Sassy Web Site Fashion Maven Mr. Clickwell Reports from Spring SiteWear Show

Mr. Clicwell

San Jose, Cal. (SatireWire.com) – Catch me in a pan I’m melting! It’s been a long, cold Winter for the fashion conscious, but if this week’s Spring SiteWear Show is any indication, the frigid, function-over-form mood that’s dominated Web site design like Desi over Lucy is finally defrosting. From Google to Microsoft to ESPN.com, this Spring the message is: “Let’s just be pretty.”

No more barren, brutish, Yahooey layouts that were as cuddly and warm as a Rolodex. Instead, it’s Degas and doilies, pastels and posies, clouds and candlelight. Tres femme. High concept? Hmmm… Laura Ashley on skates.

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One changement en mieux that fashion digerati are absolutely raving about is Microsoft’s “country blush” look, where the emphasis is on ‘soft,’ and the sheer lace curtains cover just enough of the pretty-in-pink links to add a coquettish mystery. Fave: Microsoft accessorizes by using pretty words; “Products,” for example, becomes “Unmentionables,” while “Where do you want to go today?” gives way to the more charming, “Aren’t you looking pretty today?”

“We’ve always been tender in our color schemes, preferring pastels and soft highlights, but our layout has been, admittedly, desolate,” Microsoft’s brawny CEO, Steve Ballmer, told me over lattes and giggles at the backstage preview party. “Our Spring look is fresher without, I hope, being insolent.”

So what’s brought about this Zephyr of rafraîchissement? Jonathan Nelson, chairman of snappy Web design firm Organic, gave me one good reason and one knee-wobbling smile. “With all the layoffs and closings, so much ugly has happened in the past year that a lot of our clients said they just want to feel pretty again.”

ESPN.com logo for Spring

Another site experiencing a Natalie Wood Moment (oh go rent West Side Story if I’ve lost you), is ESPN.com, where it seems the biggest internal struggle was over the once-extensive use of black. “It’s so easy for black to dominate, but you have to be careful,” said ESPN spokesman and former NFL linebacker Gary Knopf, as we shared a frozen cappuccino. “We wanted enough black on the site so that it brought out the shades of pink in the navbar and the shadows in the nasturtiums, but we didn’t want so much black that the whole site just said, ‘New York bitch.'”

But enough about me!

Let’s talk about Google. “I really like our ouerve now, especially the way we’ve surrounded the site with an absolutely darling gilded, tooled-leather frame,” said Google CEO Larry Page as we stood alone in an elevator. “In some ways we can’t compete with Yahoo!, but at least I can say we’re much, much prettier.”

There is, however, a downside to prettifying. Even with high-speed connections, sites will load more slowly, a definite no-no in Jakob Nielsen Land (oh go to useit.com if I’ve lost you). But so far, the aesthetes are winning. As Ballmer told me: “You don’t rush pretty. Pretty takes its time. You don’t want it to just jump out at you. You want it to enter gracefully, like Hepburn.”

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“Audrey, not Katharine,” Ballmer added. Naturellement!

So what is pretty? Definitions vary, but most designers agree it is subtle. It’s pastels and flowers and frills. Some critics at the show insisted that too many sites have blown right past pretty and are dangerously close to “adorable.” WWF.com, for instance, has hidden tiny wrapped candies shaped like strawberries around the site. If you click on them, they tinkle! (Just like a couple of the wrestlers I met at the annual SiteWear Ball, but that’s another story.)

“You do have to draw a line somewhere,” Razorfish strategic officer Craig Kanarick told me over croissants. “Morgan Stanley came at us with three pretty themes they wanted to use: Minnie Driver, dusk, and true love. I was really intrigued by the true love angle – I’ve always thought true love was pretty – but then (Razorfish CEO) Jeff (Dachis) said, ‘You know, love isn’t always pretty’ and I was, like, ‘Ouch, that is so true.’ Plus it was hard to really capture true love on a site about asset management.”

So, is everybody as thrilled about this delightful change? Sadly, no. Former ICANN chairman and Net guru Esther Dyson, for one, kept screaming “All these sites look like a fuckin’ florist shop!” until I slapped her silly.

Well mes amis, that’s Mr. Clickwell’s report from The Big Show. Oh, one little piece of advice? If you’re going for the coy, feminine look, please do ditch the site visitor counters. I mean, “This site has been visited 97,000 times since Jan. 1?” Darling, that doesn’t say demure, that says whore.

But enough about me!

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