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Design Observer Observed

Speak Up Authors Armin Vit, Bryony Gomez-Palacio, Marian Bantjes, Debbie Millman, Mark Kingsley, Tan Le and Jason Tslentis met over a large meal in the most expensive virtual restaurant they could find, for a good old Harper’s Magazine style Round Table Discussion. After several courses of rich food, with their napkins well used and finger-bowls swimming in the oils of squeezed and licked crustaceans, the Authors filled their glasses with some indescribable Nectar of the Universe and turned the discussion to the recent redesign of their second-cousin-once-removed-site, Design Observer.

MARIAN: So, after years of cat-calls and online heckling, DO has finally redesigned their site and moved to a primarily white background. The colour scheme looks, uh … oddly familiar. I can’t say I’m surprised by their timidity, but I had hoped that when the time came that DO might emerge with some kind of graphic personality.

I’m having a lot of difficulty visually navigating it. The low contrast of all elements and especially the 2 narrow columns side by side is causing a kind of elemental “wash.” I feel like I can’t see anything. Interestingly, my favourite part is the big grey box, and the neatly aligned banner—i.e. the last remnant of the old site. It’s certainly the strongest element on the page, which in itself is a bit odd. What do the rest of you think?

BRYONY: I do miss the orange. Such a nice color, so easy to identify with DO. I guess, Marian, it is time to move on to sage green.

JASON: Well, from a heuristics point of view, the site confounds me. The banner sits on the far right, making it the final read when scanning the screen with your eyes.

MARK: Marian, I think the difficulty you are having isn’t a matter of color, but a matter of intent. I preferred reading the weekly “Observed,” and now that it has its own column, the editorial balance is thrown off.

I’ll use fellow members of The Deck as examples.

Frankly, I never read the bits on either side of Coudal’s Fresh Signals. Their “editorial content” doesn’t reward clicking through, and since I don’t know what they do as a company, I’m not as interested in anything other than the links—which are generally excellent and have more personality than Kottke or Waxy.

The Morning News may not be the best-designed site, but it is the best written AND their links are the most interesting of the lot.

Now at times, Design Observer has very well-written posts—usually one of Michael Bierut’s—but their links aren’t at the same level. The best link sites like WFMU or Boing Boing, either maintain a distinctive editorial tone or expound on the links with a degree of personality. These sites are all about the links, and that’s why I visit.

Basically, this is a long way of saying that giving “Observed” its own column takes away from Design Observer’s strengths. If it’s “writings on design and culture,” then make it that and leave the clusterlinked “Powers of Ten” video (for example) to Kottke.

MARIAN: Yes, the focus of the site is split, both editorially and visually. The banner sits over the text on the right, drawing the eye over there, but then my brain freaks out at all that bitty text and comes back to the wide left column, which is where I want to be, but because it’s so weak, I have trouble maintaining my concentration there.

I’m pretty upset about the Observed section, because I don’t get out much to the other sites, so I do read it, or I did. But now it’s in what I consider to be the “website junk zone” and, combined with far too little contrast I just won’t be noticing it any more.

TAN: The new DO is like that bottle of wine we just finished—expensive but pedestrian, insipid but functional.

The masthead and color scheme looks “designed” but is, indeed, still a remnant of the old default, themed template. By keeping it, and integrating it with a more original layout—is it being stolen or reappropriated?

DEBBIE: My my my, aren’t we naysaying. I, for one, think it is fantastic. I think Design Observer is on a real wave of momentum; I think the redesign is well-timed and I think it is a vast improvement over a Movable Type template.

As for clutter—I think that the site is providing information and insight. I like that there is a lot to read and it is fairly easy (for me) to navigate. I have no issue whatsoever with the format, though I do find the Observed items hit or miss. But that is pretty much the way I expect to view anything (including, say, things like the New Yorker). I enjoy having full access to the Observed items 24/7 without having to go fishing for them.

