I love the current state of visual design online, don’t get me wrong. There’s so many beautiful apps and services that I’m constantly feeling the pressure to up my own game. Oddly though, in this sea of great design, there’s a strange aspect of conservative conformity. I’ve only started to wrestle with this myself, but this article will detail why I think web design needs a reboot.
There’s no reason for the web to look like the 90s
Most design today is based, at least in part, on context from the 90s. At that time design was constrained by bad browsers, small screens with poor contrast and bad system font typography. The results were frankly fantastic. Since then most of these constraints have changed radically, but design trends still closely resemble their forerunners.
Screen size and layout metaphor
Screen size should have little to no impact on design. In the early days of the internet, screens were terribly expensive and for the first couple of decades they were more or less standardised into a handful of sizes. TV and Cinema did the same thing, it was a great way to ensure affordable cost and mass market.
Today there are hundredsof screen sizes being used in large numbers. So many that simply testing a design on the most common screen sizes becomes an exercise in futility. Instead we tend to settle for flagship devices. An iMac Pro and Google Pixel Phone? Then we’re all set. Never mind the other 89 screen sizes that are used in more than a million visits per week...
Designers all over the world try to adapt to this by padding their layouts as if they were cinema screens. Just like Hollywood in the 60s we show the same things in almost the same size and then add white space fill the full width of the screen. Making sure the proper elements align above the "fold" (whatever that is on screens today).
This is nonsense. Screen size actually affects user behavior. The iPad technically isjust a large iPhone, but people sure don’t use it as such. Windows 10 does work on mobile devices, but no one would use software designed for a 4k monitor on their cellphone.
I believe that the only useful metaphor left over from the early days is scrolling. Scrolling is arguably more useful than ever because it is the main user inputon the most common type of device used online today — the touch screen phone.
Instead of seeing web pages as a full width scrolling sheets, there are two other metaphors in use that are more useful with todays technology:
Specifically sized cards.
Possibly made famous by the failed Palm OS. Look at any mobile app today and you will see cards everywhere. Usually they are made to be one size, and are then stacked horizontally or vertically depending on the available screen real-estate.
Facebooks infinite scroll is probably the most commonly used one. But infinite canvases are everywhere just like Cards. Presentations zoom and pan, web pages scroll, app windows show only part of the document. The use cases go on.
User Interface Inputs
The web is primarily used through graphical user interfaces, and mostly on mobile devices. Based on this premise isn’t it strange that so many designs still use the desktop hunt-and-peck-with-your-mouse style of elements?
Why do we right click links and chose to bookmark or open in a new tab? Why don't we drag the link to the side of the screen for a new tab, and to the bookmark icon to store it?
Despite huge success on mobile apps, the web still fails to recognise touch as a first class user input. Mouse clicks are already optional on many laptops. Ten years after the touch device started it's rise to power it is time for us to make the web reflect that.
Grid & Typography
In the last few years typography has turned the web from computer science book into a beautiful print poster. Finally we have access to technology like CSS grid that allows us to recreate any print layout. But why print?
Print design is all based on a set of constraints that have no value on the web. Most typography is created to fit fixed size sheets of paper. Worse still, fonts are set in rows with fixed heights. Do we really always need to scroll?
In stark contrast with layouts, why aren't we type setting based on screen size instead? Imagine if the font size was set to 80 characters across the screen. Or 200 characters vertically? What sort of grid could that produce?
So where do we go from here?
I don’t really know. The situation is extremely interesting. I’ll keep working on this, and post everything I think of right here. If you’d like to join in the fun, please contact me! Honestly, I'd love your help.
Your next steps
- Try things that are not like classic web and print design.
- Discuss this with me and others on twitter.
Have you reached every goal you have? No? Than something isn't working, and that something is you. To do something you've never done before, you have to do things differently than you have before.
Losing weight, starting a business, being creative, everything demands a change of routines and lifestyle. You have to change.
Don't be afraid to throw out who you are. When something doesn't get us what we want, change is the only way we can get it, so embrace it fearlessly. Here's how:
- Disregard how you usually do something (or how you are, that's nonsense).
- Read about or talk to people who have done something.
- Try it.
- Do it all over until you succeed, or want to do something else.
