Russian web design

Does Russian web design exist?

Of course, we are not talking about studios from Russia, in which Russian designers work. Nobody doubts their existence. The question is, can there be any differences, a set of rules, techniques and approaches that would be characteristic of the sites made by Russian web designers?

Author is sure that there are differences, and their roots go deep into history, giving the opportunity to highlight Russian web design as a separate approach to website design.

History of European design

The story should be started from the 19th century, the time of the birth of industrial capitalism, the rapid development of wage labor and the acceleration of economic growth.

At this time, the modern concept of the design is born. The development of industrial production, trade and private business creates a natural need for advertising goods. For the creation of advertising posters, signs and posters, dealers of the time appealed to painters, artists, font makers, engravers.

Therefore, the old posters used this rather rich and magnificent decoration. In general, people were depicted in the technique of engraving or watercolor painting, representing the goods. For example, holding them in their hands.

Posters were often framed with a large number of monograms and curls, decorated with text. The number of different typefaces in one advertising poster was on the average within five to ten, taking into account different outlines and formulations of the same font. As a rule, fonts were taken in different styles, the inscriptions bent, stretched, painted in different colors. It turned out a motley fonts drawing, this genre is called eclecticism, that is, a mixture of styles. Usually, the older the work, the more colorful it is in the fonts.

Because of its unique design, the first design samples that existed in the form of posters and advertisemets, rather like to be attributed to some special kind of art than to design in the modern sense: they are so original and rich.

However, design is not art. Art expresses thought and describes the world, and design solves the problem, albeit with the use of painting or even sculpture. Advertising posters and billboards are primarily solving a specific task: to sell a product or service. And so the main engine of design, its entire essence, is the solution of the tasks, as a rule, commercial tasks.

With the approach to the 20th century and beyond, the tasks of business were put more and more specifically, competition grew, demand and quantity of goods increased. It was necessary to solve more and more task, and quickly. The growing need for design has gradually led to its natural splitting off of art. Because of the acceleration of the rate of turnover of goods, it became impossible or at least superfluous to draw complex pictures for each advertising poster, to present each product in a unique way.

The posters of 1920—1950 do not look as rich as they were in the last century. But they are more specific: they clearly identify the name of the product, its main advantages, and much of accompanying text is written. Some posters have very much text, and it becomes a separate direction in marketing, but most often designers are limited to several phrases that briefly describe the product.

But there is another reason for simplification: the emergence of new genres in the visual arts. Avant-garde, surrealism, abstract art are born. Art no longer portrays people. Now its goal is to achieve harmony between geometric shapes and color, which causes the viewer to have the right associations. It seems that now art is learning from design to solve a problem, and not vice versa. A new vision of the world comes in the advertising poster, therefore, in graphic design.

Since then, the graphic language, the language of color, form and composition, has begun to be developed. Its development reaches its peak in 60—90 years. Advertising posters of the time are the real celebration of form, incredibly expressive and strong works.

Finally, during this period, the main invention is created, to which the graphic design kept its long way. The grid, or the Swiss modular layout system appears. Its appearance is due to Jan Chichold, Emil Ruder, Max Bill and other famous graphic designers of the mid-20th century.

Thanks to the modular grid, the elements of the composition on posters, spreads, in newspapers and magazines are placed not by eye and by inspiration, but along a strictly drawn grid of vertical and horizontal lines dividing the canvas into blocks. In a sense, this is the re-laying of the ideas of architecture in print. Now the poster is also built according to the golden section and the laws of geometry.

And so in this matter, with the form, color and grid, European design meets the end of the 20th century, the era of the Internet. Here begins its qualitatively new story. The design becomes digital. There is a new task: to create websites. The demand for sites is beginning to grow. Who provides an offer for this demand? All the same masters who worked with advertising, posters, magazines, newspapers and so on. Typographers.

But a computer screen is not a sheet of paper. Monitors are large and small, wide and vertical, with a ratio of 4:3 or 16:9, and the browser window can be changed in any way.