MARIAN: But to me … it just looks like a trade of one MT Template for another …

ARMIN: No, I disagree. The new layout is far more sophisticated than any MT template available. In any case I would rephrase it as “it just looks like a trade of one MT Template for Coudal’s template…”. Which is close to a compliment. There are only so many ways you can skin a three-columned cat.

There is one main problem with their banner: it’s too big. And the repercussions are not worth the size. Most importantly, the Recent Comments get pushed very far down, and Recent Comments is one of the areas that is most looked at. Once a discussion is up, you return to the site to see how the discussion has progressed; scrolling to see the comment count is a drawback. I would offer the advice to cut the masthead in half, align the logo and tagline with the the author and the underline on the main posts to its left. The grey background is strong enough, they just need a pinch of it, not a pound’s worth.

MARIAN: Yes! Yes! I want the banner over the meat of the site!

DEBBIE: I like that it is retaining some of the brand equity of the original design. It isn’t perfectly integrated, but this is one of the issues with redesigning anything that has established identifiers.

BRYONY: Do you think Recent Comments should be above Observed?

ARMIN: Not necessarily, but I would put Recent Comments at the top of that third column.

MARIAN: Yes. I mean we care who writes, but not that much.

And Armin, it’s not just the columns’ width and placement. For instance, you’ve managed to skin this 3 column cat very well, and while Speak Up may have more personality that DO would want, there is an appearance of … laziness to their lack of style.

ARMIN: Oh, but it takes a lot of effort to appear lazy. It’s the curse of the un-designed: It’s hard work to look so simple.

MARIAN: In print, yes. But on the web, I think it’s harder work to stand out; especially when you start off confined in the template box, with limited fonts and predefined sizes.

JASON: I find the background is far too bright, and blinded me when I revisited the site after being away for so long.

MARIAN: Jason? It’s white. Just like this one …

MARK: By the way, I never had a problem with the reversed type in the original and I thought all those who complained about it to be dull, pedantic people. But then, I’m old-fashioned: I’m more concerned about the content.

I’d read shit smeared on a piece of tree bark if it was interesting.

MARIAN: Well, that is old-fashioned … but I also I never minded the dark background and I encouraged Bill Drentell to stay with it just to be perverse. They’ve changed it, I guess because they’re not perverse, but one tragic loss, to me, is the way the images for each post no longer have any presence. That was the one thing I was actually envious of about the previous site, is how appealing those images were, glowing out of the dark background.

Personally, for the colour scheme, I would have started with dark grey, orange and white, and taken it from there. It was a kind of signature thing for them; now they just look like a Martha Stewart enterprise.

MARK: That’s an interesting observation Marian: the appeal of a glowing image against a dark background. I’ve browsed the DO archives to see how the images now look against white. With a few exceptions, they have less gravitas or (in an attempt at neologism) “anti-gravitas.”

But I do like the light greens against the grey “masthead.” It’s an unexpected, yet sophisticated, color combination.

BRYONY: Where I do like the use of subtle colors is in the links that are embedded in the posts. While I did not mind the reversed type, I found the links obtrusive and distracting. But by the time you overlay the green on the two gray columns with grey type for the headers and darker gray for the copy…Combined with the amount of short snippets… All in all busy, almost like a sofa pattern.

MARIAN: Yes, I agree with you here, but I still think something needs to pop out. For instance, when I went to scan the 120 comments on the “Innovation” thread, I was peeved that the names of the posters were blending in so much that I couldn’t pick them out easily, and pick up where I left off.

BRYONY: Agreed.

ARMIN: A simple bold tag on the commenter line would make worlds of difference. Worlds.

And now let me introduce another problem: The lack of a rollover state for the links. They chose a low-contrast color for all links, and it starts to dissapear in the two right columns with the light backgrounds. A rollover with a slightly different color, or the same color with an underline would give it that extra level of feedback that users on the web are accustomed to.

