Breaking Restrictions: Water Life

An article by David Brooks on August 27, 2009


The web is full of very pretty sites, all of them made by great designers or design teams. But once in awhile something comes up that just makes you stop in your tracks. For me, that site was “Water Life.”

Not only is it just absolutely gorgeous, but somehow all of media and assets of various types just blend into one seamless mesh. The user experience is first rate and rather than just visit the site I went out and told all my friends about it. It’s a site that just makes you want to interact, to see what’s next.

It is interesting to me, however, that they break almost every rule I tell my clients not to break.

  • They use Flash, entirely
  • The music starts immediately and without prompting
  • When you first arrive at the site there’s a loading page that leads to a “splash”-like page.
  • The navigation is at the bottom, almost hidden
  • Some pages break out of the “standard look” of the site.
  • There may or may not be a CMS involved… I can’t really tell. If there isn’t, it can often make site management harder.

So what?

The funny thing about it is that none of that detracts from the site. Nearly everyone for whom I have displayed the site absolutely loves it. Only one person said something negative, and it was in regards to the navigation. And that’s fine, I understand their concern…

The Take Away

What I learned from this site is that restrictions are there for a good reason, sometimes great reasons. But part of being a designer is choosing when not to follow restrictions as well as when to live within those restrictions.

Had the site followed my personal guidelines, and the things that most of my friends advise their clients not to do, it wouldn’t have been half the site it is. And that’s not to say that the instructions we give our clients is flawed or “bad” but rather to show that occasionally we need to reassess them in light of the project.

By breaking from those restrictions, the site is an immersion experience that makes you care about the information being presented. It is especially necessary in this case, when the message is something as important as the Great Lakes.

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About David Brooks

David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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