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The end of web design?

I was surfing and saw this comment on Digital Web. And I strongly disagree. Data is the future. XML is data in it’s purest form.

So home pages will die? No they won’t. Neither will blogs. Maybe people prefer to read the XML-based feeds, but the site could still be pure XML with some XSLT. Nothing wrong with that, pure content and you still keep the flexibility of a home page (that is, with some static and unmanaged content as everybody has). It’s ridiculous to think (at this time, maybe in 5 years all will be different) that content will eventually kill design. I don’t think that design shall be adapted to content more than it’s already being done too. It’s just no point. Content is of course what people want to see, but believe me, design is attested.

I have nothing against Richard MacManus and his opinion. I just think design can’t be killed in favour of content. Design still can be a crutch. Hell, you’d put 95% of all web dev companies out of work! ;)


  1. Sometimes the design IS the content. Also, companies won’t let go of their competitive advantage by competing on a facts-only level.

    A good design emphasizes content.

  2. Similar to what Gabriel said, a good design adds to the content. Sometimes I will visit a site that is clearly content-orientated, with very little design, and be totally swamped by all the content because there is very little indication of what I’m supposed to be reading first. Richard MacManus’ site is actually quite a good example of this; there is very little contrast, just black text on a white background. The end result (for me) is that I don’t know where to look.

    I think that web design may well evolve and change, but I think it is very unlikely to die entirely. We still have design in posters and flyers, rather than just raw information, so why would the web be any different?

  3. Thanks for all your comments. Where I’m coming from is that the ‘homepage’ on the content producers side may disappear in its current form...in time. But the content “consumer” may well have their own ‘homepage’, where they aggregate all their feeds. So maybe the ‘homepage’ won’t actually die, just move from the producer to the consumer.

    But I am looking long-term. I agree that design is important, don’t get me wrong. But we’re already seeing that with blogs, people are visiting traditional ‘homepages’ less and less. With most of my feeds that I subscribe to, I hardly ever visit their homepages...much less search their sites. I use Bloglines and Google, but rarely scroll around individual sites. So my comment at Digital Web and my recent articles on my blog were exploring what would happen if that trend intensified. I’m still looking into it.

    btw thanks for the critique of my own homepage, not being much of a graphic designer I appreciate your guidance there. Looks like I need to work on introducing some color contrast. Any other tips would be much appreciated :-)


  4. Richard, I see where you’re going, but I don’t think we’ll live in a purely feeded and syndicated world soon, not in years. Good design still works, and people can have their personal website with all the feeds listed (like a local BlogLines — something I’m pondering ATM), but not every ordinary feed-follower knows how to design to comfort his wishes. And personal websites (mostly blogs) are not only here for the content. I try to convey my thoughts and content, but I think the design tells you something about the author, and sometimes even about the content. Design is more than just a crutch for data. And I might be biased, but people don’t like CSS-site galleries for nothing. They like well-designed sites, just as we like good movies. Imagine that in a few years time, we’ll just go to a room with comfortable seats, get some popcorn and read a filmscript.

    Design is more, but data is nothing less.

  5. I agree with what Rob is saying.

    The whole design vs. content thing is why we use XHTML and CSS: to seperate the design from the content. In different situations we might need either or both (a web crawler or text browser would only need the XHTML for example, whereas actually browsing the page would ideally require both), but that can be done because they are separated.

    Personally I don’t believe that feeds should be used to give all the content, which I why my feeds only offer a summary, if you want to read the full post come to my site. A feed as far as I’m concerned is a simple, quick and easy way of checking whether sites have been updated, and getting an idea of what has changed, but I don’t think they should be used exclusively instead of visiting a site -- and they aren’t designed to be either. You don’t have any navigation in a feed, so there is no way that you could visit any other pages than the syndicated one.

  6. I take your point that design is more than just a crutch for data. Design definitely has its place - the existence of CSS in the Web world proves that point. But I don’t agree that feeds are merely a notification method and so shouldn’t be used to give all the content. RSS is also a method of content delivery and it allows me (the user) to organize the content how I wish to view it. Say I want to splice Rob and Turnip’s RSS feeds together, along with Zeldman’s and a couple of design-oriented del.icio.us feeds - to make a super-duper design RSS feed that suits my tastes. If you don’t allow me to access your full content via RSS, then you’re taking that option away from me (the user).

    That may not be a common scenario or even a desirable one (to splice things), but it’s one instance of what I, the user, may wish to do with your content via RSS.

    p.s. based on your advice about lack of contrast on my homepage, I did some tinkering with my CSS this morning and added contrast to it. I hope that improves things somewhat, but do let me know if it still looks like sh*te (as I said, I’m not a designer :-))

  7. Richard, I get your point on the splicing. However, it doesn’t take away that design is fairly important. Design is a signature, and I want to see that every time I read an article. People also like to see beautiful things, so design is unlikely to vanish from the web. It’s not just making the data pretty.

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