I suggest: Orange rollovers baby!


BRYONY: Is anyone bothered by the following order:
Entries: author, title and post
Comments: comment, author.

Why reverse them when they are so discreet and blending?

ARMIN: That is actually the default and common order on blogs. The first blog I saw change the order to author/comment was Todd Dominey on his own What do I know?, and that’s where I stole it from got the inspiration from.

On the entry order… I’ve seen it both ways. The author/entry order seems more magazine-like.

Can we go back to The Deck? I am very surprised that they chose to participate in this. The ads in The Deck are highly targeted towards young(ish) and hardcore web designers—hardly DO’s target audience. The products seem oddly out of place in DO. On the flip side, this might be the push that graphic design products and services would need to join The Deck.

Also, in regards to the context of The Deck, DO has to be careful not to repeat all the links from Kottke and Coudal, which make recurring Via appearances. Share ads, not linkage.

BRYONY: Yes, Linkage is great up to the point when you start having the same items pop on every site you visit regularly, a total turn-off for me and I do hope they will swim carefully in this area.

DEBBIE: This is the one thing I agree with you on. The ad space surprises me. How lucrative is this type of advertising?

ARMIN: I don’t think it will make anyone involved a millionaire, but enough to make it worth putting it there. Apparently they charge a set amount, $4,400.00 per month. Divided by 8 sites, it comes to $550 each.

MARIAN: It really bugs me that the ads don’t fit the grid.

ARMIN: Also, do unto others as you don’t like done unto you but that you knoweth it’s good karma: I was once blasted for our lack of W3C compliance and I went to pains to correct it, so I now would like to point to DO’s 223 errors. If you follow the instructions on the W3C site, it’s pretty easy to fix. There is no time like a redesign to lubricate the engine, if you know what I mean.

MARIAN:OK, shall we wrap it up, here, people?

In all, as a regular DO Reader I feel like I’ve lost quite a bit. I really won’t be reading the Observed sections any more (and DAMN—I’ll miss counting up those roman numerals!), I’ll miss the way the images looked, and I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of beach-house colours. I need more visual clues. Someone throw me a bright orange life-jacket, please!

BRYONY: The way DO is working now makes me want to pick up and curl up on the sofa with some classical music in the background, maybe some rain and a cup of tea. Relaxing and informative. But that is not what I want from DO, I want the dialog, the fire and the energy that I could sense in the past; images popping, links galore and frames and sections all over. I want to take it to the dinner table with a bottle of wine and a bunch of close friends late into the night.

ARMIN: Despite my minor concerns and grievances—most of them fixable with targeted CSS tweaks—this is a major and beneficial update for DO. Moving out of the MT template is like buying brand new clothes at Barney’s New York rather than wearing hand-me-downs from your relatives. It fits and looks better. Moving Observed to its own column will diminish the shock-and-awe quality it once had, although it will allow them to beat us to the punch on breaking news and cool design links. (Let’s face it, it’s nice to be first, even with minor linkage). My biggest criticism at the moment is their involvement with The Deck—unless they can draw some Design Observer-related products and services to the rotation, the ads will look painfully out of place and semi-gratuitous. Overall, this redesign was long due, and it was nicely done. I know first-hand the pain and effort this takes, so heartfelt golf-claps all around for Bill, Jessica, Michael and Betsy, who I’m sure is sick of all the MovableType rebuilding.

JASON: Design Observer shall be trendy no longer, this redesign could signal a “rebirth” of sorts. Will we be seeing better writing, or new guests? There has to be something more than a changeup with the MT system and its templates. Yes? No?

DEBBIE: I’ll still listen to the same music I did before when reading Design Observer, or for that matter Speak Up or Be A Design Blog or UnBeige. And at the end of the day, I will just be that much more grateful that there are so many good—and diverse—design blogs that are making a difference in the lives of so many designers.

