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Digital Art History? Exploring Practice in a Network Society

Ida Engholm
IT University of Copenhagen

Genre and style as a classification method. The graphic design development of the WWW from the perspective of genre and style history

Keywords: Web design, aesthetic theory, genre, style


For centuries, the use of genre and style for classification has been one of the methodological dogmas in the aesthetic disciplines, where they have served as a basis for interpreting and classifying the development of art forms and media. In recent years, however, there has been increasing awareness that the result of any interpretation of genre and style depends as much on the assumptions underlying the perception of them as on the qualities that have been embedded in the analysed objects, independent of time and spectator. Style and genre have been questioned, not least by the wave of post-structuralist thought, as objective means of an interpretation that is based on the premise that the object holds certain style or genre characteristics.

As will be evident, the concepts of genre and style are used differently depending on context, and the lines between the concepts are blurred. In the conventional definition, genre signifies the category or categories that literature, film, mass-communication products, etc. fall into in terms of their mode of expression, and which form the conventions that determine content (e.g. themes) and/or expression (structure/style). The concept of genre, however, is often synonymous with style, when something is of a particular character, direction or style.

In the conventional definition, style signifies the mode of expression of a particular person, group or period; in principle it may run across genres, as expressionism or modernism, for example.

A major problem concerning the theory of genre and style is that when genres or styles express themselves in or as an object, then what is it that is expressed, and how? This question includes ontological and typological problems concerning the potential 'being' or 'nature' of genres or styles and whether a given object should be classified 'generically'.1 Another issue in the theory of genre and style is that the two concepts are used both in analytical-theoretical and common pragmatic contexts, which causes some confusion about their meaning and function.

Genre and modus

Definitions of genre 'are always historically relative, and therefore historically specific'. 2
Genre studies are essentially typological and nominological in function, as their primary purpose is to divide forms into types and to name these types.3 Etymologically, the word genre comes from the Latin genus, meaning kin, type, sort or class; conceptually, it can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, who made descriptive categorisations of texts as a means to achieve order and understanding. 4 Various literary periods have had similar prescriptive genres. Until the 20th century, genres were studied primarily in the area of literature, and literary products were grouped based on common features of their structure or the way they were produced.

The advent of film and mass media has also drawn genre considerations into mass communication research, where researchers, influenced by insights from qualitative reception research, have looked at the general discourse between senders/producers and recipients/audience.

Generally, the concept of genre is used in two different discourses today: 5 First, there is a general discourse between senders/producers and recipients/audience. This discourse is made up of the textual characteristics, the expectations and choices of senders and recipients, marketing and many other factors.

Second, there is a theoretical and analytical discourse. Since Plato and Aristotle, descriptive categorisations have been drawn up, and various literary periods have had prescriptive genres that were primarily based on textual characteristics.
The current lack of clarity about the meaning of the concept of genre is partly due to the fact that the theoretical discourse has expanded its field of study to include the meaning of genres in the communication process itself. Thus, the perspective of the analytical-theoretical use has developed from the soulless systematisation of any conceivable text to an investigation of the function of texts and, thus, genres. This creates the beginnings of a link between the common and the analytical-theoretical applications of the concept. The new perspective of genre theory, therefore, lies partly in qualifying and specifying the insights that lie in the common use of the genre concept.

Stilus and stylos

'Style is what You Make It.' 6
If we look at the concept of style, its etymological history is more complex, as style has a dual etymon; in Greek, it is stylos (column), and in Latin it is stilus ('stylus').7 Both etymological traditions have existed since Antiquity, when stilus related to the area of literature, more specifically to the use of lexis and style in rhetoric. During the Renaissance, the term came to also describe the individual and unique in a person; the personal 'handwriting' or expression, as known from the concept 'le style c'est l'homme'/'the style is the man' from 1753.8
In its original and narrow meaning, stylos signifies the columns in the architecture of Antiquity; the term was used to distinguish between proportional variations in the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders of Greco-Roman architecture.