And what these newly made typographers – web designers do? They not only have no idea what to do with the variable size of the canvas, but they do not even imagine this: the changing size?! The feature of a web page to change its size is simply ignored by the masters, it is perceived as an unwanted element. The site is done as a poster would look: a fixed width of the layout is set, at which the design adequately looks on most monitors, and the blocks are placed on the grid. All the rest, that is, the form, color and composition, is transferred from the press.

Unlike a poster, a simple grid is usually used for web design, dividing a web of fixed width (960 pixels) into 12, 16 or 24 columns. At the same time, it is rather difficult to arrange all the elements of the page on the grid, and only the main blocks of the page are placed on it, while for others, assumptions are made. Vertical alignment is rarely used.

This is European web design. With an age-old prehistory, thought out and understandable. Not painted. Designed.

The story of Russian design

So, the main engine for the Western design evolution was the development of business, advertising and printing, which forced designers to find simple and effective decorating techniques and to give up with time-consuming beauty.

What happened in Russia? The beginning was exactly the same as in the West. Russian commerce had developed successfully. Russian advertising did not concede at all, and even surpassed European models. This is confirmed not only by impeccable and charming pre-revolutionary works, but also by the opinions of Europeans.

I must say that, in general, very many currents are adopted by Russia from the West, but in the future they make a qualitative leap, reaching an incredible depth of self-expression. For example, if the European works of the late 19th century were eclectic, in Russia it was eclecticism in the square, a super-eclectic. The number of font faces on one strip reached dozens.

Avant-garde was no exception and succumbed to a powerful development in the form of Soviet constructivism. Alexander Rodchenko, Anton Lavinsky, El-Lisitsky and other creators of modern times created incredible things with the form, achieving stunning dynamics in the poster.

Soviet posters of 1920 are primarily the means of mass communication and propaganda. They used loud, shock, short slogans. The poster ceases to be an art (at least in its usual sense) and becomes an object of applied graphics. Such professions as artist-designer, or an advertising designer are born. This way Rodchenko subscribes his works. Industrial-artistic work is emerging. In other words, it is he — the design.

Another distinguishing feature of the Soviet poster of those times is the frequent use of photography as the last technical achievement. Posters with a photograph usually turned out to be colorful collages of drawings, inscriptions and photos. Those who distinguish between the concepts of eclecticism and chaos, most likely would have attributed these works to the latter.

To express the essence of advertising and poster activity of that time, it is enough to give a few quotes.

When it is necessary to throw a slogan into the masses, to draw their attention to some event, to introduce one idea, here the poster is a sovereign master. And the slogan is shorter, louder, easier — the better the poster, the easier it is to make it picturesque, understandable, impressive.
V. P. Polonsky, The Print and the Revolution
The graphic artists began to understand that the purpose of the thing and its idea determine the form, and this understanding should be considered the beginning of the development of numerous branches of graphic art.
B. Zemenkov
The ideologically and artistically expressive organization of these elements (slogans, graphics, posters) can only be performed by an entirely new type of artist, a community worker, a specialist in mass political and cultural work, a designer who uses photography, who builds his composition on completely new laws that had been not used in art before.
G. Klutsis

However, with the advent of Soviet power, not only the avant-garde came, but also the long period of the absence of any private enterprise, and hence the need for commercial design. And besides, as a consequence or not, there came a period of stagnation in the development of virtually all printed products: advertising posters, glossy magazines, newspapers, books.

Of course, in the Soviet Union there were also advertising, and magazines, and newspapers, and books. It would be foolish to say otherwise. But there were only those publications that either had to do with the major national brands, or the Party media, or what was allowed to be printed and printed only in major publishing houses. Such an approach could not presuppose competition and free development of decorating techniques. Design could not develop in the wild, outside the workshops of a few Soviet advertising geniuses.

The hidden problem of the graphic design of the USSR, which smoldered in his cauldron of censorship, and which resulted in the lagging behind of Russian design and stagnation in it; a problem that does not give rest to many designers and their clients, is clearly manifested when you look at the late Soviet poster.

And to find out that there is no conceptual difference between the posters of the seventies, sixties, thirties, twenties. Formally, the works differ in fonts, technique, richness of design and style. In fact, the late Soviet poster is still the same early Soviet poster or poster of the late tsarist Russia, designed slightly differently.