MARK: I’m left with a small, small worry about motivation. The daily presence of Observed and the involvement with The Deck seem like a desire to hang with the cool kids on the web. They have made the occasional announcement here and there about hitting certain numbers of visits, which is common blogging behavior: “Link to me! I’ll link to you!” and all that.

In my mind, the reason for DO’s popularity is the strength of the writing, not necessarily the comments; which usually are either pseudo-academic or as inane as those found on any other blog. Interpreting the motivation behind daily links and the tacit connection with Kottke et. al. worries me that the evil number-of-visits-obsession genie is being given attention—which can subtly affect choice of subject matter, etc.

Now I bet that either Bill or Michael, upon reading this, will respond with a pat on the head and say “Don’t you worry about that, little feller. We know what we’re doing.” Perhaps, perhaps. But one of the few axioms that stayed with me from Dr. Nadin’s class was “the intentions of the programmer are expressed in the program.”

I admired Design Observer’s willingness to stand alone, confident in their inner nerd; but now I sense them embracing—perhaps chasing—“cool.” And as we can learn from that great morality play Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation, strength comes from being confident in who you are.

Go ahead Lewis, cut off that pony tail and put that white short-sleeved shirt back on.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jun.12.2006 BY marian bantjes
Fatknuckle’s comment is:

Ouch. Haven't seen DO in a while and it seems like it's trying too hard now. Information architecture aside, the initial feeling I get has gone from a place where yahoo's such as myself can interact and engage with some heavy hitters in the design world in a less formal atmosphere, a place where mistakes and opinions matter to that too designed for its own good gallery of information that you wont understand so dont even bother.

Kind of a shame really.

On Jun.12.2006 at 02:28 PM
Randy’s comment is:

I must say I liked the (likely unintentional) playfullness of the dark/light rivalry.

The new design, is, well...new. I agree with Armin that it's new technical implementation has a few useful tweaks left to be made, which will undoubtedly be addressed now that they've been brought into the open. Save those, the new technical choices, including moving the Observed pieces into a sidebar and separate feed, seem appropriate.

Do I love the new design? Not at all. I find it not only subservient to the content, as was intended, but also disserving toward that content. The design is a bore; Design Observer is not.

I had hoped, since receiving my first issue of Below The Fold, that this visual vocabulary might enter D.O.

That said, I loathed the template use and have always been ashamed of such things when I've used them myself.

On Jun.12.2006 at 04:01 PM
Frank’s comment is:

Gee. I must be missing something in the redesign. Honestly, it's very unremarkable.

I would expect great things from a site devoted to designers and headed by some of the biggest names in the business. But, as I can fully empathize with, designers most often short change their own sites due to lack of time, energy or inspiration.

I'm also a little suprised that the roundtable group never seemed to take off their gloves when critiquing DO. It's never stopped anyone from dismembering a logo rebranding (think AT&T or should I say a t & t).

We must be our own fiercest critics.

On Jun.12.2006 at 04:37 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

Okay, you asked for it: as of 9am tomorrow, it's back to the dark grey background with the reversed out white and orange type. Bastards.

Seriously, I was probably the most reluctant to change the old format. I was used to it, like I get used to a favorite shirt. And sooner or later, my wife starts asking "When are you going to get rid of that thing?"

I agree there are a lot of kinks to be ironed out, some of which I didn't even realize until I read this discussion. It will take some time to get used to reading, not to mention writing. Thanks for your patience and support in the meantime.

On Jun.12.2006 at 07:08 PM
Su’s comment is:

The masthead and color scheme looks "designed" but is, indeed, still a remnant of the old default, themed template. By keeping it, and integrating it with a more original layout—is it being stolen or reappropriated?

Or maybe the site's just being kept in line with Winterhouse?

Note that the oranges in the DO header and Trendy template do not nearly match. The grey is, well...grey. And a web-safe one at that.

On Jun.12.2006 at 07:09 PM
P@sky Illustrator’s comment is:

At first, this discussion reminded me of overhearing fashion models making offstage comments about their competition's rear end...