The literary associations to stilus have been predominant throughout history and have been linked narrowly to the concept of genre as a term for the way the text was produced, modus. The use of stylos for classifying the spatial organisation in architecture points towards the use of the concept of style in art history, which gained ground in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when modern art history was founded.9 Here, style is used broadly to signify the style of a certain period or the style of a particular work by a particular artist or group of artists. Like the concept of genre, the concept of style has undergone several changes, from being an objective instrument to being an instrument for classifying and dating works of art in the collections of connoisseurs; similarly, the focus has shifted to the common discourse about style and the conventions that broadly determine the definition and perception of style.

In most contexts, considerations of style are an element in recent art history, mostly, however, in larger ontological and epistemological debates concerning what constitutes a work of art, and how it may be comprehended and analysed. Discussions on the general function and application of the concept of style, on the other hand, are less common. In modern film and media theory research, there have been, to my knowledge, no attempts to qualify or specify the insights that the common use of the concept of style may hold, whereas the concept of genre, as already mentioned, has received a fair amount of attention.

The philosopher Merleau-Ponty, whose phenomenological perspective has had a big impact on the humanities in recent years, offers some interesting views on the concept of style, which are relevant in connection with a break away from the classical concept of style. Merleau-Ponty only includes considerations on the concept of style in relation to major discussions on perception and expression. According to Merleau-Ponty, style is a potent perceptual presence, and he points to its dependence upon and potential for expanding our perceptual capacities. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty suggests, perception - 'already stylizes'. 'Perception stylizes because it cannot help but to constitute and express a point of view'10. As an implicit criticism of the traditional analytical use of the concept of style, he states that for far too long, style has been seen as belonging to the connoisseur's domain with its fixed and formalised ways of interpreting style.

Instead, he turns style into a general perceptual structuring principle. According to Merleau-Ponty, the concept of style should be ripped from the embrace of the connoisseur and instead be made a common perceptual activity. In accordance with the view of 'common concepts of style' there is no single 'correct' way to group objects. How one chooses to group objects depends on one's frame of reference. From the perspective of reception theory, there is a set of conventions or norms for the content of a given genre and style, which people within the same socio-cultural community will agree upon as perceptual experiences, and which are, in a way, also linked to the symbolic representations of the world of that culture and language. In practice, this means that writers and producers take for granted that certain target groups have a consensus on the reference points of certain styles.

Genre and style as expectation horizon and expectation fulfilment

The difficulty concerning the concepts of genre and style is that from both a historical and a contemporary perspective, the line between the two concepts is blurred. Within the classical 'major genres' of drama, epics and poetry, drama may for example appear as the genre, and epic as the style in one context, while another context may have it the other way around (a dramatic epos). A period style may also in time become a genre, as is the case, for example, with the modernist novel.

With the appearance of ever more technology-based media, genre is also used as a concept for classifying various communications technologies, e.g. telephone, SMS, e-mail, 'snail' mail, etc., i.e. the medium that channels different messages with different expressions.11

On the basis of the variations in the use of the concepts of genre and style and the blurring of the distinction between them I have considered it necessary to specify and define some functions served by the two concepts, before I demonstrate how they may be used to describe the design development on the web.

As the interpretation of genres and styles is arbitrary and, in principle, depends on the 'eyes of the beholder', I operate with a 'curator lens', qualified by a broad insight into the development of the web gained through surfing, ‘How-To’books, research with web designers and concept developers as well as knowledge of art and design trends in the 20th century (the description of the methodical aspects of this research, unfortunately, falls outside the scope of this paper). In concrete terms, I have 'distilled' experience and knowledge from the analysis of quantities of material and have structured this in a way that I think provides a qualified view of the developments in design history. Thus, my interpretation is an attempt to link the common and the analytical-theoretical use of the concepts of genre and style.

Generally, we are dealing with a medium that poses certain physical restraints on genre and style. In some contexts, as already mentioned, the concept of genre is used to classify various communications technologies, but in this context, I define the physical technology base as the medium that sets the scene for use, participation and location of the communicative interactions.

