Arie Altena


Arie Altena

This review is an excerpt from the book Website Graphics Now, an international source book on the best in Global site design. Website Graphics Now was edited by Mediamatic and published in Spring 1999 by BIS Publishers in co-operation with Thames and Hudson.

The electronic version of the German magazine Debug, published monthly as a newspaper, is a surprising exception among the many thousands of text-based webzines. As a newcomer (it started its print version in 1997 and it’s been on the Web since 1998), Debug shows that even a simple webzine that republishes print material can be good-looking and a joy to use.

Debug is all about electronic lifestyles. The editors claim it’s ‘the result of a synthesis between urban youth culture and the aesthetic and intellectual expedition into the wasteland of digital media’. In a typical issue, you’ll come across articles on the German drum 'n bass scene, descriptions of synthesiser emulators and computer games, essays on biotechnology and robots, and of course loads of music reviews.

The electronic Debug stands out because of the attention paid to layout and navigational design. It pushes simple html to the extremes, without denying that it’s anything more than ‘just’ a text-based site. Through its consistent use of minimal, very simple design tricks, Debug becomes an easy-to-navigate and visually taut website that very effectively makes use of the Web’s advantages (linking to e-mail, different ways of navigating through the content, use of outward-bound links).

First of all, there’s the very definite colour palette of greens, blues and oranges (even used for images) which visually holds the site together. Debug’s textual nature is emphasised through the scarce use of images (with the few illustrations that do exist being loaded in a separate window) and the lack of animation and buttons.

Debug has a flat approach to Web design. It ‘misuses’ the widely-hated frames concept to create a layout grid on top of a Netscape grey background that conspicuously alludes to the early days of Web publishing. Frames are dynamic insofar as new data is loaded into them. Debug’s use of frames allows the flat screen, or the layout, to become dynamic without letting it take on depth.

That the navigation is easy and clear is not a logical given for a site which is structured in different sections and which also makes an archive of older issues available within the current issue’s framework. This clarity is achieved by a combination of pop-ups (the only java-scripted element in the site), a navigation bar and the consistent use of background colours. Any page within the site is just two clicks away, but since the general frames (with titles, pop-ups and navigation) remain on-screen, there’s no chance of getting lost. The background colours designate the different sections. These colours are repeated in the navigation bar - a simple procedure by which the navigation bar also functions as a means of orientation and, although it’s in a separate frame, visually becomes part of the page as a whole.

As for typography, Debug has chosen to use a rather small sans serif font that remains readable because the screen design is sober and, as mentioned, lacks images and animations.

Of course there are weaknesses as well. When the site is viewed using a higher resolution, there’s a good change it will not fit the screen. And the Web interface to the discussion list - the interactive part of the site - is ugly: it’s hosted by another organisation, and these pages’ design, while quite reserved, is harsh to the eye compared to the neat Debug pages.

This site may look unspectacular for those in search of the latest tricks, but the (deceptive!) simplicity fits the content very well and makes for an enjoyable read.