That's what I thought until I popped over to DO to just see for myself. I liked the gloomy dark design look they had before, but nobody asked me. HA! It's sorta OK. Maybe they want content to be the focus and not digbats. But I didn't stay there long enough to read anything yet.

Maybe if they made that sans serif into 72 point bold type it'll help. Wow, wouldn't that be terrific: Super gigantic radical looking type you could actually read... well...maybe not. That's my unsolicited suggestion.

On Jun.12.2006 at 07:24 PM
Coudal’s comment is:

Their "editorial content" doesn't reward clicking through
Sorry about that.

On Jun.12.2006 at 08:27 PM
Jordan’s comment is:

One minor change, that i think would drastically improve the site, is placing the text content more toward the center of the page. When going to the site, my eye rest near the center, and there all i see is a dividing line. There are many other ares that need tweaking, but when they ask for my input I'll give it to them.

On Jun.12.2006 at 09:29 PM
THE 5TH BEATLE’s comment is:

Nit Picking Aside.

All Legitimate Concerns, Family.

Lets Face it, Design Observer has Grown Up it has Evolved. It has Aged and Matured Gracefully. While Design Observer has an Open Door Policy of Audience and Viewer Participation, it can be intimidating. It indeed Caters to the High Design Milieu. Referencing Design Scholars, like ourselves.

The ReDesign Announces to the World 'We Are the Number One and Preeminent Design Weblog'.


Number One Doesn't Always Connote Favorite in everybody's Mind.

Speak Up is Still My Favorite Design Blog. I recall 2 1/2 years ago when Speak Up Matured and ReDesigned its Identity and Layout. There were many concerns. Now we're used to the ReDesign. Its Grown on everybody.

The Recent ReDesign incorporating Movable Type was all the Better.

Design Observer's ReDesign is Fresh, Charming, Interactively Engaging and Free of the Bonds of its FORMER GRID SYSTEM.

I miss the Old Layout as well. Design Observer has Raised the Bar and Set a NEW Precedent of Leadership in Online Design Forums.

The ReDesign is NOT as Intimidating as the Old. In time should Elicit more Viewer Response and Audience Participation which I think is a Major Concern with DO Authors.

If that happens then Design Observer will BE Up to Stuff with Speak Up.

Until that Time, Speak Up is and always be the Preeminent Design Blog with the Most Commentary from its Viewers and Audience Participation.

A Difficult, if NOT, Impossible Milestone to Accomplish.

Back to My Joe Cocker CD


On Jun.12.2006 at 10:27 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

> Sorry about that.

Jim, my model for book reviews is the New York Times Book Review, which usually places work within a greater context (sociological, historical or aesthetic) than a random person's personal history.

The main reason I made that comment was that many of your "editorial" links lead to some sort of commercial offering or self-promotion. This flavors how I perceive other features on your site: I feel like I'm reading great "copy" rather than investing time in a rewarding bit of writing.

Your promotional and entrepreneurial strengths are obviously considerable, as is your ability to cull one of the most consistently interesting link collections on the web. But with features, The Morning News and Design Observer have you beat.

On Jun.12.2006 at 10:43 PM
pk’s comment is:

In time should Elicit more Viewer Response and Audience Participation which I think is a Major Concern with DO Authors.

audience participation, while welcome when it's well-thought, is not design observer's priority, and never has been. that's been very clearly stated. its content would suffer if it strove to be such. the essays there are difficult to comment upon and, for some, difficult to grasp -- and that's fine. i can't think of a single other design pub online which unabashedly thinks higher than the rest of the room. i may not always agree with what jessica and william say, but i absolutely agree with their decision to let the writing be dense.

while community aspects of weblogs are okay for some destinations, for other they're a detriment. it took gawker media two years to roll out commenting because the idea of letting any old joe comment on their writing was distasteful -- pretty unpopular in the web's current state, in which the assumption is that each opinion is valuable and precious. the end result was an invite-only account-based commenting system, and the quality of the snark they get as a result is a lot higher than it would be if they let anyone say anything, considering their pouplarity. i agree with the notion of selecting a community of readers -- or in DO's case, letting the material select it.

treating the community as a reflexive part of online reading is misinformed. that phenomenon popped up after weblogging had been around for a couple of years, and ended up being used as a source of self-publicity in many cases. it's still a lot more noise than signal.