In relation to websites, there are various social and cultural conventions concerning their use. These conventions influence the expectations and the actual encounter with the medium. The conventions influence the way that websites are designed and generate expectations concerning the way they are to be received and used. During the first few years of web development, conventions from other media dominated web-design, primarily conventions from printed media (books, papers, brochures, letters etc.). Only in recent years have we seen new conventions for expectation and use, as senders and recipients have become more familiar with the medium.

In my investigation of the concepts of genre and style, I operate with two main functions that are, naturally, closely linked to the medium itself. This distinction will serve as the point of departure for a narrower definition of the purely systematising textual features of web texts as well as the mental expectations of producers and users. They both constitute genres and styles on the web.

Generating expectations diagram

Fig. 1. Generating expectations diagram

Genre as a generator of expectations

By 'generating expectations' I refer to the mental norm or convention held by senders and recipients, which generates expectations that hermeneutically affect the way one encounters a specific object. The generation of expectations is pre-perceptual, as expectations concerning the type of object that one is going to encounter, and how this will be enacted, are generated prior to the actual encounter. A genre can generate expectations, as when we read the TV guide and see the genre term 'sitcom', or when we conclude, on the basis of an URL, that we are dealing with, e.g., an entertainment site, a game site or a bank site. A style may also generate expectations, as when we hear about a modernist love story.

For the sake of clarity, I will link the concept of genre to the function of generating expectation, knowing full well that the concept of style, too, may serve this function in common practice.

In my definition, genres are the expectation horizons of senders and recipients on a pre-perceptual level, which help connect senders and recipients. Genres act as a 'marketing category' for senders, letting the recipients know that this is a product of a certain type, and as 'consumer information' for recipients within a certain interpretation community, helping them identify and select products.

The function of the genre is to act as a 'mediating framework' between sender, medium and recipient, which enables the communication of the content, ensuring a 'contract' between sender and recipient. From a dynamic semiotic understanding, genre as a generator of expectations is a 'shared code' for producers and recipients, necessary for communication and consensus. Talking about movies, Jim Kitses points out that a genre is 'a vital structure through which flow a myriad of themes and concepts'.12 To sum up – genre has the two parallel functions of both being a structure and a channel of communication.

Style – meeting or provoking expectations

By 'meets expectations', I refer to the actual presentation of the object, which supports or contests the expectations in the recipient's encounter with the object. In this context, I link style with the function of meeting or not meeting expectations; the way that an object individually differs from or profiles itself within a genre in the actual encounter with the recipient. For the producer and designer, style is a means for positioning, differentiating, and individualization within a genre, and in the receiving process the style will serve to classify the object as 'typical' or 'atypical' for the genre.

Aiming at the safe and secure, or at surprise and provocation seems to be part and parcel of the process, when producers and designers choose a particular style by which they intend to meet or challenge expectations. Furthermore, the plus or minus meeting of expectations can be just that which in the eyes of producers and recipients transforms a style – from just being a deviating style within a genre into being conceived of as a new genre in its own right.

For instance, within the genre of the 'pinstriped' websites, i.e. the 'conservative, conventional, strictly factually informing' websites, a certain family of institutions and enterprises may be seen as natural members eg: the ministries, public institutions, banks, insurance companies, and a number of well-established, private enterprises. However, several of these will strive to obtain a personal identity; certain branches want differentiation from other branches, and companies within each branch want to signal their own identities. As long as all these ambitions are kept within the boundaries of the established genre or 'norm', they will simply represent different styles.

In this paper 'the descriptive' relates to style; until actually meeting with it, a particular object cannot be described in relation to the previous expectations. The identity and characteristics of the object in focus may then be described, analysed and classified as being a particular genre or belonging to it, with certain, stylistic particularities.

In practice, it is evident how content contributes to constituting genres and styles. Here, content is understood as the message one wishes to give and as the overall impression that is communicated (medium, genre, style and message). If, for example, a sender wants to tell us something about current film premieres (message), he or she might choose to produce a folder, a TV-programme or a website (medium). If the sender chooses the website, he or she may choose, e.g., a portal, a trailer presentation or a site that takes us 'behind the scenes’ (genre). The choice of style depends on what one wants to communicate. If one chooses to make a portal, the audience will generally expect an overview, typically a menu-based approach, and – since the topic is film – a dynamic and modern expression. The sender may choose to meet or challenge these expectations.

