Interview with Vito Campanelli about Web Aesthetics
By Geert Lovink

Ever since I worked with Matthew Fuller in 2004 on A Decade of Web
Design, I have been interested in the question if there is such a
thing as ‘web aesthetics’ that could operate beyond the overheated
nineteen nineties Internet rhetoric. It is easy to historicize
‘’ as a pseudo historical avant-garde and then declare it
dead, but what’s the point of such an all too obvious statement? The
Web continues to grow and change at an astonishing rate. It is not
sufficient to criticize Web 2.0 as a remake of dotcommania. Corporate
and state dominance of the Web continues to be a threat, but this
should not shy us away from a rigorous theorization of the Web in all
its aspects. It was on the Web that I first encountered the works
of the Italian theorist, Vito Campanelli, culminating in a visit to
his hometown, Naples, in October 2006. After an inspiring meeting
in-real-life we continued our exchange online, culminating in this
online interview.

Vito Campanelli is assistant professor of “Theory and technique of the
mass communication” at University of Napoli ‘L’Orientale’ and a free
lance contributor to magazines such as Neural, Boiler, and Memenest.
Vito also co-founded the web designers collective Klash. From there,
he joined USAD in 2005, a research and development group focused on
e-learning. He is also an independent curator, working for cultural
events in Naples such as Sintesi, the Electronic Arts Festival, and is
the originator of the Web aesthetics research project called The Net
Observer. More recently he co-founded the Napoli new media initiative
MAO, the Media & Arts Office. Vito Campanelli published the book,
L’arte della Rete, l’arte in Rete. Il Neen, la rivoluzione estetica
about the artist Miltos Manetas.

GL: Let’s start. You’re working on ‘web aesthetics’. The first
association, of course, would be with web design, HTML and the look
and feel of a website. But perhaps that’s not what you’re aiming at.

VC: In my research into aesthetic forms of the Net, I make a clear
division between commercial expressions and aesthetic expressions,
without qualification. I’m not so interested in the latter, while
I’m fascinated by the former - those aesthetic forms that exhaust
their essence just in being there, without any intent or aim that
exceeds the personal expressive needs of whoever designed them. This
distinction could seem arbitrary- it could also find a basis if we
consider that modern mediated mass communication is poles apart
relative to any aesthetic feeling: vulgarity and arrogance nullify any
hypothesis of meaning. On the contrary, the research of an aesthetic
point of view is the attempt to assign - again - a sense to our human

In my opinion aesthetics is the more powerful answer to the violence
of mass communication (or modern commercial communication).
Mass communication eludes every determination, it aims to be
contemporaneously ‘one thing, its own opposite - and everything
between the two opposites’. Exposing the message to all its possible
variants, it finishes to abolish it. Indeed, the goal of mass
communication is always the dissipation of any content.

The only alternative to the effects of mass communication is a
return to an aesthetic feeling of things, a kind of aesthetics not
so much ideological, but rather more active (e.g. Adorno) - a kind
of aesthetics able to bring again into society and culture feelings
of economic unconcern (rather an unconcerned interest), discretion,
moderation, the taste for challenge, witticism, and seduction.
Aesthetics is exactly this.

Talking about feelings and emotions means to free oneself from the
communication domain, while facing a category of beauty has become
one of the most subversive actions we can devise in contrast to
the reigning ‘factory of culture and consensus’. Within this view
I’m suggesting, technology stays in the background: it creates the
necessary conditions for spreading one’s own creativity through
digital media. If we accept this position, no matter if a website is
made using HTML or Flash, what’s really important is the beauty it

GL: Do you find it useful to build a bridge back to the “classics” of
aesthetics - from Kant to Croce? How should we read such old authors
in the light of the Internet and its development?