On Jun.12.2006 at 11:24 PM
coudal’s comment is:

It's difficult to argue with a comparison to my two favorite sites. God forbid we should be promotional with our efforts on the web. Or worse, have thousands of people tune in every day. So, we do a feature, for no reason except we thought it would be interesting (and perhaps we could sell a poster or two) where we ask lots of smart people to write about a 'certain book they read in a certain place' and it's not quite as good as the the NYTBR. Damn. Maybe next time.

On Jun.12.2006 at 11:35 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Jim, as I said in the post: the intentions of the programmer are expressed in the program. If a great percentage of your features have an offer to buy a poster, a book, a jewelbox, or a Dead Can Dance disc, then I hope you could understand my eventual reticence to click through.

And as I also said in my earlier comment, your promotional and entrepreneurial abilities are considerable -- much greater than mine -- so there's no need to cast aspersions towards my three-year-out-of-date website with stale, stale news and a few portfolio pieces that really should be put out to pasture.

I never said that having a promotional aspect to your site's features was bad, only that they didn't interest me. And I truly admire your self-motivation in operating so many business ventures. The fact that I have enough posters, am not currently in the market for a jewelboxing system, or can't listen to Dead Can Dance without thinking Brendan Perry sounds like a lounge singer is only a reflection of my experience, not your talents.

I'm sorry that my brief comment so touched a nerve. One should remain confident in one's strengths, and there's no need to feel defensive if someone happens not to find everything at coudal.com to their taste. As I said in the post, I find your links much more interesting than Kottke or Waxy -- in fact, I visit twice a day. Now if you feel this is an under-utilization of the amount of time it takes to update your site; then please accept my encouragement and support if you happen to explore other offerings and contributors.

On Jun.13.2006 at 02:10 AM
bootchec’s comment is:

Wow. It took so many discussion to get back to the point.
Thanks Michael. DO has a brand and it is a background going back is nto good idea specially when you publish for screen. I know amost of you are graphic designers but internet is far more different from graphic design unfortunatelly. In terms of navigation etc I recommend clicking here: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html

On Jun.13.2006 at 04:33 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


Thanks for the reminder.

I never actually thought DO Authors really meant what they iterated in reference to Viewer Participation. Perhaps I was wrong.

It is a known fact Design Observer got the Hits.
For whatever reason, DO wasn't getting the Viewer Interaction of Speak Up.
I did my own Qualitative Analysis. My concern was many Astute, and Informed Design Scholars that participated on Speak Up did not or would not Comment on Design Observer. I wanted to know WHY.

The Overwhelming Consensus, Visitors enjoyed Reading the Editorials on DO but were Uncomfortable Posting on Design Observer, because of the Academic Style of Writing. Others iterated they were more inclined or in-tune to Critique Identity and Branding Projects and engage in Design, Business and Tech Discussions.

If you Remember, last year I JOKINGLY called for a Secret Handshake and Code on Speak Up.

The only complaint I have with the ReDesign,
I now have to turn on my Cookies in Spy Sweeper to POST a Comment. Otherwise my Cookies are Blocked with a Shield to prevent Tracking Cookies from monitoring my online activity with Spyware, Adware, and Malware.

Although, I visit many websites everyday. I don't necessarily want the site to remember I visited and keep a record of my activity.

Spy Sweeper also prevent other Nasty Internet security threats including viruses, worms, and Trojans.