This post is a part of my 6 month experiment of discovering strategies for life.
Today there are so many things to do that most of us are running just to keep up. So many obligations and so many things we want to do. There's just never enough time.
Minimalism and Stoicism has the answers apparently. But it's hard to find the time to get around to them.
This way to live our lives isn't working. Not really. We're constantly breaking plans and coming up late on deadlines. The truth is that we can't do it all. We can do anything, but not everything.
It's time to apply that knowledge to planning:
Is it that easy? I think it may be. I've added it to my set of life strategies, and will try it out for 6 months.
If you are anything like me, you've read a ton of great books and articles about how to live well. Learned tips and tricks from masters about how to achieve what you want in life. But honestly, I've probably forgotten more good ideas than I remember. Some idea I've had to relearn more than once. Some would've made my life much easier if I had just remembered them. Which is why I'm so inspired by Derek Sivers idea of Directives.
Derek takes notes while he reads, when he finishes something, he summaries it. Then he takes what he's learnt and adds it to a Do's and Dont's list. The list becomes an ever evolving set of strategies to live a better life. I think this is a great idea.
As one his directives is to shamelessly imitate, I'll take that advice and start doing the same thing. Starting today, I'll post everything I learn and keep a running list of Do's and Dont's. I'll tell you how it pans out in 6 months.
Started the day of with this great read. It's important to remember that ego isn't something you have, or that some people were born with, it slips in whenever we're not watching.
Egocentrism is the lazy default, the black hole inside every human that we need to constantly struggle away from.
Fata Morgana is the Italian word for a mirage on the horizon, one of those mirror images you might see on hot days. But it also refers to subjective mirages such as castles in the sky or a pipe dream.
We live in age of overwhelming optimism. Everyone’s life is maical, and every experience awesome. You can’t buy cereal without being promised a soul uplifting and life affirming spiritual experience of purest joy. And yet, people are unhappy. Why is this?
Optimists are right in being wary of negativity. Most negativity simply hides fear, it creates barriers where there are none, making sure we don’t try something because it can’t be done or because what would people think? Negativity is a sneaky way for us to make ourselves victims. Pessimism is useless, we should never be victims.
But at the other end of the spectrum is the almost maniacal optimist. The person who’s so enthusiastic at all times it’s is simply beyond reason. Well, what’s wrong with that?
Forcing enthusiasm has two major issues, as the journalist Oliver Burkeman outlines in his excellent best seller The Antidote.
Fail at Life
Firstly it sets you up to fail. How we talk to ourselves about things has a very real influence on how we feel. It sets expectations on the situations we find ourselves in, and life will simply never be a barrage of awesome and amazing experiences. It can not be, because the human mind isn’t made to handle that. It would simply stop registering the good things. How many times have you been reminded to count your blessings, only to realize life isn’t so bad? By expecting daily life to be amazing, we’ll constantly face being let down or surrounded by haters. Not because the world is actually like that, but because we‘ve created an impossible expectation.
Use it or lose it
Secondly it seems we actually lose the ability to experience real joy and happiness when we’re constantly forcing the simulacrum of those emotions. According to burkeman “fake it til you make it” is not just incorrect, but is actually the opposite of how your mind is built to work. Counter-intuitively looking at things from a negative point of view, a bit sceptically or even critically, you’ll set yourself up to be positively surprised often. And prepared for the situations when you’re not.
We should never limit ourselves with artificial barriers of negativity and fear. But if we want to experience real happiness, we also shouldn’t buy into the cult of enthusiasm. Don’t force enthusiasm, look critically at the world and enjoy the ride.
There’s no way to miss the frustration about social media all around us. Algorithmic feeds, allegations of Facebook manipulating the media. It never seems to end.
in the middle of this storm Andy Baio, the former CTO at Kickstarter, put up a link that shows you what your twitter feed was like ten years ago. It went viral.
Today were bombarded by snide comments and jokes at everyone’s expense, but ten years ago people mostly observed and shared things.
I wonder why?
What happened that made the social landscape change this drastically? Was is the influx of new people that swamped the established culture? Possible, but I believe in humanity way more than that. was is the hardening social climate all around us? Doubtful, the only place it seems to get rougher is in the the media.
I think there’s a piece of evidence right there in what social posts look like today.