VC: A theory that doesn’t interface itself to the historical
presupposition of our thinking is nothing more than a stupid and
useless utopia. Nevertheless, the authors you mentioned are not at
the center of my thoughts. Kant doesn’t attribute any cognitive value
to art, while Croce is sidelined with respect to Internet and its
socio-cultural postulates. In Croce’s aesthetics there is a strong
devaluation of technique, as he considers it extrinsic to the art and
linked instead to the communication concept. Moreover, Croce himself
doesn’t pose the question of communication. The intuition-expression
is indeed already communication in itself. Croce would never say that
the medium is the message. I refer to other authors, above all Deleuze
and Guattari, who had the merit of prefiguring the actual rhizomatic
structure of the Internet society, and Panofsky, who is a source of
inspiration for Manovich. I find the approach of Rudolf Arnheim very
valuable: according to him we must build aesthetics, starting from
the perceptive and sensory world, not from the idea. If we consider
the relational nature of most Net Art, it becomes interesting also
trying to read, under a different lens, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and

GL: It is hard to move away from the postmodern chapter and the way
that era defined aesthetics. Is that a struggle for you? Could we say
that we, still, live in the aftermath of that theory storm and merely
apply the collected insights of the late 20th century to a phenomenon
like the World Wide Web?

VC: What you emphasize is a concrete risk and perhaps it is also a
reason for the difficulties academia has in opening itself up to
a dialectic comparison with the issues the Web has introduced. If
we look closely at the more relevant aesthetic phenomenon in the
last twenty-year period, Net Art, it becomes hard to refute that
this movement, even in its heterogeneity, has introduced new and
confrontational aesthetic canons. Above all, it seems crucial to me
the overtaking of any distinction between content and form or medium:
the interface (that, as Manovich asserts, replaces the form and the
medium into the modern paradigm) is so merged with the content that
thinking of it as a separate level means to eliminate the artistic
dimension. Broadly speaking, I think that authentic advances will be
reached when we cease thinking of the Web as an expressive medium, and
more of a cultural and social interface.

GL: It is said that Deleuze and Guattari’s concept have become so
virulent, so active, that they have passed the point of anticipation,
and are now an integral part of our media life. It doesn’t mean that
D&G and their followers were wrong or sold out. In fact, it points at
a new condition of theory in which critical concepts start to open
up spaces and come alive, in the midst of the mess called global
capitalism. Seen in this light, what role should a theory of web
aesthetics play?

VC: What happened to Deleuze and Guattari’s theories is merely what
always happens: human thought is faster than technical progress. It
often occurs that we are not able to understand the true significance
of contemporary thought, nevertheless,afterwards, inrereading a
book, we see clearly its capacity ofbeing ahead of its time. It’s a
situation that characterizes not only philosophy but also, in general,
literature. I’m still amazed, for example, at how some cyberpunk
novels have anticipated the focal themes of our times, according to
simple literary inventions. Gibson wrote Neuromancer(July, 1984)
without any knowledge of the Web’s reality, still, he had not
difficulty carrying his thought over technologicalart’s state.

My idea of aesthetics has - above all - a factual dimension. I’d
like to think about a kind of aesthetics busy with ‘dirtying its
hands’ with the concrete and daily world.Its role should be therefore
giving back to us a beauty dimension which we can contrast against
the widespread vulgarity. To contrast an ephemeral aesthetic act
to the actual dogma of ‘creativity under command’, means to take
oneself away from the alienation that characterizes contemporary
creative production. To affirm that aesthetic forms possess a social
and cultural (even pedagogic in some ways) value, it means to negate
- at root - the modern social organization that comes to measure any
expression, including artistic ones, on the basis of market value.

Again, to affirm that a message, a form, a thought, has an intrinsic
value before the commercial one seems banal, nevertheless is an
aversive affirmation if compared to that you describe as ‘the mess
called global capitalism’. In my opinion, the diffusion of a Web
aesthetics is ultimately one of the few practicable ways to liberate
our new (digital) world from the slavery in which it has been
condemned by commercial communication.

GL: It’s so easy these days to proclaim that theory is dead. How
do you deal with such cynical observations? Is there an Italian
equivalent of pragmatism?