In colloquial language the terms genre and style are used almost synonymously. However, if they are conceived as an element in a hierarchy, it will be possible to describe their functions more precisely. Each genre may contain a number of styles, i.e. individual variations within this particular genre, and a style within a genre may in turn develop into a genre for a number of subordinate styles. Thus, it depends on the observer’s 'altitude' in the hierarchy if a website is referred to as a particular genre, or as a style within a genre.

A genre still has an expectation-generating function on a pre-perceptional level with both the sender and the recipient, and style represents the individual meeting of these expectations, or a deviation from them. According to this model, both terms will only be meaningful if a genre or a style is described in relation to its superior and subordinate systems.

The concept of genre as a superior category in relation to style is supported by the movie theorist Rick Altman in his book, Film/Genre (1999)13, where he introduces the terms 'noun' and 'adjective' genres. According to Altman, the established genre is a 'noun genre' while adjacent genres are labelled with an added adjective; in time an adjective genre may be established and grow into a noun genre. 'Commercial message' became a 'commercial' and 'musical drama' became a 'melodrama',14 in both cases maturing into a noun category of their own. 'When a describing adjective becomes a categorical noun, it is liberated from the tyranny of the noun', Altman says.15

Altman basically asserts that the movie producers, with all their commercial interests and economic power, will constantly try to create a profile for themselves within one or more genres by adding new twists and turns to the established genres, thereby giving rise to new cycles of genres, which in time may obtain sufficient status and be recognized as new genres. He calls this adjective-to-noun-development the 'genrification process'.

the 'genrification process'

Fig. 2. The genrification process - see note 16

Even if Altman's main focus is genre, he deals with style indirectly and under another name. Per definition, an object which is labelled with a noun represents a genre; a genre may in turn breed other movies, labelled with a noun-plus-adjective, so-called 'modes', because the adjective describes the modus, or the 'how'.

However, within the movie industry itself both nouns and adjectives are used freely and interchangeably to describe genres, and the general tendency seems to be an avoidance of well-defined generic terms. The producers, writers, and studios focus on extracting the most successful elements from earlier productions in order to present a more self-profiling and promising remix. This way of generating styles or genres is probably not the state of the art within the movie industry only, but is probably the modus operandi within the majority of commercial enterprises, which have a need to accentuate their individual images and differentiate their products.

These tendencies are reflected on the Internet, where a similar growth rate of new genres and styles can be recognized, and where genre and style seem to function as the system as well as the process.

In the following, I will offer some examples of various genres and styles on the web and demonstrate how they serve as stabilising factors in the complex and essentially dynamic medium, both in a common sender/recipient situation and in an analytical practice.

As the net medium is still in its early stages, it is rather early for any definite labelling of genres and genre cycles. Therefore I will confine myself to a few examples of genre and style dynamics which, in time, may display 'genrefication processes' similar to those found, for example, within the movie industry.

Functionalism and avant-garde

Overall, there appear to be two main trends on the web: A pragmatic functionalist approach and an avant-garde experimental approach. Between these two poles is a wide variety of mixed forms. The two main trends can be traced back to the first years of the development of the web and appear to have influenced the various genres and styles on the web throughout its brief history.
The first graphic websites sprang from the scientific culture that dominated the Internet before the advent of the World Wide Web. Overall, they can be characterised as information sites, at first containing mainly user manuals and information about various technical and scientific topics. Stylistically, the first information sites were characterised by what was almost a 'non-design'. Appearance was affected by the many technical limitations: Slow modems, monochrome monitors and the browsers' built-in style sheets. The design was primarily determined by the rigid structure of the HTML code and the fact that the designer could not control the way the site appeared in the user's browser (Fig. 3).