It’s a megaphone.
All these posts are broadcasts. They’re mostly snide, satirical or cynical posts at someone’s expense.
There’s another sort of content that’s experiencing the same development in parallel. News is growing worse and more snide by the minute in the race for faster and cheaper clickbait.
Can it be that social media turned bad because we all strive for short term engagement? We know that measuring engagement shortsightedly has left Facebook with the massive undertaking to redesign their feed. So it’s not a big leap of the imagination to think that perhaps social media was killed by the like button. And twitter by the heart icon.
An entire form of media. Possibly killed because of a bad design choice.
...or am I reading to much into this?
The entire article is definitely worth a read. I find it incredibly analogous to tech startups at the peak of bubbles. All arrogant "bro-culture" playing around. If this really is what journalism looks like from behind the scenes, it's not pretty. I'm glad I don't consume much "news" anymore.
There's nothing important enough to be serious about. Only things that are seriously boring.
I've always loved buttons and dials. When I was a kid, the flashing consoles of Star Trek and Star Wars were the height of sci fi cool. Stereos and electrical panels were exciting, I kept wondering "what do these do?"
Last year I read a book that seemingly everyone was raving about. I made it about 60% through it when the author took a sudden turn from logically progressing an argument to stating a badly formed rhetoric idea as truth. I put the book down and in a sigh resigned myself to reevaluate everything I had just read.
A few weeks ago, I was inspired to give the book a second chance. And I'm glad I did.
It turns our the rhetoric idea was a several pages long example of fuzzy logic, that the author deconstructed, without judging the idea. Just logically laid out. If it hadn't been for my automatic revulsion to the idea itself, I would've noticed that a year ago.
Skeptically questioning everything is essential to progress. But cynicism has a tendency to creep in. I'm glad I let go of this cynicism and explored more.
I loved when Snapchat introduced the Stories format. It suited the platform perfectly and became a sort of passive social channel that I used to enjoy when social media was new. But I haven't given much thought to what the rise of Stories means, both as a platform, and as a media format.
Stories is not a technology, nor is it a feature. It is a media format, or even a genre, in the way that a magazine or a murder mystery or a 30-minute television program is.
I came across this quote via Farnam Street's newsletter, and it both resonates with me trying to improve myself, and shows just how long people have struggled with learning:
"Intelligent individuals learn from every thing and every one; average people, from their experiences. The stupid already have all the answers."
If you’ve read my posts before you’ve probably heard me complain about Twitter before, and I’ve thought about it some more:
I loved Twitter when it was in its infancy, the distributed social asynchronous communication let me learn from and get into contact with people who shared my interests from all over the world. It was empowering.
But Twitter is changing. It's no longer designed as a platform for discussion, but as one for publication.
This new Twitter feels way-to familiar. It looks like Twitter have reinvented the web comment. Same format, same bad tone, same bad social grace. Good job Twitter.
The only real difference between a blog, twitter, and a news site is interface. That's how powerful design is in informing behaviour.
We’ve come full circle. The 2000 era internet is back! Newsletters are now The way people publish content online. They’ve replaced blogs almost perfectly after the short blip of social media became a garbage pile of algorithmic ads.
Just like blogs they’re trending each other’s content, intermittently updated, and completely distributed. There no one newsletter service.
Because the Pull Behavior (go out and find information, spread it by creating more information, making it easier for others to find when they search) we so loved about the web is over. It’s been replaced through lazy social media with Push Behavior (I want something now, just keep gushing everything to me and I will “curate” what I want.
It’s a brave new world.
I’ve witnessed and anguished over the decline of my favorite social media, Twitter, for years. Now it seems everyone is talking about the implosion of Facebook and all the algorithmic feed platforms like Instagram.
Today I realized just how much people crave chronological feeds of what people wish to say. I’m sure you’ve seen stories like this:
It turns out that while social media is dying. The reason it exists in the first place is still just as valid:
“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation...” — Oscar Wilde
Whatever made these companies think it was ever about anything else?
Sometimes you just need a swift kick in the ass. Sometimes, you need some brutal truth:
So how to we do this? This is how:
Stop avoiding failure. Stop focusing on the outcomes, but instead focus on the work itself. If you're interested, this is the research referenced.