VC: To ask an indolent idealistic Southerner a question about
pragmatism could sound like a provocation, even if - to tell the
truth - you get the point when highlighting the possibility of
different approaches. I do believe that there are peoples who, due
to historical and cultural traditions, are more inclined to theory,
while others are more inclined to direct experience. Even with regard
to new technologies, it seems to me that it’s possible to highlight
an approach, predominantly European, that tends to make an issue of
technique and to design paths between actual technologic conquests
and the classic thought. There is another approach, one that finds
its fulcrum in California, that appears instead much more focused on
technique in itself. Manovich is an exception, but in his theories
he continuously betrays his Russian origins. ‘Theory’s death’ is
like ‘spring and autumn’s death’: a good topic of conversation for
boring living rooms. History teaches us that theory always returns in
unexpected ways. Theory is dead, long live theory!

GL: Do you teach Web aesthetics? Can you tell us something how
students are bridging theory and the immense drive towards tinkering
and producing?

VC: I wish I was teaching Web aesthetics! Actually, I teach ‘Theory
and techniques of mass communication’ and I try to feed pills of
aesthetic evaluations into these lessons.

As for students, they seem to me mainly oriented to use the more
various objects (PC,digital devices, books, etc...) and not inclined
to ask themselves questions about the things they are using. They
use them without asking themselves where they come from or which
valences they express over the function of use, or even, which
evolutionary paths they design? This attitude is probably the fruit of
the ruling consumerism that represents, de facto, the only historical
reality that new generations know first hand. Nevertheless there
is perhaps something more: the more or less widespread resignation
and renunciation ofplaying an active and critical role in examining
what surrounds us. Most of the students I usually meet seem to
incarnate the ideal consumer model dreamed up by marketing gurus.
They uncritically accept a lifestyle that other people have designed
for them, rather than shaping their own. The picture of the situation
could appear tragic, nevertheless, it’s amazing to look at the
reactions that you can breed in them when you are able to uncover
some conditioned thought processes of which they are victim. When it
happens, you can clearly see how a growing interest rises in them,
together with the determination to react (also in a creative way). The
walk is quite long, therefore it’s important that none of us give up
the responsibility to educate and make new generations aware.

GL: Can you tell us what your theory of Web aesthetics consists of? Is
it a book that you’re working on?

VC: I’ve published a book on Miltos Manetas and the Neen movement
that, in my opinion, is one of the more significant artistic
avant-garde expressions in the last twenty-years. To state that
“websites are the art of our times,” as Manetas did in his Manifesto,
means to put intangible and immaterial artworks outside of the art
merchant’s tentacles. Indeed, the market still doesn’t know how to
sell objects like websites, but if we erase the commercial layer, then
Art returns to its natural function: to open windows where mankind can
look at its own condition.

At present I’ve finished, together with Danilo Capasso, another book
that has moved from five questions about digital culture that Lev
Manovich thought for us at the occasion of a lecture that Danilo and
myself organized in Naples in April 2005. We asked more than 100
persons (artists, theorists, curators, mathematicians, etc.) all
around the world to answer to Manovich’s suggestions and then we chose
50 contributions in order to publish them. The book is now complete
with two different authors’ reflections but - unfortunately - we are
still waiting for the editor to make up his mind and pass our work
over to the press. This is one of the most significant problems of
publishing nowadays: editors are far too slow to follow the velocity
of circulation of modern ideas. More generally, I look forward to
writing a book on “the aesthetics of the database” theme and lately,
I’ve focused my research in this direction, but - to tell the truth
- the visualization forms of data are so numerous that I’m still
lost at sea.   GL: The first decade of web design was focused on
speculative thinking about the potentials of the medium, followed by
“best practices” literature and the long silence after the dotcom boom
crashed. Where are we now?

VC: We are at the Web 2.0 point, and this indicates an evolution of
the way we look at this medium. Despite a lack of unanimity on what
Web 2.0 should be, we certainly have made some steps forward - for
example, we have dropped the useless antithesis between texts and
images: now we consider them as modalities of reading and representing
reality, and we believe that a rich medium (such as the Web) has to
enhance them both, instead of contrasting them. Nowadays we can easily
observe, within the framework of the Net, words that become images and
images that becomes words.

