Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass – Mark Boulton at Smashing Conference

In his talk Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass, Mark Boulton asks how digital products age over time and urges us to build more sustainable designs.

  • Different taps – let a tap be a tap – why do people try to arbitrarily reinvent a simple two-knob process for the sake of design?
  • Designers are assholes sometimes. They try to reinvent the wheel
  • Design is honesty. Truth. Not bullshitting users.
  • Skeumorphism festering everywhere like a virus. Let it be what it is. Don’t make it wood, it’s not a bookcase! A common argument in defense of skeumorphism is “well, old people.” You don’t automatically drop a bunch of IQ points as soon as you hit a certain age.
  • Trends are bullshit. If you want to be in a trendy industry, go work in fashion, not web design.
  • Are you building something of worth? And are you building something sustainable?
  • Reductionist process. The simpler you get, the more obvious the cracks get.
  • How do physical objects age?


  • Seasoning a wok seals in the flavor. Over time seasoning builds up and gives flavor to the food. This is known as “breath of wok”.
  • Jeans patina – don’t wash new jeans for 6 months and they wear in a more natural way.
  • Films that have gotten better over time. Jaws: because of the technical shark malfunctions, they resorted to using sound therefore creating a far more suspenseful movie. Alien is another movie that uses music, tension and silence to create a more authentic experience that has gotten better over time.
  • How do digital products age? Pixels are cheap.

Happy Accidents

  • Designing web sites is a fucking messy business.
  • “Bob Ross is the reason I’m a designer.” It’s all about happy accidents.
  • “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” Mike Tyson
  • The design process is weird and complicated because it involves people, who are weird and complicated.

Being Adaptable

  • Sketch sketch sketch – quickly iterate in a very efficient.
  • Use what tools give you the least headwind.
  • What are the materials of the web? What is your content made of?
  • Certain typefaces are designed with the quality of the material they’re going to be printed on.

Sustainable design

  • How can we create digital experiences that stand the test of time?
  • Incremental improvements create more sustainable design
  • 1% Improvements – Improve, iterate, change quickly.
  • We like to think the web is like our dog. Sit. Roll Over. We just give it commands. It’s more subtle, like a cat.
  • Let’s be authentically digital. The authenticity doesn’t come from the UI, it comes from the stuff the web is made of.