Web design sensibilities have changed.
The motifs found in sites like the following go far beyond their community driven content:
- craigslist by Craig Newmark & Jim Buckmaster
- friendster by Jonathan Abrams
- meetup by Scott Heiferman, Peter Kamali & Matt Meeker
- Linkedin by Reid Hoffman
- Last.fm by Martin Stiksel
- Feed Burner by Dick Costolo
- digg by Kevin Rose
- technoratti by David Sifry
- del.icio.us by Joshua Schachter
- flikr by Caterina Fake & Stewart Butterfield
- YouTube by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen & Jawed Karim
- the list goes on and on…
Many of these sites have been around for more than a decade and ultimately changed the paradigm of how we use the web, (Tim O’Reilly discussed after the fact in 2005). However it wasn’t until recently that the trends in design that began with these sites finally gave birth to new design sensibilities as well.
Not too long ago, building a community online just meant that people bookmark your site and visited it frequently. Perhaps a site owner pumped out some newsletters to drive subscribers back to the site or partner sites had links to your properties to remind various visitors that you exist. When RSS appeared, it helped people stay abreast of the latest content pushed out from content owners. More recently we work and play in a world where the community owns the content, and if they are so bold, the site owners are only moderators (and the guys that pay the web hosting bills). Great examples are the Wikis (well done Jimmy Wales) we all know and love — good old “folksonomy“. Having said that, we’re also in a world where anyone’s voice can be heavily syndicated and tagged as worthy of note, which is a beautiful thing…
Let me get back to the point before I get lost in the history of forums as the original online communities. Now that a community can control the content and determine what is relevant and important, the visual language that we as web designers are now using has changed significantly as well. Today we communicate instead of decorate (as Phil Brisk put it so succinctly) with design aesthetics — with the focus on content, that’s exactly how things should be. A nice post at webdesignfromscratch.com discusses this trend pretty well imho. These design trends have finally even cascaded into corporate design sensibilities which once accounted for the majority of the design work we designers are asked to perform.
- a focus on typography,
- larger font sizes in navigation and copy,
- use of white space and centered page positioning,
- graphically rich layered layouts often using some 3D design elements or icons,
- layouts that compliment the copy in a page and showcase it with sharp color accents where appropriate,
- diligent use of CSS and table-less markup with a demonstrated understanding of semantics, accessibility, usability and open standards
It seems to me that also the DDA legislation in the UK contributed to the “Web 1.5″ as markup that used standards, semantics and exhaustive CSS designs began to take hold and foster a renaissance in the approach to usable and accessible site design. We still don’t see the abundance of layouts that are designed for a resolution higher than 800×600, but this trend is mostly a function of the audience for many of the clients out there looking for our services. In custom business web design, there are of course a number of restrictions that deter us from employing a wider fixed-layout, perhaps that will change as well soon enough.
Thanks to all of those folks highlighted in this post for enabling me to support my thoughts on custom business web design with supporting opinions. I hope this blog will be a destination in the community soon enough.