’m aware of the irony there.)

Ramble promised, ramble delivered.