Is it true that web design is dead? We’ve all seen a lot of disastrous web design trends over the past few years. Splash pages? All-Flash sites? Frames? Is it possible that we have gotten so bad at this that the next new trend may be Unstyled Ugliness?
The Death of Design
The biggest factor that’s driving the move away from clean and visually appealing websites is the proliferation of devices themselves that are used for actually viewing the sites. It isn’t just mobile phones that are threatening web design, but new devices like Google Glass and even smart refrigerators lack even the most rudimentary interfaces we are used to, like keyboards and browsers, but they still can used to display web content. The argument is that we are headed for a browserless world where more and more content is delivered by APIs, and that content is in the form of unstyled data, not web pages.
Google and Starbucks have an ugly baby
Is this the end of web design as we know it? Possibly. For example, Starbucks recently dumped their alliance with AT&T in favor of Google and went from a clean and nicely styled hope page, where you could launch news and other screens, to a weird new Spartan look that could only be described as Google-Now-ish. It’s awful.
The Wall Street Journal’s content look has changed too. There’s no emphasis on individual articles, and there are no images to draw one in. Clicks to the content are entirely dependent on the headline text. Looking at the mobile screen, other than changing to a minimal single-column display, there’s essentially no difference. The only unique feature left is the WSJ logo. It too is awful.
These kinds of display are great from a technical standpoint because they translate just fine to mobile, where everything but the kitchen sink is now going, hook, line and sinker.
Unfortunately, these barely-styled pages are so ugly that only one of today’s minimalists could possibly love them. They convey no branding, or emotion, no texture, and not any guidance whatsoever to the viewer.
Not only that, but these pages look a lot like Google Now content. So, if there’s any branding involved at all, it seems like it’s Google’s.
Contrast these minimally styled pages with WSJ.com ‘s own home page. Using varied fonts, sizes, special placement and images, the visitor can easily scan each page and be guided by the editor’s decisions about which stories are the most important, or which article works best with a visual hook, etc.
This terrible trend is replicated to various degrees on a number of other sites as well. In a quest for device independence, designers have now begun to employ minimalist designs that offer webdesign “write for us”almost no branding and very little guidance to the visitor.
Flexibility with Style
However, not all highly flexible styling is so terribly ugly. Flipboard, when viewed on an Android device, pulls in content from many diverse sources. The “News” section features adjacent articles from the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, and TIME Magazine. This content was already presented in the Flipboard mobile wrapper, but each article has a color photo and retains key branding elements from the original source, plus a logo and the distinctive fonts. The Flipboard interface is actually a pleasure to browse, and the articles retain the texture of their sources. Nice.
This minimalist trend of unstyled ugliness is coming toward us at frightening speed, cascading mercilessly over the hills and trampling our beautiful websites to the ground like marauding hordes of plundering Vikings in Braveheart-style epic battles, leaving nothing but the simplest, ugliest, and most common remains that are only viewable with iPods and Samsung Galaxys.
Austen Selby content editor at Key Difference. I love writtingarticles related to web design, small business consulting