The staleness of the current state of web design

So a few months ago I watched a lecture by Jason Santa Maria, a really awesome web developer/designer, that addressed the state of web design today. Why is it that in a magazine I am brought into another world with each page turn (or each article) via its design, while its website is drearily boring and templated. A great example is WIRED magazine. Awesome print design, lame and boring website (at least the article pages are. The home page is meh).

Lecture: SVA Dot Dot Dot Lectures: Jason Santa Maria on Vimeo Only 12 minutes long, so watch it!

You can see from JSM’s website that it’s a really good idea when implemented well and adds a little something extra to each page, and is a much more enjoyable experience.

I know this is primarily an ID forum, but I’m very interested in web design and it was what brought me into design in 6th grade.

I’ve been experimenting with this idea on my own portfolio. (just finished 10 minutes ago). Yes, shameless self-plug, but I’m really happy with the results.
Page where I write about my views on this experiment
Actual implemented onto one of my portfolio pieces

What do you guys think about this (in general, not just portfolios/blogs, but extended onto newspapers, magazines, corporate websites, etc)?

Welcome to the blight of the web designer.

I just went to visit your page in IE 7 and it’s completely illegible. The text is black on black. :smiley: And unfortunately while it’s easy to pull the “well you should be using Firefox because it works perfectly (which I did after)” it should be noted that around 40% of the addressable internet is still stuck on IE.

That little footnote aside, I think the current state of web design isn’t much different then the “me too” approach of phone design, car design, etc.

I think you’ve seen the more simplified blog-style format take off so much because the types of content have shifted in recent years.

You used to see web pages that were very dynamic in presentation (wild flash animations, transitions) but very static in content. Once a page was created it probably stayed that way for months if not years.

Now the trend has shifted. Content that pops up on the top of a blog/news site might only be there for a matter of minutes before flowing down the list into history. The site design focuses more on the presentation and organization of that content into a way they can still digest it to users as fast as possible. Thats why you don’t see blogs presented with whimsical animations, deep hierarchys of organization, etc. People want to know what the latest fake screenshot of a Mac product is, and then move on to the next article.

I’m sure at some point you’ll see people start to react to the chemically neutered state of the internet, but I think with the explosion of content it will take a long time for people to get there.

I don’t think it’s bad, just a trend. I miss the early 90’s when everything was Times New Roman on a Netscape gray background. :smiley:

1995 Yahoo.

I wish we could go back to 1995…oh the good old days.

I agree with your point tangerine, the web is rather generic and bland. However, I think it represents the fact that we use it so much as a tool. What the BBC news page looks like doesn’t matter to me, it’s the content of the news stories. Google takes this to an extreme. It’s just a logo and a box with a couple buttons. That’s what makes it work so well.

However, as a piece of art/design, I enjoyed your page and Jason Santa Marias page (will check out his presentation tonight). It’s different and fun.

Best of luck.

One thing to consider is theres much greater priority now on things like accessiblity, mobile browsing, cross compatibilty that from a development side makes some things much more complex.

A very artistic site could be beautiful and incredibly easy to navigate, but not if you’re using an accessiblity based version.

Back in the day you never really had to worry about any of that. If you actually filled in the “Alt” tags for your images that was good enough.

I think 914 is right. The web is often more about content in some cases such as portfolio sites or blogs, news sites, etc.

There is in fact a huge diversity of web design out there from flash heavy experimental UIs to customizable almost widget based interfaces, etc. If anything the type of layout in wired and some other mags was in fact inspired by web design.

I’m glad however we’re out of the atrocity of 90’s web design. Remember all those flashing icons and animated gifs all over the place and yellow text on black of early geocities pages?.. unfortunately I’ve recently come across a few pages that still look like that!


Another +1 for 914. Content rules. Magazines and print work on a completely different plane. It’s just as much about the experience of touching the pages and smelling the print. The print environment is completely controlled too… You can only jump around so much in a magazine. The layout is set and will always look the way it’s supposed to. Context is much more important in print. The possibilities are endless on a web page where context is usually delivered in a blurb, or less. The web is rarely about an experience and the association of kicking back and reading an article, like in a magazine. You get in and get out. Make it take longer than a few seconds to get your point across and you’ve lost your visitor. I’d like to see a comparison of page view time between web and print. I’d imagine the gap is vast… seconds to minutes. It also has a lot to do with quality of design. The web is much more accessible, so there’s a lot of eye straining crap out there since any dope can build a web page for millions to see. Who wants to spend time jabbing your eyeballs with clown vomit web design? Most people should just keep it simple.

In both worlds (web and print) it’s also important to consider the variety of types of design and intents.

Anything from content heavy fiction, textbooks and annual reports to more graphic things like magazines, graphics for graphics sake books, and everything in between.

Again, it goes from things like content heavy news and blogs to more interactive portfolios, experimental UIs and more.

Each type of content has their own need and interaction. There is a right mix of design and content for each. To say that web or any other design is not X while pointing to example Y in a different medium or content doesn’t make much sense to me, though it can be interesting to take one format and mix it with a different content. (ie, portfolios in blog format, or annual reports that look like a newspaper, or even newspapers that are formatted like blogs. I’ve seen both and even more mash-ups).


ha, an example I just ran into. packaging styled web page


Cyber- thanks for the tip. I didn’t even have IE installed on my bootcamp until this morning, and I sort of… patched it up for IE.

Yeah, I agree that the web is very much a tool, and that this may not be suited for every single website out there. I was browsing through people’s web portfolios again last night and noticed that the simplicity/conformity of the layouts didn’t bother me much because I was mostly focused on the work.

