Designing usable and enjoyable experiences for people online, across devices, is defining business change.
It’s no surprise then that some of the most visited posts on the Econsultancy blog concern web design.
Chris Lake has traditionally written about web design trends for the year, with eight of his 18 trends for 2014 pointing towards minimalist design.
These were flat UI, mobile first, minimalist navigation, monochrome and hypercolour (perhaps summed up as high contrast), cards and tiles, bigger images and fixed position content.
I wanted to write a simple post highlighting key examples of clean and simple web design from publishing.
Quartz has a strong black and white theme. It highlights links in blue and includes a colour hero image with each story.
Go to qz.com or click to enlarge.
It’s emails are particularly striking for their complete lack of bells and whistles. Interestingly, one of Chris Lake’s 2014 web design trends was for less text.
Whilst I think this is true for functional apps and websites, seen more as tools by the consumer (think travel, insurance, govenrnment – at least at the home or landing page level), I don’t think it’s true of publishing, where text is being restored as the centrepiece, often sitting below a hero image.
Advantages of this approach of course include ease of formatting, consistency across devices, ease of mobile reading and clarity of purpose.
These Quartz emails are content roundups and currently eschew advertising, going with one column of text. Consequently, these emails are valued very highly by their subscribers.
It will be interesting to see if more companies take a minimal approach to a content update email. Whilst the blocks of text aren’t as quickly digestible as the content on, say, The Guardian homepage, with its mix of images and text sizes, Quartz is a business publication and this no-nonsense email matches the company’s ideals for now.
Whether or not more companies can afford to forgo advertising in their regular emails is perhaps not the point, as native advertising might be starting to fit the model.
This is self-publishing crossed with a social network, in the form of Medium, the project headed by Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.
Medium and Quartz both highlight the resurgence of belief in great copywriting and content.
As SEO has ended up with every man and his dog churning out content for search benefit, people want to know they are getting well-written stuff. All that content for the acquisition of users isn’t going to be worth it unless you can hold on to them.
Both articles and navigation in Medium are minimal with lots of white space. This in part follows the success of Twitter, which attached so much importance to brevity of expression. Yes, a lot of medium’s content is long-form, but the titles and annotations continue to inspire the pithy.
Medium’s most read stories of the month.
A post on Medium, showing white text contrasting against a picture that has darkened on scrolling, and the black text and white space with highlighted annotations below.
I thought I should include Twitter, too, as I believe its rise is due to simplicity of concept but also design.
Of course, Facebook has a lot broader functionality than Twitter, and yet Facebook’s perceived increase in complexity (with discontent culminating perhaps in 2009) potentially led to a user boost for Twitter as people realised the network offered something cleaner and different.
Certainly, real-time updates are more efficient on Twitter, even though they should work on Facebook, and this is partly down to design, as well as product. Whilst the platform released some design updates that owed a lot to Facebook, the design is still clean and kept in check by the premise.
In fact, I’d argue the design has become simpler and more minimalist, despite what some have said. This is mostly because the media included in the homepage stream helps to delineate more involving content and encourage engagement in much the same way that hero images have become part and parcel of many publishers’ articles.
Twitter stream 2014 (click to enlarge).
WordPress templates might be an example of ‘fashion follow’ rather than ‘fashion forward’ (or perhaps I’m doing them a disservice), but there are certainly a lot of simple, monochromatic and clean themes.
These are responsive, too, and provide a similar experience on mobile.
Quartz, mentioned earlier, is built on WordPress.
The Guardian app
The new app, reviewed here by David Moth, might see more complicated, ditching it’s uniform, one column list of article titles, but again the fairly chunky image sizing combined with clear headline text and white space is easier for the user to take in at a glance.
The new Guardian app has fewer stories on the home page, with headlines and pictures clear.
The top news item has a large image that almost takes up the entire mobile screen.
You can see how the app when it first launched was good, but the design didn’t allow for the headlines to be included in full.
See some examples from Chris Lake of minimalist mobile UI designs.