Ollie Kavanagh

One web to rule them all updated

Last week at DIBI (Design It Build it conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne), all the design speeches were talking about the ways the web is changing. It IS changing — we’ve got mobile and tablets and netbooks and laptops, but as Jeremy Keith succinctly told us, all these devices are part of the same web. We think we can control its dimensions and can control how our users view our websites but that’s a lie. And this lie has meant that we are approaching designing for the web in the wrong way.

Most designers, when we start a new web project, open up a template-a 960 pixel grid with 12 columns, 2 column grid using the golden ratio, or some other way to start off the dimensions of our project. 960 pixels has become the industry standard width for designing desktop websites for the past few years and it works because it gives some order to the chaos and fits on most monitors. And then, when you’re all finished, you say, “Okay, how is this going to look on a blackberry/iphone/ipad/or x number of other devices that you’re supporting at 30 different widths, resolutions and capacities?” Then you look at how your layout would morph to work for those devices. And test. And test. And test. For most, it means hacking away at their content before finally seeing what’s important, but by that point it’s too late.

It’s still ‘Lorem Ipsum’ as we wait for clients to provide their carefully honed prose, only to find that it is going to be delayed, because, let’s be honest, writing good copy is something everyone thinks they can do in theory, but is actually one of the hardest things to do well and for a client who is juggling a gazillion other balls, the web copy may not be at the top of their list. So the designer whips up something to make sure everything fits in the layout. When it’s finally time to get the site up, the design detail is still being fussed over, and the copy the designer wrote as placeholder copy becomes “good enough”.

But that’s wrong. People come to websites to get information. We shouldn’t be leaving the #1 thing website users need to know about us until the last possible second. That’s like selling someone a pair of running shoes with the most beautiful frame but the soles made out of cardboard. They’re not going to be happy after a few minutes wearing them, no matter how pretty they look.

The future, then, should mean that we don’t think of the web as layout, as 960px or 320px, or however many pixels will fit, we need to go back to the concept of ‘One web’. Users are rebelling against our pixels, using services like readability and Reeder, where they strip all our styling out, and then the embarrassment of our last-minute copy really shines through.

So it’s content first, and then layout. We shouldn’t design a layout for no content, or write the content to fit, when we only have a few seconds of our audience’s attention. Don’t they deserve more respect from us as website designers? We’re supposed to be making it better for them; it should be more usable, not just pretty.

So, strip out all your styling. You should still be impressed.

Tags: web

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