Basecamp is the new Bauhaus

It was my flippant comment on my colleague Geof Harries’ blog post this morning (Putting content before chrome) that fired up this line of research and thought.

The German Bauhaus school was based on a firmly modernist set of principles that eschewed ornamentation in preference for form that followed function. In many ways, Bauhaus was a reaction to pre-modernist traditional forms of art that emphasized  a relationship to the ruling elite. Bauhaus saw the ideals of art and the value of craftsmanship as being equal. As a result, the output of Bauhaus was functionally-inclined and targeted at the consumer masses. This resulted in a highly simplistic style that carried on in many other schools of design after the Nazis killed Bauhaus in 1933.

In many ways, 37 Signals’ Basecamp is the web progeny of Bauhaus: the site’s aesthetic is very simple and highly stylized, and clearly intended for mass consumption. That they eschew such ornamental visuals of questionable functional merit as Gantt charts in a project management product is testament to the frugality of the comany’s design intents. The Basecamp school has influenced many designers, and has become the de rigeur UI pattern of Web 2.0.

And just as Bauhaus reacted to the overwrought ages that came before it, Basecamp in many ways is a reaction to the over-designed web that plagued users through the 90s.

Interestingly, German designer Dieter Rams’ work with Braun in the 60s was heavily influenced by Bauhaus, and Apple designer Jonathan Ives has carried on Rams’ ideas. So it didn’t surprise me to find a blog post on the 37 Signals web site that celebrated Rams’ contributions to contemporary design.

3 thoughts on “Basecamp is the new Bauhaus

  1. If Basecamp set the standard for Web 2.0 apps, what comes next? Time to polish up that crystal ball of yours.

  2. I’ve said it before (just can’t remember where): next is Relationship Technology. 37 Signals excels at interface, but fails miserably at context and relationships. The "cloud" is not enough; next is true interoperability between a device, time, space, and information.

  3. You are correct. I find the strengths of Basecamp to be ease of scheduling and time tracking (although it lacks any sort of widget for remote time entry). In terms of collaboration, and hence communication, it fails miserably. Perhaps the new reply-to-email messaging feature will address this gap in some way, but I don’t use the message tools.Speaking of devices, Basecamp is less than impressive on a mobile and that’s where I find myself more of the time these days. Good thing my Blackberry can run the Opera Mini browser and I can just zoom in on the standard issue website.

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