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The simple life: Thoughts on web design. [Update: June 2007]


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In the last year I have been active in a number of big web design oriented forums. My views on web design are known if you know me, this has led to me crossing sabers with many followers of old-school web design. If they do not like what I say they dance over to LSW and attack my design (EDIT: a design no longer in use but used at the time of this writing). No problem there, the design of a web site is based on personal taste and I get more compliments then complaints. But the fact is, the Nr. 1 accusation LSW gets is "The web site is to simplistic" or "Retro 90's". Is that a bad thing?


I personally like simple web sites. I am a busy man, I want to come to a web site, get the info I want and move on. I do not go to look at pretty pictures. What a site looks like does not decide if I return, the content does. Are my web sites simplistic? Yes, and I am proud of it.


So what is modern design if simplistic is old school? Modern web design seems to be when the web site is terribly complicated. People often point to the type of web sites like M$N or news agencies. People point to things like PHPNuke and Mambo CMS. This is what people want and this shows "professional design". Course of you check these sites for accessibility, standards, validation etc. they will likely fall through the floor.


So modern web designs would seem to be what I consider "Jurassic Web Design ":

  • 3 Million links per page. Now fine, BBC, CNN and the likes with really lots of categories and subcategories and news and entertainment and archives and ...and ... and ..., these pages really must be like this. But the average private web site? Small business? Middle business? We do not need every page on the site linked to the home page, that is what the sitemap is for. Do you need to send people away from your site by linking to dozens of affiliates and such things on your home page?
  • Do you really need to offer a web search? People who go to your site want info from your site, so a site search is good. But just about every browser now has a built in search. Most searchers go to the search engines home page as well. So unless you search filed offers to search your site... does it really offer something that the user needs? Why advertise Google for free?
  • Boxes, now this is popular isn't it? Lots of boxes holding lots of those 3 million links. Yes it is neat and tidy, but it takes us back to are those links needed? Would a logical step system of categoriesand subcategories not be better than a cluster of subcategories all on the home page?
  • Clutter, this is really what it comes down too. Modern web design calls for lots of clutter on a page, no white space, no free room. Stuff as much info down our necks as you possiblly can in as small an area as you possiblly can, give us those boxes ...
  • Just drop logic and plaster junk all over the home page. Offer us stock prices even if your site has nothing to do with stocks or we own none. Give me breaking news when you site is about beer can collecting. Tell me the weather in your part of Canada even though I live in Germany and do not care. Tell me what time it is in Japan. How many days till new year 2007? Tell me what number visitor I am to your site since 1 B.C. as if I care.
  • Awards, newbies love awards. I should know I used to paste them on my home page too, got the idea from my host at that time who I thought knew what he was doing because he had a "Golden Web Award". Now maybe you have some awards you still think are worth something (I will go into awards in another rant one day). Do you have sport awards or awards that your dog won or your children? Do you plaster these awards on your front door? Or are they in a "Awards room" or "Awards corner" of a room? Well then pace them on a awards page of your site and anyone interested can look at them, do not paste them on the door of your site anymore than you would the door of your house.
  • Badges, these are about the same as awards, but by this I mean more the Validation badges and such. Validation is easy to muck up, especially when you update pages. Fly a validation badge on a non-validating page looks bad. You page may validate now but what if you change or add something, you have revalidate If your page allows for comments by the readers ...forget validation unless you go through and can edit and correct all the mistakes people make in their comments. Most users do not even know what HTML 4.01 is or why it should validate. Those with disabilities will know right away if your site is Section 508 compliant or not, the rest do not even know what it is or even care.



That is just a few of what modern web design would seem to be in the minds of those who think my site is bad because it is retro 90's as they say. These same people will tell others to remember KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), yet their web sites are far from simple.


I for one live a complicated life in a complicated major city in Europe ..and you know what I long for? The simple life in a small town where you really know your neighbors. Bikers long for simple bikes like the old Harley and Indians. Simple cars like a 65` Mustang are considered classic well built cars against today's cars that will not start if the computer is shot. A old VW Beetle you can change the head lights by hand, today's cars you have to go to a mechanic. Today's fighter jets can not be flown effectively without a computer to run them. How much of your life is lost if your HD crashes on you, but simple paper note books do not crash.


So often these days you hear people saying life is to complicated, people still seem to earn for and respect the simple life. So why should simplistic be bad in web design? Maybe it is time web design goes back to the simple life. Offer new visitors a few lines/paragraphs of text to explain what your site is and then give them a logical navigation to find their way to what they want. Save your awards for a awards page. Who needs badges? You know the site validates and any professionals will see if the code is good or not and the average visitor does not care. Show a few new article summaries, but leave the full article to it's own page. Frees space in not the enemy, it gives the eyes a place to relax and helps limit stress.


Web design like art tends to reflect the times. If our lives are so complicated ... maybe the internet in it's complexity should strive to offer us a haven of simplicity.


I originally wrote this over Christmas 2006. Today in my mail from Builder.com I found a link to a 2004 article by Michael Meadhra that gets a bit more technical then I did here. It is well worth the read. Reduce visual clutter to improve usability


A member here once had a signature that read:

Perfection is not finding something new to add, it is finding nothing else to take away.




June 2007 - Going through my mass of bookmarks I have stumbled on one that I offer here as well, Michael Meadhra discusses the need for simplicity in web design in his "Reduce visual clutter to improve usability ."

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