You guys all raise very good points and I’ve learned a bit more.

I’ll still continue to experiment with this and hopefully find a happy medium.

R-I just saw that on my RSS, too. I thought it was really neat.

I just saw this one today too… A pretty cool mashup.

He’s definitely on to something. The Wired example is right-on. I think too often designers work within the constraints given to them by the programmers or technology. In this case, Content Management Systems (CMS) which aren’t really designed for the kind of thing he’s suggesting–but could probably easily handle it.

On the other hand, magazines put a lot of time into each issue–websites don’t put a value on that time, and quality suffers (quantity/speed over quality) so is it realistic to expect that websites will put that much craft into transient content?

Try this on for size:

For what it’s worth I used to work as a web developer doing CMS systems, and there are tons of sites out there that are dynamic, colorful and all fit within a CMS system. CMS doesn’t necessarily imply that you’re stuck on a white background in 1 format, just that theres an overarching management to control things.

Right now, visual design costs speed and content. Are web users willing to forgo those things? When I sit down with a magazine, it’s because I want to relax. When I surf the web, I would not call that relaxing. I want performance. I’m either hunched over my desk, or sitting somewhere worried about getting the most from my remaining laptop battery power.

So I think the hardware plays a bigger role here than people think. Consider the Kindle. It’s a casual grab-and-go device, and I don’t need to worry about battery life, or hunching over a desk to use it. It’s about consuming, not contributing, so it’s more passive. With that scenario, I’m more welcoming of visually-dominant designs because my goals have changed.

Arrgggghhh, cross browser compatibility!!! The bane of my existence since we have started our site updates.

It’s a tad difficult to keep your site fresh & interesting to look at. Keep it usable and easy to find information. Ensure that the information is there & it’s not just a giant infomercial of a site. & last but not least make sure that ALL of your visitors can enjoy your site, even if they are using IE , have java turned off, don’t want to wait for slow flash or pics to load etc. Not everyone is living their online life via a T1. Plenty of businesses & more than a few home users are running off of a dial-up line because of cut backs.

Here are 2 cool tools to help you with your browser issues. Which incidentally, the site doesn’t look too nice in Firefox 3.0.1. Also almost every issue with IE 6 can be fixed by just biting the bullet & coding css just for IE 6.

For us we are seeing 55% of our users live in a IE world. 45% IE 7, 30% IE8 & 25% IE6.
35% use Firefox & the rest use various browsers.

So you can see how important it is to ensure that every browser works on your site. :smiley:

Making the Most Out Of gogoPDF: TredoSoft's Hints and How-Tos | The gogopdf Blog → it’s only supported up to IE 7, so upgrade your IE to 8 on your pc & then install this tool.

Well said…

Nice topic.

It’s interesting you mention this what with the recent release of Google’s now biggest competitor in, who have taken the complete opposite direction to Google in an attempt to provide something a bit easier on the eye. So, are you a Bing or a Google guy?

(Personally it’s Google for me all the way, though to be fair I haven’t really given Bing a chance and the rest of Google’s applications really sway it for me. If it was just on search terms I’d really have to spend a week or two using Bing.)

I’m surprised to the response of the video from the people here, it’s starting to sound like a room full of engineers :stuck_out_tongue: . For a designer/creative Google sounds like a nightmare to work at, from what I’ve heard each change in layout and aesthetic has to be packed with facts and figures as to why it’s better this way. To the point Google’s visual design leader packed his bags and was very open with his reasons - Google designer leaves, blaming data-centrism - CNET

In terms of blogs and web magazines (wired, fast company etc.), while I agree that it should be kept simple, it doesn’t have to be boring! Visually Jason Santa Maria’s blog kills it, I find myself flicking through the articles just to see how he’s gone about putting together the design. And it’s all very simple, easy to navigate, no flash, feed friendly, you can tell he has fun blogging.
I know there’s reasons for the way wired layout their content, though it doesn’t have to be this way.

When I sit down with a magazine, it’s because I want to relax. When I surf the web, I would not call that relaxing. I want performance. I’m either hunched over my desk, or sitting somewhere worried about getting the most from my remaining laptop battery power.

A couple people have mentioned this and how the web is a ‘tool’, I’ve got to disagree, maybe for you but taking other users into account no way. Just look at print sales! And now you have the kindle, netbooks, tomorrow you’ll have an apple tablet - you can relax with the web…

Makes me think, any news of a magazine style RSS feed? I get sick of the constant text in my Google reader, when I come across a blog post worth reading I always click to the original page to enjoy it in its original content.

bing has been built using symantics, (sp?) but I’ve been told that Google is now going in that direction too - can’t see that much evidence of it from the searches though.

Has anyone noticed how much better Bing is at searching images than Google? I’ve stopped using Google for image searches. When I need a picture of a fabric swatch I go there. It definately works on symantics, the other day I searched for ‘jute’ and it asked me if I wanted to see pictures of ‘burlap’ and ‘hemp’ too. I like that, the old search would’ve brought up a pic of a restaurant named ‘jute’ instead!

The main advice I’d give to any of you with websites is to make sure it can be viewed and navigated on iphone or Blackberry or even a netbook. As so many of the busy people you want to reach are using these devices to access the net, now, it is vitally important.

The next year will be complete madness regarding cross-browser compatibility… with ie6 ie7 and ie8 being so different but still holding on to market share, firefox 3 with the earlier firefox 2 still hanging on, safari 2 and 3, google chrome growing more and more… and all these browsers reacting differently whether they are run on a Mac or PC !!!

I think honestly, the budget required to develop a website is 50% more than it should be just because of all the platforms we need to support!