Design on the web

One of the most interesting side effects of writing (or trying to write) more regularly is that I’ve become acutely aware of the shortcomings of every editor I use. Is it really too much to ask for a browser based editor which allows me to focus on the act of translating thoughts to words, without bogging me down with random trivialities? An interface which doesn’t get in the way of composing a post, has good typography built in as opposed to being tacked on as an afterthought, and perhaps offers a simple auto-save function?

Surely not. Why then is this such a hard ask, and why has no one done it before?

Simple design is definitely hard to do. Taking a complex workflow and reducing it to something that feels intuitive is challenging for even the best designers out there. This is especially true in the world of physical products, where the best designed products are those which accomplish their function in a manner that is never questioned by their consumers — the iPod, the Vespa or the Leica blend their form and function in a way that is admired universally. The key point these products make is that the thought process behind their design isn’t about what they look like — it’s about how it works. And I think that’s a very powerful idea to keep in mind when designing anything.

Sadly though, this is not true on the web today.

One of the greatest inventions in human history is for the most part really ugly and confusing to use. Most websites try to maximize profits by stuffing their already badly designed pages with ads, further compounding the problem. Clearly, the consumer’s interests aren’t paramount — its the shareholders that matter.But even without the ubiquitous advertising, there hasn’t been much change in design and typography on the web since it was first started in the early 90s. The same firms that spend millions on formatting newsprint and making it look beautiful regard their websites as second class citizens from the looks of it. And there lies the problem.

Contrary to the ideas of physical product design that have been propagated far and wide by designers and design schools, design on the web is tacked on as an afterthought as opposed to it being an important factor during the content creation process. Rather than burden the user with a plethora of (mostly unnecessary) options, design things that do not get in the way of someone achieving what they set out to do. If you run a blogging platform, help your bloggers commit their ideas as quickly as possible into beautiful looking posts. If you run a news website, the fact that you’re viewing the content on a screen should be the only difference from reading uncluttered, beautiful fonts laid out in a manner that makes it easy on the eyes.

Which is not to say that all is lost of course. Examples of excellent design on the web, while far and few, do exist — there are now many websites that boast of amazing typography. As more and more people get exposed to them, other mainstream sites will have no option but to follow this trend or be left out in the cold.This also means that people who have traditional backgrounds in design and typography are going to be much valued in the technology jobs market. And for those that don’t but are interested in it — what are you waiting for?

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