The ML Kit Home Page

Fig. 3. The ML Kit Home Page

In appearance, the sites resembled academic papers with wall-to-wall text on a white or grey background. This was partly due to technical restrictions, but also to the conventions governing the technicians and the technically skilled academics who used the net at the time, and their ideals of a 'scientific and non-designed' expression.

Concurrently with the first information sites, privately operated and interest-oriented websites began to appear. They represented a new popular and cultural mode of expression that had no parallel in printed media. These sites also communicated content, but the conventions – if one can talk of conventions at this early stage – seemed centred on curiosity and enthusiasm towards the new technology. In popular terms, these 'homepages' have come to be known, very appropriately, as 'enthusiasm sites'.

Stylistically, the 'homepage' genre is characterised by self-made designers delighting in clipart and the variety of typefaces and graphic features in the digital toolkit. Within this genre you will also find graphic features from Photoshop, such as 'Lens Flare', with GIF images sporting rounded and streamlined buttons simulating the reflection of polished steel or brass, adding a 'real world' atmosphere to the new medium. This was one of the first 'design trends' of the web (Fig. 4).

Web Site Design Guidelines

Fig. 4. Web Site Design Guidelines

Today, the 'homepage' genre covers much of the web. Conventions for the genre are influenced by the way that people in various socio-cultural contexts wish to present themselves. Hence, the genre is obviously characterised by great stylistic diversity, but with the common feature of a non-professional design.

Parallel with the content and 'homepage' genre, the first 'avant-garde sites' appeared, based in artistic environments and design schools and driven by a desire to 'lead' the development of this new medium. Rather than conforming to technical restrictions, the conventions were based on a desire to expand the register of the medium. The sites lie in the borderland between art and design; stylistically, they are characterised by an eclectic and artistic-experimental expression.

At the risk of reducing the field, one might say that the information site genre and the many genres and sub-genres that arose in its wake represent the broad mainstream on the Net, characterised by a scientific. pragmatic and, subsequently, commercial approach to the web. By contrast, we see in the first avant-garde sites an experimental and design-oriented exploration of the web, characterised by a desire to drive the medium on and break with established conventions.

The pragmatic and commercial mainstream

In the mid-1990s, ever more companies became aware of the commercial potential of the new medium. Initially, their design rested heavily on the conventions of the early informational sites, but they soon began to distance themselves from these by introducing new stylistic elements. It can further be seen that the conventions and elements from the already existing and established genres in other media were transferred and adapted to the new digital environment; the paper-based company brochures were transformed into websites, and various guides, i.e. brochures or booklets about art exhibitions, movies and entertainment in town, now became web portals. Here, I will only concentrate on the corporate presentation genre and subgenres.

Stylistically, the corporate presentation sites are not far from the 'homepage' genre, but they are often also linked to the companies' own corporate identity programmes. Obviously, therefore, the genre exhibits great stylistic diversity, but unlike the 'homepage' genre, the corporate presentations after 1995/96 are usually designed by professional graphic designers or web-designers. At that time, it was no longer enough just to be online, the nature and appearance of one's presence was also important. The corporate presentation sites provided much of the basis for the new profession of ‘web designer’ that arose in the mid-1990s. The need to individualise oneself within the genre quickly gave rise to several stylistic variations. One example is the so-called transaction site, this includes sites for e-trading and e-banking. In terms of design, usability rates high in this genre. Stylistically, the sites have a clear and 'transparent' design, which aims to facilitate the use of the site. Conventions held by producers and users prescribe speed and ease of access and transactions while unnecessary splash screens, teasers and other distractions are absent.

A common feature of the corporate presentation genre and many sites in the information site genre is their stylistic heritage from the functionalist and modernist design ideals of printed media – a genre which everybody tries to differentiate themselves from, while at the same time staying within the confines of tradition.

From the mid-1990s, the functionalist approach was marketed by usability experts such as Jakob Nielsen whose intention was to of put content and quick access to information before design. By contrast, web-designers such as David Siegel argue for a greater focus on graphic design in order to differentiate the corporate sites and do away with the 'one-size-fits-all’ syndrome.