We have also dropped the ideas that the Web constitutes a return to
the oral tradition or to the written word – indeed, both statements
have proven fallacious, and we now prefer to speak about a continuum
of languages. These conceptual advances also find a hands-on
application in web design, as interface designs are responding to
narrative and orientation needs that are miles beyond the early
desktop metaphor. As a consequence, the web designer’s role is no
longer to draw, but rather to arrange environments for interaction
(between users, between image and text, between books and TV,
between the symbolic and the perceptive, between the active and the
passive, etc...). More generally, I think we have overcome that stage
of excitement over the potentials of the medium, and we are now
focusing on the nature of the Web itself - its developments and the
interactions between the Net and society.

I feel tempted to suggest a bold comparison with the situation of
falling in love: first comes the arousal over the ‘potentials’ of a
body, then the attention shifts to the nature of the soul trapped in
that body (a person takes the place of a body), and finally, all our
thoughts are absorbed in imagining the possible relations between that
person and people all around us (our family, our clan, our workmates,
our flat mates, our playmates, our comrades, etc...). It’s also
funny to note that, in accepting this comparison, we have to admit
that network culture is a postulate of the early excitement over the
Web (an excitement that had been driven by the dotcom boom), as a
marriage is a postulate of the initial arousal over a body (driven
by a hormonal boom), allowing us to put the two “booms” on the same

GL: Is theory in Italy a place of refuge because there is so little
institutional support for new media in your country?

VC: Yes, it is. In my country new media are like Godot in Samuel
Beckett’stragicomedy: all the institutions keep on chattering about
the advent of the Internet and new digital tools, but nobody realizes
that they already surround us. In this upsetting situation, theory
becomes the only way to be in touch with such things.

GL: Could we also read the lively Internet scene in Italy as a
subcultural necessity from the age of Berlusconi who managed to
monopolize both commercial and state media when he ruled as prime
minister? And, as a result of that could we say that there is a
sort of ‘temporary compromise’ between autonomous cultures and more
progressive part of the (IT) business community?

VC: On one hand the lively media scene in Italy is an answer to the
Berlusconi monopoly on broadcast media, but we must not forget that
the one you emphasized is not the only critical situation, indeed
Italy is the country of monopolies, oligopolies, and cartels: Internet
and telecommunications, banks and insurance companies, most of the
vital business articulations are monopolized by the “usual suspects”.
Onthe other hand there is a very deep-rooted tradition in media
activism. It would suffice to remember the experience of Radio Alice
that started transmitting in 1976, and introduced techniques such as
linguistic sabotage and diffusion of arbitrary information. Many of
the actual initiatives are expressly linked toones born at the end of
the 1970s, although the needs of that period are replaced with more
modern issues.

 From my point of view, the most interesting aspect in media activism
is that it leaves behind the dominant communication language;
“breaking with language in order to reach life” as Artaud said.
It’s fascinating to me how the language of advertising, as well as
various modes of ideological communication, are revised into the
best-made operations of subadvertising. Reusingelements of well-known
media such as popular icons and clichés, along with the detournement
of contemporary mass culture headlines, are very creative ways to
criticize the context we live in. To my great displeasure I have to
underline that often initiatives such as street TV or illegal radio
exhaust their energy in building a new transmitting source but what
fails is content. It’s like building empty boxes: after the initial
curiosity, nobody wants really to get in.

