The Undesigned Web is Design

Dylan Tweney, a senior editor at Wired.com, wrote on The Atlantic:

…in the 21st century, Internet standards have successfully separated design and content. The two live more interdependent lives, sometimes tightly tied and sometimes completely separated from one another.
The message is now free from the medium.
It’s that separability of design and text that has led to the third wave of the web, in which readers (or what some would call end-users) are in control of how the content they are reading looks. And, as it turns out, many of those readers like their designs to be as minimal as possible.
Call this wave The Undesigned Web.
This wave has two faces. One is the trend towards more minimal, readable designs. The other is the imperative to make content as easily reformattable as possible, separating content from the designs in which it’s initially clothed.
You can see it at work in tools like Instapaper and Readability. You can see it in applications like Flipboard, which filter and reformat news through the lens of your social network. And you can see it in news readers like Google News, which present every website’s latest articles in a consistent, quickly-scannable and easily searchable format.

It is this kind of thinking that continues to perpetuate the myth that Design is nothing but a visual activity that is only skin deep. I’m sorry, has the understanding of Design just regressed 10 years? Most designers or design thinkers would know that Design is both an activity and a process. Furthermore, an important element in this design process is a considered decision making activity where elements are added or removed to fulfill the requirements of the brief.
Apple has created a billion dollar empire doing things like not putting a camera on an iPad or not allowing early iPhones to forward SMS or be on 3G. I don’t see anyone saying Apple Undesigned the first generation iPhone so that all it did was make calls?
As a further example of what I’m trying to say, let me Undesign the quote above.

…in the 21st century, Internet standards have successfully separated design and content. The two live more interdependent lives, sometimes tightly tied and sometimes completely separated from one another. The message is now free from the medium.It’s that separability of design and text that has led to the third wave of the web, in which readers (or what some would call end-users) are in control of how the content they are reading looks. And, as it turns out, many of those readers like their designs to be as minimal as possible. Call this wave The Undesigned Web. This wave has two faces. One is the trend towards more minimal, readable designs. The other is the imperative to make content as easily reformattable as possible, separating content from the designs in which it’s initially clothed. You can see it at work in tools like Instapaper and Readability. You can see it in applications like Flipboard, which filter and reformat news through the lens of your social network. And you can see it in news readers like Google News, which present every website’s latest articles in a consistent, quickly-scannable and easily searchable format.

There you go, as Dylan says, “the message is free from the medium”. Oh, you would have probably guessed it, formatting a paragraph by deciding where to add a line break is Design.
Instapaper, Flipboard and even Google News all take a conscious effort to Design their applications for readability. (Notice I said Design for Readability?) While they avoid nice backgrounds, Twitter birds and funky fonts, I’ll bet a good bottle of wine, that they do obsess over elements such as the thickness of borders, the leading and the kerning of text. In fact, I would expect their design activity to be a very tough one, as the simplicity of their application would make every wrong design decision a very obvious one.
In most websites, even mine, the design decision is to bring some visual aesthetics into the mix, making the reading experience a different one compared to an experience that is just catered for reading. Ok, I said my piece, lets move on, nothing to see here.
Via: The Atlantic.

3 Comments
  • Dylan Tweney

    November 17, 2010 at 3:56 am Reply

    Note that I called it the “undesigned web” but didn’t argue that design is unimportant, or absent. Far from it! Actually what’s going on, as I wrote, are two things: One, a trend towards more minimal designs. And two, the ability for end users to substitute different designs, removing (or “undesigning”) the original layout and putting a different skin on it.
    Designers can and are taking advantage of both of these trends, and they’re key to the process, as I note — citing designers like Instapaper’s Marco Arment as key examples.

  • Design Translator

    November 17, 2010 at 10:51 am Reply

    @Dylan: Thanks for taking the time to stop by and clarify your rather confusing post. If you read your comments of your article, I don’t think I am the only one who is unsure what you are trying to say.
    I also don’t think that anyone disagrees with you nor is taking issue with you that design is unimportant. What people are saying is that you don’t really get what design is about. And that was the basis of my post.
    While I do agree with some of your observations. The message is not separate from the medium. A medium is still required to access the message and that medium still need to be designed. Calling the article The Undesigned Web just confuses people as this implies that the medium (or design for that matter) is not required in the equation.

  • chris george

    April 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm Reply

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