With increased competition on the web, companies based their presentations on either Nielsen's or Siegel's ideals, which in the second half of the 1990s came to be seen as the two extremes in the debate on web-design ideology. In practice, however, mainstream convention quickly stabilised around a 'both-and': Graphic design held in check by the demand for user-friendliness and quick access to information.

The information, transaction and other elements of the corporate presentation genres illustrate that the modernist ideal of balancing function and aesthetic expression is alive and well.

The simple, modernist, design expression is favoured, because it is easy to translate this into Content Management Systems that support an unambiguous front-end user-interface. A website is typically based on two or three columns and a fourth column for navigation and links. Much the same logic on which modernist graphic design is based (Fig. 5).

Ørestad Development Corporation site

Fig. 5. The Ørestad Development Corporation site

Despite their differences, the genres mentioned above seem to represent an approach to design that is essentially unchanged from the approach taken throughout the material design history of the 20th century. This reflects the fact that even on the web, designers and producers are restricted by a series of user-oriented concerns. These concerns make up an expertise that was in part created by the new practice, but which also continues the many years of experimentation by 20th century designers. The design expressions are not substantially different from what is appropriate and well-established in modern design tradition, and this ensures a wide extent of consensus between well-established networks of companies and designers.

One variety of the presentation genre is the branding site, which is stylistically positioned between corporate identity and an artistic-experimental expression that is also found in the web underground. The branding genre is often characterised by a high impact, experimental and high-tech expression that brings the entire multimedia register into play, but which is often kept strategically in check by the company's overall message, products and primary target group. Companies like Benetton and Nike use web-design as an instrument for creating a special aura around the companies and their products. Here, it is not enough that user is able to navigate the site. He or she should also have a unique user experience when visiting the site (Fig. 6).


Alongside the pragmatic mainstream there exists a host of experimental work centred on experimenting and playing with the register of the medium, and often disregarding concerns about technological restrictions or demands for comprehensible navigation. The typical 'underground genres' are inspiration sites, web-designer sites, skater sites, gaming sites and web Art, which communicates through a wide array of expressions. In this context, I will focus on a few typical stylistic expressions, some of which seem to be growing into genres.

Nike site screen

Fig. 6. Screen from Nike Site

In the mid-1990s, many web-designers used the so-called ‘trash style’, which broke away from a purely functionalconcept of web design and introduced an artistic-experimental approach. In contrast to functionalism, ‘trash’ operated with aesthetic symbols, cultural codes and graphic elements in an eclectic montage style and consciously destroyed the functionalist infrastructure. This style is used by, among others, the leading British design groups www.antirom.com and www.tomato.com. Their experiments have been described as the great avant-garde of the mid-1990s. The design groups make a virtue of low transmission speeds by only using very low resolution images; this process deliberately exaggerates and exposes the technological limitations of the media.

Initially, the trashy look also reflected a desire to add an element of 'human touch' and 'real world' atmosphere to the new digital scene, achieved through expressive manipulations of backgrounds and graphic elements that are scratched, torn and scribbled on and sometimes run through a fax machine before being scanned (Fig. 7). As seen in Errol Richardsson's website (Fig. 8) sources of inspiration include, among other things, the dadaist collage-like combination of elements from any conceivable context in the early twentieth century as well as the postmodern and deconstructionist eclecticism of the 1980s and 90s, which is ideologically in step with the trash designers' proclaimed break with the modernist mode of neutrally communicated text. Because of its popularity, the trash style has almost become a genre.


Fig. 7. Nitrada site

Errol Richardsson's site

Fig. 8. Errol Richardson's site

Other typical avant-garde styles include ‘kilobyte minimalism’, which appeared c.1999 and was named after the leading 'designer's lunchbox' www.k10k.com, Kaliber 10000 (Fig. 9). This style is characterised by striking use of horizontal and vertical lines, which break the page down into a structure of rectangles and squares which resemble technical drafts. The site was constructed pixel by pixel and appeared with a fast-loading digital coolness and detail that seemed almost 'crafted'. Whereas trash strives to be expressive, low-resolution and 'real worldly', kilobyte minimalism aims to be 'simulated worldly' and fast-loading.