I don’t see any progressive part of the (IT) business community in
Italy. Sure, there is a part that looks ‘cool’: it’s the one that
scans the autonomous cultures searching for ‘coolness’. The point
is, there isn’t any dialogue. A dialogue presumes a predisposition
to change one’s point of view and I’m quite sure that thebusiness
communityabsolutely doesn’t want to put their assumptions up for

GL: You attended the MyCreativity conference in Amsterdam. Do you see
any trace of the creative industries discourse in Italy? If Europe’s
destiny is going to be exporting design and other lifestyle-related
‘experiences’, then Italy would be in the best possible position. Is

VC: Debate about the creative industry in Italy still has far to go.
The term ‘industry’ is still not used in association with the term
“creativity”, as we usually speak about the ‘fashion industry’, or
‘shoe industry’ or, even, ‘furniture industry’. This layout doesn’t
encourage the emersion of the creative work’s element as lowest common
denominator around the different entrepreneurial activities that bring
to life the famous ‘Made in Italy’ moniker. Creative work is - without
a doubt - at the bottom of the product ‘Italy’; nevertheless, the
emphasis is always on Italian genius (that is, the attitude to invent
surprising things), or on “Italian lifestyle”. I guess that if we took
a poll of strangers accustomed to buying fashionable stuff made in
Italy, we would discover that they believe they are buying the right
to participate in the “Italian lifestyle”, more than the fruits of
Italian creative labor.

GL: Southern Europe envies the North for all its festivals, centers
and cultural funding whereas Northern Europeans can’t stop showing
their excitement for the Virnos, Berardis, Negris, Agambens,
Lazzoratos and Pasquinellis. Isn’t that a strange form of symbolic
circulation? How do you see this play between ideas and institutional
cultures on a European scale? Shouldn’t we just stop thinking in those
terms and start working on equal levels and forget all this regional
labeling? Eastern Europe, for instance, has suffered for many years
from the regional stigma. Where you come from overdetermines what you
do. Northerners tend not to respond to that criticism.

VC: Maybe the answer is already in your preamble: due to the fact
that in Southern Europe it is quite tough to get funding and support
for cultural initiatives (especially when you move outside of the
mainstream), and many people are more inclined to make intellectual
reflections, rather then to plan events. I would like to avoid any
regional labeling, nevertheless it can be said, with some justice,
that those labels express a state of affairs that is still heavily
conditioned by disparities and specificities working on a regional
basis. Also if we assume a merely linguistic point of view, it is
completely evident that non-anglophone realities suffer enormously
from the inability to participate in an active way with the European
(or international) cultural debate. This fact pushes these realities
to retreat into themselves and to bring to life expressive modalities
distinguished by perspectives that are more regional than global.

As for Italy, one of the most interesting specificity is that the
lack in cultural funding has transformed the country into an amazing
training ground for auto-production phenomena. Operating ‘from the
bottom’ is, in my opinion, a key phenomenon these days, indeed, it
puts into the cultural economy some truly innovative dynamics, as
long these dynamics break (finally) the chain constraining cultural
production to the economy of (induced) consumptions and needs.
>From this field, to put a lens on the specificity of this Italian
phenomenon could offer answers more interesting than the ones you
obtain considering Italy in the overall European movement.

GL: Is it desirable for you to overcome, media theory, and
electronic arts by integrating it into a broader praxis that would not
have a techno prefix?

VC: My attempt is just that: to free media theory and electronic arts
from techno prefixes in order to consider them just as contemporary
culture. In a book I wrote a couple of years ago, I stated that we
need, now, to surpass the concept of Contemporary Art in order to
define a new contest, one able to contain the theory and the culture
born during the last years and centered around the new medium: the
Internet. Indeed if Contemporary Art’s medium has been Television,
it is right to close that chapter so we may open a new one dedicated
to the cultural movements produced by the impact of the Net on
contemporary society. It’s not just a question of definitions, rather,
it is an issue of a cultural shift: giving up the critical and
interpretive tools still in use, to build new ones rising from the
awareness that the computer (or the database, as Manovich would say)
has replaced narration as a predominant cultural representation.

GL: Let’s go back to web aesthetics. Besides beauty, could we also
use the term ‘style’? Is there a positive and critical tradition
of talking about ‘style’ or is that merely something for fashion
magazines? Maybe it is not wise to look down on fashion… Is there
style on the Net?

