Some thoughts on the state of web design

Over the years, especially in recent years, I’ve gotten a number of criticisms of how my website looks, including most times when I’ve attempted to link it on other platforms, calling it outdated or just plain ugly, or even people I know asking me if I’m going to refresh my website layout.

To understand my attachment to it, understand that I conceived of the basic concept in my head well before I actually started implementing it on an actual site, and became enamored by its simplicity and modularity. It seemed to me the distillation of the web design trends of the time, with a header image and a sidebar with important links and sections of the site (though when I moved Da Blog to MorganWick.com, ultimately the 128 pixels I gave the main sidebar necessitated the creation of a second sidebar for elements that wouldn’t neatly fit there). That was over a decade ago.

Two things have changed the internet landscape in the interim: social media and mobile devices. Social media has made individual web sites less important and individual blogs like mine a relic of a bygone age, and mobile devices have introduced a new paradigm for web design to take into account. The need to develop for a variety of screen sizes, and the decreased emphasis on the individual web site, has resulted in a web design landscape that’s less easy to characterize than it was ten years ago. No longer can it be assumed that most people will experience your site the same way; almost always designing for mobile is assumed to be a different thing from designing for traditional computers. Most websites I come across are optimized for the needs of professional outlets (which in many cases means neglecting the actual web site and focusing more on an app instead) and don’t necessarily have lessons that can be easily ported to my own context. In what could be considered the “Revenge of the LiveJournalists”, what individual blogs remain seems to have seen Tumblr eclipse Blogger and WordPress as the platform of choice.

What I have seen increasingly disappoints me. Most sites that are actively trying to make money are increasingly bloated with ads, videos, and complex scripting for their basic interfaces. Normally these things are toned down on mobile devices (although there definitely are sites, which shall remain nameless, which are a chore to browse on mobile), but on traditional computers the result is that many sites end up chewing up enormous amounts of memory. At the same time, the traditional-computer market has increasingly bifurcated, especially with the reimagining of Windows impelled by Windows 8, and these days if you’re not looking to use your computer for graphics-intensive gaming, you’re expected to get a low-end machine with the Internet expected to bear the brunt of your activity through the cloud. But if all but the most minimalist web sites chew up huge amounts of memory and ask a lot of the processor to load all their heavy-duty video ads, the result is an inevitable degradation of the experience, and it’s hard for me to keep certain sites open for very long, in some cases even long enough to actually read the article. This, I suspect, is a major reason for Google Chrome’s continued dominance; there’s only so much a browser can do to curb a site’s resource consumption, and no matter how many reasons there may be to switch to, say, Firefox, if it doesn’t have Chrome’s multi-process gimmick, meaning I can’t just shut down one or a handful of particularly resource-hogging tabs when I’m done with it (at least not without outright closing the tab, which doesn’t completely remove its resource footprint), I can only use it for so long before the cumulative effect of all the sites I use renders it unusable.

Anyway, the end result is that if I were to redesign my website today, I wouldn’t be led as easily to a simple, unifying concept I could design it around, mostly because of mobile devices; the “burger menu” so prominent on mobile designs adds an annoying extra click when applied to desktop. Personally I don’t have a problem with browsing my site on mobile even though it usually requires zooming in, but for all I know that may be depressing my mobile audience just by knocking down its status on Google. Most sites seem to be heading in the direction of being dominated by a header image, with sidebars becoming less prominent or important (unsurprisingly, given how little space there is for them on mobile devices), but hardly disappearing entirely.

My own priorities may also have changed since the mid-2000s. I originally conceived of the site’s design as something that could have a unifying effect across the various different uses I conceived for it, many of which now seem to be doubtful they would ever come to fruition, or that they would use the current layout if they did. I never particularly intended Da Blog to be as cramped as it is with no real margins, but I didn’t want to come up with arbitrary margins for everything and I figured it looked fine enough as it is. I’ll also admit to being less enamored of the fonts I use than I was then, though I’m not sure what alternative fonts I’d gravitate towards if I had to come up with new ones today. But I also like the current layout as an expression of myself, and my shortcomings with coding already affects the current site in ways that would become more acute with a refresh; if I would want to ditch the sidebar as a major design element of the site I would want to replace it with a top bar for navigation, but that seems to be much harder to customize what links to put there in WordPress than a sidebar is.

Anyway, maybe my thoughts on the matter will evolve as I continue to think about it and continue toying with ideas for not only what I want the site to look like but what I want it to be and what I want to do with it and with my life. For now, this is just what I came up with over the course of an hour at night in order to continue having at least one post a month. Maybe others will have their own ideas of what I should change and how.

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