Kaliber 10000

Fig. 9. Kaliber 10000 (http://www.k10k.com)

A substyle within kilobyte minimalism is the pixel style, which is seen in its purest form in gaming and community sites such as www.habbohotel.com (Fig. 10) or www.netbabyworld.com, which are constructed isometrically, pixel by pixel. The key source of inspiration for this pixelised style is the adventure game, where figures and objects are presented at a 45 degree angle, and probably also the operating system BeOs, which many Mac enthusiasts once thought would replace MacOs. On BeOs' site http://members.xoom.it/32x32icons/pro_beo.htm all the icons have been designed pixel by pixel, isometrically,at an angle of 45 degree. Neither the kilobyte minimalism, nor the pixel style seem to have become genres in their own right, but their stylistic elements are often 'borrowed' by some of the well-established enterprises that, within their genres, want to create a profile for themselves and send signals that they are 'in'.

Fig. 10. habbohotel.com

Unlike mainstream design expressions, the pixel style did not take its inspiration from existing graphic communication, but grew out of the design of the computer's Graphic User Interface and the culture of video and computer games. This was familiar territory to many members of the new profession of Web-Designer who took the new medium into possession in the mid-1990s.

The ambition of the web underground appears to be a desire to challenge, surprise and break with established conventions, thus seeing the genres and styles more as a process than as a system that creates convention. The defining feature of the avant-garde genre is lies in its continuing questioning of genre conventions.


The use of genre and style in mapping the development of web design is still in its infancy, but it holds great promise for moving closer to a discourse about the historical aspects of web design and as a dynamic principle for structuring visual expression on the web. The introduction of a genre and style approach within a digital context for describing the development of the web has proved viable so far.
It is my hope that the use of genre and style as a means of classifying and describing the development of the web may help spark further discussion about web design and the complex contexts created by aspects of technology, production and use that determine the development of web-design. It is high time that we established an analytical and reflexive practice for web design, not least as a source for posterity to gain insight into the first decade of this new, digital medium.

November 2002


1. Haettner A. E. & Goetselius, T. (1997) (Eds.), Genreteori, p. 6. Lund: Studentlitteratur. {back to paper}

2. Neale, S. (1980), Genre, p. 6. BFI Books. {back to paper}

3. Chandler, D. (2002), An Introduction to Genre Theory, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/intgenre.html (accessed 20 October 2002). {back to paper}

4. Buscombe, E. (1994), 'Creativity in Television', Screen Education, 35, p. 11. {back to paper}

5. Nielsen, P. E. (1994), Bag Hollywoods droemmefabrik. TV-system og produktionsforhold i amerikansk TV, p. 54. Licentiatafhandling, Aarhus. {back to paper}

6. Alpers, S. (1987), 'Style is What You Make IT: The Visual Arts Once Again', p. 137. Lang B. (ed.), The Concept of Style, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. {back to paper}

7. Kubler, G. (1987), 'Towards a Reductive Theory of Visual Style', p. 164, Lang, B. (ed.), The Concept of Style, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. {back to paper}

8. The article on genre, in: Den Store Danske Encyklopaedi, Danmarks National Leksikon, Gyldendal.{back to paper}

9. Christensen, H. D. (1999), 'Forskydningens kunst', p. 33, Christensen H. D. et al. (Eds.), Kunstteori. Positioner i nutidig kunstdebat. Copenhagen: Borgen 1999. {back to paper}

10. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968), The Visible and the Invisible, p. 237, trans. Lingis, A. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. {back to paper}

11. See Cerratto Pargman, T. & Lantz, A. (2002), 'The Role of 'genre' in the analysis of videoconference systems at work', NordiCHI proceedings, October 19-23, pp. 285-288. {back to paper}

12. Kitses, J. (1969), Horizons West: Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Sam Peckinpah: Studies of Authorship within the Western, p. 8. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. {back to paper}

13. Altman, R. (1999), Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute. {back to paper}

14. Ibid., p. 51. {back to paper}

15. Ibid., p. 50. {back to paper}

16. Ibid., p. 66. {back to paper}