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. .

Volumeone is a quarterly webzine put together by the Brooklyn-based ‘visual communications studio’ founded by Matt Owens. The purpose of this zine is to explore the new narrative possibilities of the World Wide Web and to find out how visual communication functions online. The URL brings you to the title page of the most recent issue. From here you can access the three different parts of the site: four buttons lead to the contributions in the current issue, numbers on the left lead to the title pages of the other issues, and a button at the right gives access to information about the company.

Choosing to see one of the contributions makes a new window with fixed sizes appear. This creates the feeling that you’re going to see a finished piece of work. And the contributions are indeed a mixture of text, image, animation, buttons and, sometimes, audio, that are integrated into a complete experience. Mostly these consist of a few screens which can be accessed by clicking on a button. Here the elegance of Volumeone shines through: the buttons are part of the page’s visual design, though you find them immediately; to go back you have to close the window. Each issue of Volumeone is thought of as an experiment in using the latest browser or plug-in capabilities. It would a mistake, though, to think that Volumeone is just full of weird experiments. Every single screen of Volumeone looks simple and elegant. ‘Sprezzatura’ seems to be the core of their aesthetic ideology: no matter how complicated a page is technically, no matter how experimental the use of Flash or java script, make it look elegant and easy to do.

Cars from the '70s show up everywhere on this site, as do Japanese toy fighter robots, and what look like heroic illustrations from '50s children’s books. Pop culture and technology are clearly a favourite topic. The signs of the achievements of technology and wealth abound: space flight, '60s SF, plastics and fast food. Yet these are not used as images of optimism, but rather as signs of nostalgia or estrangement.

Typically, a lot of the contributions can seem to have a slight political edge, but it seems that they’re just using political themes because they have the right ‘feel’, rather than for any critical reasons.

Volumeone stands out for the clarity and effectiveness of its design. Exploring the site is a pleasant and rewarding enterprise; something worthwhile to discover lies behind every button. At Volumeone, they’re very good at visual communication, but they’re even better at creating narrative flow. Yet Volumeone is not about a content that is communicated, although you can get this impression given the recurrent theme of estrangement in modern society. It is about how to communicate a message. In the end, Volumeone is nothing more and nothing less than a showcase of what Matt Owens and his company can do with the WWW, and that’s a lot.