Do you remember taking standardized tests in grade school? Here in the U.S. standardized tests are a way of life for young school kids. For me it was IBST or Iowa Basic Skills Tests. These tests compared the knowledge of you to your peers and your school to other schools across the nation. The tests were standardized in an effort to get the most detail from them while removing as many variables as possible. The sheets with all the little dots to fill in made the tests readable by machines, so they could be mass processed. These tests to most people were extremely boring, hard to concentrate on and loathed by all the students who had to take them.
Why then is it that the Web as an industry is making a shift to something that people in general don’t like? Yes I am a standards proponent, however the question has to be asked are we as Web developers taking it too far?
Creating sites that are readable by machines, in this case search engines, readers, and other types of bots is considered by many as a must. Some look at this as the most important part of the development process and sacrifice typical design in an effort to make a site accessible and standards compliant as possible. Don’t get me wrong it is definitely an important aspect that every developer should take into account, however in some cases pages are stripped down to one or two colors and text of various sizes. I think of Garret Dimon’s most recent design which is in itself a great design. Garret himself is a writer that I read pretty religiously, however I am not sure that I am on board with his ultra simplistic typography based design. It works for the industry we are in and the audience that he caters to but in a real world scenario this is not a viable option.
The problem with these ultra simplistic designs is that you are losing touch with the color, logos, and other graphics that make the page unique. Users eyes focus on these items and quickly makes the correlation between these colors grouped a certain way and associates them to a certain companies. Take the test yourself. When you think of Facebook design wise one of the first things that comes to your mind more then likely is the color blue as well as clean design. With my own site it’s the color green, corporate giant Qwest is blue.
Of course typography can lend a hand to making things look different, but if everyone started to do it all identity would be lost regardless of how awesome of a font your come up with. Basing an entire design on type alone just isn’t a viable approach for business.
How often have you heard someone say “Oh www.designsbyjohnson.com, he uses universe 57 ultra condensed.” It’s just not a part of the design that is eye popping and therefore is not remembered.
The Page is my Canvas… with Exceptions
As a designer and developer the Web page is my canvas. As with traditional art anything can itself be beautiful. The Web however is art with a purpose. Art on the Web has to reflect a company, and better yet make the users experience memorable. You need to suck the user in quickly and try to burn your brand into the users brain in about one minute of time they might hang around.
Lack of colors, excitement, emotion, and other elements that are brought on by color, animation, photos etc will ultimately lead to users losing interest and confusing brands. Typography may be fun for designers to look at and might add to the overall design concept but should not be taken alone as your only concept. From a marketing standpoint it just doesn’t work.