Friday, January 18, 2013

Web Design Finally Trends to Simplicity

Chowhound, before it was redesigned by CNET, had a look and feel that was widely considered dowdy. And I remain a dinosaur to this day. Consider my home page, which has the same 1997-ish, typewritten look.

It's intentional. I like that approach. I still think of the Web as a place to go for ideas, data, opinions...stuff. I'm thirsty for data, yet most Internet data is doled out in distracting and inaccessible ways in order to serve design, which has become a tyrant. As someone who remembers an Internet surfed entirely via text prompts, this exasperates me. The vast majority of web pages strike me as gussied up beyond recognition. That's why I've retained my curmudgeonly fixation with the typewriter model.

But, as I noted a few years ago, "Just because people keep proposing really bad solutions doesn't mean there isn't a problem!" There's finally a new movement, and it makes me very happy...and also abashed. They're calling it "flat" interface design. The LayerVault Blog describes the credo:
"Well-loved products on the web share a similar design aesthetic, with roughly the same kinds of bevels, inset shadows, and drop shadows. For designers, achieving this level of “lickable” interface is a point of pride. For us, and for a minority of UI designers out there, it feels wrong...[so] we stripped the design down to the bone. It looked closer to a wireframe than a final interface — but it was a start, and it was damn honest."
Count me in. Unless I'm shopping Ben & Jerry's site, I don't want lickability. I want a personal voice conveying data in a lean and forthright way. Click that last link for an example. It's my beloved typewriter model....with deft touches, nudges, and decisions making the page also look inviting. Snipping examples from the bottom of that same page, have a look here and here and here.

Whether graphical or text-based, web pages from this new vanguard share these traits: 1. simplicity, 2. directness, 3. accessibility and 4. tiny cleverness (by which I mean that design decisions are subtle and unobtrusive; they support, rather than override, the message). Plus, they're elegant. There's been no shortage of pretentious, fussy web design in the past twenty years, but there hasn't been much elegance.

All these pages fit my bill. But I'm abashed, because I see that typewritten was never enough. Data-accessible, lean, simply accessible sites can also be extremely attractive if you're willing to apply tiny cleverness. So I shouldn't have been so dismissive. Design's not the enemy....just ditzy, inappropriate design.

More on this from John Gruber

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