If in the West, within a similar period the design has changed dramatically — it left the chaos and got the shape, developed a modular grid and a laconic presentation, — then in the Soviet Union the poster stopped where capitalism stopped. The puzzle, which excites many minds, solves simply: there is no design where there is no business. Graphic design primarily solves the problem of advertising products and services. And it is advantageous to solve these problems where there is healthy competition, there is no censorship; where these tasks are set massively and progressively; where there is entrepreneurship. In other words, design exists where capitalism exists.

In the early 90's the USSR ended and the WWW began. The Russians began to gradually buy computers and modems to access to the Internet. The Internet began to be filled with the first web pages. In the second half of the 1990s, the concept of web design was born.

But in the Russian web design nobody is a typographer. They simply did not exist as a class. Web designers are ordinary users, programmers, HTML developers. And they use a completely non-modular grid, only few people even know about it, all they know is the understanding of the design that they could catch from the Soviet times. In short, the first Russian web designers are by no means professionals.

This is a huge problem. At the same time, there is one advantage that decides the fate of the Russian web: Russian web designers do not have a stereotype about the size of the screen. Russian web designers who never worked in print, who had never heard of the grid, alignment, composition, typography and other achievements of the passing century, are doing the impossible: they use all the free space on the screen! Russian sites turn out to be completely flexible, text blocks rarely fall into the grid and stretch all the way across, the pictures travel around the screen — they call it a rubber layout. The nature of web design, which was unthinkable in the West, and to which European design is just now starting to reach, is born in Russia at the very start by ignorance.

One of the best examples of Russian web design is the site of the hotel Felix Zavoisky, released by Art. Lebedev Studio. The site is stretched all over the screen and looks equally good everywhere: from the very small screens to the giant ones. At the same time there is no grid on the site: the distances between the blocks are completely free, the text expands, the flags move apart, the background picture opens the hidden side parts.

Other example of rubber sites is the site of Mosmetrostroy.

Form and chaos

European web design is a form. Russian web design is chaos.

European web design is a logical continuation of the age-old way of development of design. Russian web design is something that escaped from prison, in which he was imprisoned a hundred years ago. He believes that the 20th century didn’t exist at all. He missed the evolution from chaos to form. He came from the past, from the world of pre-revolutionary advertising and eclecticism. In fact, Russian websites are built approximately as if they were made in the 19th century.

European design has strict rules, accuracy and harmony, it is monolithic, coherent, logical, thoughtful. European sites do not just exist, they communicate to the reader their idea, inform him with only necessary information, speak with him in his own language.

European sites are similar to each other. After an hour-long paging of the, deja vu begins. All sites are exceptionally good, but very similar to each other, just like the slender rows of houses in an English village. Russian websites are similar only within their general disorder, but each is self-special, like carved houses in a Russian village.

When you look at a good Russian web design, there is no sense of strictness and business conversation; rather, freedom is felt, the will, the site accepts the reader with its hospitality, tells about himself first, asks how things are, pours the tea and then smoothly turns to business, sometimes returning to the conversation about the weather.

Adaptive, responsive and other bullshit

Nowadays European web design takes timid steps towards a more reasonable use of the screen space. They begin to understand that the pages can stretch. Approximately after 2011, the first, primitive methods of stretching web pages appear, which are immediately called „responsive“ and „adaptive“ layout. Now sites are made in two or three sizes for different screens, and in online stores there is a tile. Sometimes it’s even flexing without jerks.

The „great achievement“ of European design is immediately picked up by newbie Russian designers, presented as something new and available only in HTML 5. In the list of services of some web studios, a funny separate service called „adaptive site development“ appears.

At the same time, nobody remembers that in 1999 absolutely rubber sites, made of HTML tables, working in IE 5 and Netscape, used to be created. Now, Russian designers with enthusiastic adoration look at the endless European sites, similar to each other like bricks, completely forgetting that for more than ten years they have had at times more powerful and interesting methods of layout. This is the complex of the Internet provincial. Adaptive design is nothing more than marketing marmalade.

Someday Western web design will grow to Russian. This will happen at a time when Russian web design degrades to the Western.