CYBERSPACE _ For weeks, freelance Web designer Heather Champ of Montreal has been having cyberspace nightmares. Bits, bytes and squiggles of HTML have chased her into a World Wide Hell.
“I can't get it out of my head,” says Champ. “This mind-game has really put me to the test.”
The test: Build an appealing Web page of only five kilobytes – or the Web equivalent of making a beauty queen with five pieces of secondhand clothes and a worn-down lipstick. Her potential prize: 5,120 cents, or $51.20. That's the exact number of bytes in five kilobytes.
Champ is one of the more than 500 Web page designers who've taken up the “5k” challenge. The unusual contest's father is Canadian Web designer Stewart Butterfield of Vancouver.
“It’s a practical stunt,” Butterfield says. “But I love doing stuff that is hilarious and meaningful at the same time.”
And the meaning of the contest, Butterfield says, is to stress tight design and structure on the Web. Too many Web pages, he and other designers agree, are flabby. They're overloaded with meaningless graphics. They pack too much HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language — the code that builds Web pages. And the flabby pages take forever to download on a normal modem. These are aspects that designers tend to forget, sitting at their fast Internet-connections.
The contest was born last summer when Butterfield had an argument with a colleague over whether they could keep one of their Web pages down to 30 kilobytes. Butterfield decided to test what Web designers can come up with when given serious constraints.
“I realize that 5k isn’t a realistic size for at Web page,” Butterfield says, “but I put this constraint on the contestants to really emphasize what this is all about – making intelligent design that loads fast, even on a normal modem.”
Butterfield persuaded eight genuine masters of the Web from all over the United States to judge the contest. One of them is Jeffrey Veen, executive interface director for Wired Digital. It's the online version of Wired magazine, one of the first print publications on cyberspace. For years Veen has been advocating tighter Web pages that load faster.
“We’ve got to keep the page size down for two reasons,” Veen says. “The majority of Internet users still use normal modems, and intelligent design dictates that you keep it as tight as possible.”
Jeffrey and the other judges will start looking at the contestants' pages when the contest ends on April 2. They’ll announce the winner on May 1.
“I hope we’re going to find a winner that makes us all go ‘Oh my God, was that really done with just 5k’,” Jeffrey says.
Nightmare-haunted designer Heather Champ is struggling to do just that.
“It’s almost like being forced to go back and renew your drivers license as a Web designer,” Champ says, “reminding yourself what the essentials of design are really about – keeping it tight.”
Equally tight are Champ’s lips about her contest entry. Not a word from her on the colors, the fonts, the structure or just the general idea. “No, I’d rather not,” she says.
If she wins the grand prize of 5,120 cents, Champ could fulfill one of her dreams. Sort of.
“I’ve always wanted to say ‘I’m going to Disney Land!’,” Champ says, “but I guess I could take a taxi to the airport to watch other people go to Disney Land.”
Read more about the 5k-contest: http://www.sylloge.com/5k