VC: Nowadays the term ‘style’ appears to be monopolized by fashion
and design gurus, nevertheless, we should be able to overcome the
nuisance that this linguistic abuse causes, in order to reactivate
a genuine critical debate. To deny the existence of style means to
erase more than five hundred years of philosophical and aesthetical
reflections: the term “style”, in fact, has been used since the
16th century with the ascendance of the Renaissance ‘maniera’ that
indicates the personal style of an artist. Style is not a genre and
not prearranged forms that the artist can choose according to his
preferences. Instead, style is a need because it reflects a way of
living, thinking, and imagining the world in which the artist is
immersed. Style is a reflection of the times, and very often the
choice of a style is not even an aware choice: the artist applies the
style of his environment/times without any consciousness (in this
sense the critic is much more aware than the artist).

Style is always related to an epoch, thus it changes along with
the life and the culture existing under the influence of social,
economical and psychological factors. This is the reason style (as
the expression of an epoch) is not transmitted from one generation
to the next. Sometimes the term “style” is inaccurately described as
‘artistic individual preferences’ (‘le style c’est l’homme’), but we
have to refuse this equivocal interpretation: individual forms and
preferences need a different denomination, while style is – today as
it was 500 years ago – the common language of an epoch. If we accept
this interpretation, the pretension of ‘being without a style’ becomes
silly and disingenuous: can we imagine an artistic work that doesn’t
reflect its times? 

When I hear speeches about the refusal of style, my mind goes
immediately to the characters of an Orhan Pamuk’s novel: My Name is
Red. The main characters in this novel are miniaturists of the Ottoman
Empire that discuss (and fight and kill each other) around the subject
of style, the question is: which is true art? The expression of the
individual artist, or a perfect representation of the divine (in
which the artist suppresses any trace of his personal vanity)? The
Nobel Prize-winning’s novel describes a very paradigmatic situation:
two different cultures are colliding (the Ottoman Empire ‘meets’ the
Venetian Empire) and a new epoch rises. There is nothing to do for
the miniaturists - a new epoch introduces a new style, and all their
efforts to keep the traditional approach to the miniature are in vain.

If we look at the Net we can clearly see a lot of genres (mail art,
ASCII art, generative art, hacker art, pixel art, and so on...), but
we can also identify a style. A couple of the main elements of this
style are – in my very personal opinion – the remixing attitude and
the D.I.Y. practice. Human culture has always been defined by its
ability to remix ideas, concepts and inspirations, but nowadays there
is something new: the new media advent has extended our potential to
such an extent that we remix continuously, even when we are not aware
of it. New media force us to do a continuous ‘cut and paste’ of the
endless digital data surrounding us. Thus, we can assume that remixing
is the composition method of our times.

At the same time, new media give us the potential to get our hands
around this growing digital data sea, indeed, we can manage and shape
it even if we don’t have particular expertise. So we draw data from an
endless source and we recombine them using all kind of digital tools,
in few words: we remix culture on our own. In this situation, can we
imagine an artistic expression that is immune to the two most popular
practices of our times? I don’t think so. Instead, the style of our
epoch can be found into what I am tempted to call: R.I.Y. (Remix It

Obviously, there are other elements that contribute to the actual
style, for example, it’s easy to observe how non-linear narrative
is taking linear narrative’s place. Instead of denying the concept
of style, we should look around us to identify what are the
characteristics of our times, and in doing that, we would also
understand what the actual style is shaped by.

GL: How do you deal with the popular in web aesthetics? Often it is
said that popular culture is so trashy. But with Internet culture the
masses of users these days are so advanced. Theory and criticism have
yet to discover blogs, Second Life, Wikipedia and all that. Having
said that, it’s clear we no longer live in the 1980s and have to
promote a serious study of popular (media) culture. Cultural Studies
has established itself in such a big way, we shouldn’t have to make
such calls… Still there is the question, from a theory point of view,
whether or not to overcome the popular.

