Elise Marks is creator and sometimes slave of her independent web work, and everyone's favorite zesty weasel. [Editor's note: When we conducted this interview in early June 1999], her mouse was resting comfortably in Kansas City, Missouri; her favorite American city. A background in video and film production made for an easy transition into multimedia design for the Internet, a calling she seems perfectly suited for. Truly a leading-edge developer — her current projects include interactive media integration — Elise also has a fun, quirky persona we know you will enjoy. We invited her to talk to us about improving our web design, and yours; some of the causes launched by the Digital Divas, and making the Internet more of a fun and entertaining experience for everyone.
This is your friendly interviewer, Jeff Clark, as he appeared in 1999. Time changes things.
[Elise Marks] i swear by a variation on the tenet "form follows function." when i work, i design based upon my content. first, i organise my content into sections and pages using a storyboard or outline. i then begin laying out each page by placing my information and organising it into groups or blocks. at that time, i begin to "play" with the groups. a basic layout always comes first. i don't even begin building the graphics until that is done. content/subject matter will, of course, determine the look and feel of a site as well. for example: one probably wouldn't use romantic floral patterns and textures when building a site for an architectural firm.
content/subject matter will, of course, also assist in defining your colour palette and selecting your font style(s). i always choose my colour palette and fonts before i begin. i rarely use more than three colours in any one site, and i can't recall a job in which i've used more than three fonts (as it goes, i almost always use only two). my goal is to hold a visitor's interest while keeping him or her focused on the ideas/information presented — not on the presentation itself.
if you've had no formal instruction in art/design, i think it's a very good idea to learn as much as you can about colour. colour is an extremely powerful element, and learning to harness that power is a very wise move. there are some excellent books on the subject, and in my opinion, studying the work of post-impressionist and modern artists such as matisse, kandinsky, marc, jawlensky, leger, mondrian, rothko and di chirico (among others) can be very helpful.
there are limitations in this medium, and we must consider them when we work. load-time must always be one of the foremost issues in our minds. one of the most important investments a budding developer will make is a graphics compression program. also... a few ideas from elise's cult of minimalism: always remember there are many effective/pleasing substitutes for "traditional" images. one can add interest and achieve balance through the use of "empty" space (white space is our friend!) and/or solid fields of colour, all the while cutting load-time significantly. i once used blocks of parallel horizontal lines as substitutes for traditional images, and i love the manner in which some designers employ "grid" textures. experiment with texture. one can do so much with only information and an interesting (yet unobtrusive) texture.
finally, think of your visitors as you work. try to employ colour and line as tools to move your visitor's eye in the direction you would like it to go, and try to organise your content so that you move your visitors from one page to the next. as the designer, you have the control. hold fast to that awareness and work it!
one final note regarding the words "always and never..." i hate using those words when talking about art and design, and i tend not to trust people who use those words too often. however, there are rules, and if we're to be successful, we must learn them. once we've learned and assimilated them, we can experiment with breaking them!
[Internet Brothers] Digital Divas is a fabulous example of web community at its best. Internet Brothers is also very high on the community building philosophy. We're aiming to network with individuals and groups who want to help others achieve success and satisfaction online. What is the history of the Divas, and what does your membership mean to you?
[EM] digital divas was founded by dana whitmire in 1997 [Editor's note: Since this interview, Digital Divas has retired.]. she had been searching for a group of creative, powerful women with a wide variety of strong computer skills, that was committed to exerting a positive influence on the web. when she was unable to find a group that met her needs, she simply started one herself.
i was accepted into the group a little over a year ago, and i can honestly say that my acceptance was one of the turning points in my career. i became a part of this amazing group of intelligent and creative women, many of whom had desires and ambitions similar to my own — it was so exciting! i had been completely on my own in this thing until that time. i've received so much support and assistance from the members of the group, and i've learned so much. also, my confidence level has increased through the support and knowledge i've been able to offer my diva sisters as well. moreover, it is so nice to have other women with whom to converse about work and issues related to it. none of my close female friends work in the same field as i do, and none free-lance. bless them; they do try to listen to me talk about work, but they drop like flies. i start raving geekily about some aspect of a job that is really exciting to me, and their eyes begin to glaze over... they don't last long after that.
“i think that quite a healthy portion of what we see and read on the net was created by folks who've always had positive contributions to make, but who did not have a voice with which to contribute until they found this particular mode of communication.” — Elise Marks
[IB] Unfortunately women on the web have tended to be stereotyped, some deserved, most not. Motivated individuals such as yourself and the other Divas are breaking the mold and creating new perceptions. In fact, if anything it's the men now who are falling behind.
[EM] seriously, that is one of the finest compliments i've ever received. i can't say anything more. i'm embarrassed. thank you.
[IB] The Digital Divas support a number of worthwhile internet causes and principles. Here's your chance to plug the great work the Divas are doing for us all.
[EM] we, as a group, have made so many worthwhile contributions to the "health" of the internet, i almost don't know where to start. i'm so proud of our contributions, and of the women in the group who have worked so hard and given so much of themselves. i think our greatest contribution has been grey day, an organisation commited to educating the internet community on the issues surrounding artistic property as it applies to the web. all our causes and issues are a useful contribution to the internet community. there are product reviews, helpful articles and tutorials, downloads from our talented artists — even an award offered to those with spectacular sites!
Proceed to part 3 of Internet Brothers interview with Elise Marks.
Return to part 1 of Internet Brothers interview with Elise Marks.