VC: What is the “popular”? This is a good starting point, if we refer
to the Web, and broadly to digital media. Common people are the
vanguard we need to test our theories, our hypothesis, our projects,
and our products too. Who’s discovering a new world like Second Life?
Who’s populating our databases, our wikis and our blogs? Who’s testing
our new digital tools? We need them to reach a critical mass. As a
consequence all the communication is directed to them: ‘try this new
product for free’, ‘trial period’, ‘make a free tour’, ‘open your own
blog’, ‘publish your photo album’, these and many others formulas
witnessing that we need the masses of users in order to get feedback,
to give basis to our theories, to shape our products.

We don’t need them just as audience (the TV age model), the Internet
age postulates an active participation, thus, the masses are required
to turn themselves into players. What would remain of Web 2.0 and
social networks without masses? A desert, I guess.

With all the digital media and contexts we are creating the masses
have also produced an incredible amount of content. If that is
actually what we define as ‘popular culture’, then the questions are:
what are we supposed to do with all this stuff? Is this cultural
production significant? Should we spend our time in studying and
analyzing it?

For sure we don’t have time to do that, so (usually) we limit
ourselves to give a bit of our attention to the events that, pushed
by mass media, bounce under our noses. The most interesting thing for
me is to observe how the top rated/most viewed videos on YouTube are
all ‘commercial TV like’ products; the usual Second Life public spaces
(streets and buildings) are crowded with more advertising than Las
Vegas (most of them are dedicated to sex); the stick memories of the
average MP3 players are filled with the same music you can listen to
on any commercial radio station, and shall we talk about the subjects
of the photos stored in millions of digital cameras?

What I’m trying to mark is that with new media we are repeating the
stupidity and the uselessness of our TV formats, the advertising’s
invasion of any public space, the boredom of the pop music scene,
etc... Vulgarity and the dissipation of any significance are moving
from old media to new media, and I don’t see any good reason to spend
my time with such ‘popular culture’.

Besides this, it’s also very interesting to observe how the old media
are becoming more and more permeable to blogs and D.I.Y. information.
This phenomenon is not due to a fascination in more democratic
information sources (the traditional media holders hate new media and
people involved with it), on the contrary - the pressure is rising due
to the growth of the ‘eyes’ (digital cameras and all the new devices)
that are watching the same events that mainstream media are reporting
to us: the possibility of being uncovered are too many and broadcast
journalists are forced to tell the truth (or – at least – a plausible
version of it). As a consequence, blogs have become the major source
of news and information about the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal
(a scandal born thanks to modern digital devices) and the Iraq War.
Then the question is: what impact is the blogosphere having on the
traditional media’s control over news and information? We also have to
consider that bloggers are often the only real journalists, as they
(at their own risk) provide independent news in countries where the
mainstream media is censored or under control.

GL: Is it your aim to promote sophistication in web design? How can we
identify, and then design sophisticated communication?

VC: I don’t like sophistication very much, I prefer a minimalist
approach to web design, with clear and linear interfaces that give
intuitive access to sophisticated and very structured data. When you
have to manage complex data sets or very rich multimedia contents, the
best you can do is design a structure that is very minimal. Indeed,
you don’t have to add meaning to the content you are representing,
otherwise you make it useless and baroque. Nevertheless, minimalist
doesn’t mean careless or dull, instead it means “not one sign more
than necessary”, it means taking care of details, it means being
moderate and objective.

We also have to consider that there are so many kinds of data that
there can’t be one universal formula of access. In fact, some
information, such as the structure of a network, need graphic
expedients to be understood. Also, there are many realities that
have no meaning if showed only in a textual format. In those cases
we use graphs, charts, etc., and very often we obtain wonderful and
unexpected forms. For example, if you look at the Manuel Lima’s
project, Visual Complexity (, you’ll easily
find many wonderful visualizations of complex networks.

In view of such artistic representation of data the problem becomes:
where is the line? How much graphic sophistication (or embellishment)
do we need to solve a visualization problem? I guess the answer can
found on a case-by-case basis, and the only line we can certainly
detect is the one between the amount of complexity required by a
representation (objective factor) and the self-satisfaction that
pushes any designer into going over what is required (subjective

(edited by Henry Warwick)



Vito Campanelli’s home page:
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