These are Nightmares for PC users. APPLE/MAC users don't have to worry about this infiltration as much as PC users.

Plea to DO Authors, Can I Post without Giving up my Cookies???

If Cookies are turned on all websites have the Capability to Record your Online Presence when you visit their site.


On Jun.13.2006 at 06:16 AM
Kevin’s comment is:

The links in the dark right hand stripe are impossible to see. I have to mouse over whole paragraphs to 'see' if there's a link there. awful

On Jun.13.2006 at 08:23 AM
bryony’s comment is:

Frank, there really is no need to go for the fighting gloves here. DO did a great job, with room for future tweaks and improvements based on the feedback they are getting from everyone. They did not pull an at&t on us, and they didn’t go anywhere close a ups. Why would I need gloves, when having a conversation with friends, about friends who did no wrong?

Okay, you asked for it: as of 9am tomorrow, it's back to the dark grey background with the reversed out white and orange type. Bastards.
8:56 am on my watch…

On Jun.13.2006 at 08:55 AM
pk’s comment is:

It is a known fact Design Observer got the Hits.

correction (sorry).

it's known that william says they get the hits. their statistics are not public that i've ever seen, and (and this is after working with sites which do get crazy traffic) i find his numbers a little overblown. no disrespect meant.

On Jun.13.2006 at 09:13 AM
Frank’s comment is:

Bryony, you're right. No wrong has been done with the redesign and friends are more important than design anyway.

But like it or not, forums like DO and SpeakUp are leaders in the design community. They are frequented by "insiders" and "outsiders." What started as sharing a conversation among friends now reaches an active audience across the country and even the world. I dare say that not even AIGA has the popularity or following online that these two sites garner. Thus, the very design of these sites reflect on the design community as a whole.

The redesign of DO and it's aftermath raises several deeper questions for me:

1. Does the design community put web/interactive design on par with more traditional forms of design?

Based on the DO redesign and the kind comments it has received, I suspect not. I think things in print receive much more scrutiny because we're more comfortable working in that medium as pre-internet born designers.

2. Are we being hypocritical?

In DO's own explanation of their website redesign they state "we were determined to focus on the content first". Can you imagine saying this to a client when you present a design that isn't well done? Why should we say it to ourselves?

Please, please hear me on this. I'm not wanting to be mean. ANY website redesign is a major undertaking. My hat is off to them for the attempt, I just think that the influence of DO's redesign has far more impact on people's perception of the design community than they may realize. Thus, it should be a shining example of what design can do to enhance and communicate content in a powerful, relevant way. Sadly, their redesign does not.

On Jun.13.2006 at 09:33 AM
pk’s comment is:

i should clarify what i just said; previous comment makes it seem as if i'm saying william is falsiyfying statistics. that's not what i meant.

one: in direct response to DM's comment, we can't say it's a fact that DO "gets the hits" because there's been no public data presented other than william saying so.

two: in regard to my comments about overblown numbers, it is very difficult to accurately portray your readership from website statistics, and there's been no explanation of how the numbers are arrived at. and, i must ad, the only reason i'm pointing all of this out is that the numbers seem to be important to someone.

there are a number of methods used to extrapolate official announcements of readership. if you simply present the number of daily (or whatever) hits, that doesn't portray your traffic accurately. neither does counting distinct site visits, because doing so indicates the number of distinct IP addresses which have visited the site, and that's certainly not representative of actual people -- very few people these days have a static IP address.

On Jun.13.2006 at 09:45 AM
THE 5TH BEATLE’s comment is:


Are you Suggesting or Implying BIG WILLI
is less than Honorable???!!!


Looking at a Recent Episode of PENN & TELLER'S BULLSHIT, they did an Episode on Statistics.

I Shudder to Think...


On Jun.13.2006 at 09:46 AM
dan’s comment is:

Interesting NEW? title 'DM' ... But more importantly - I admire any web work that is well designed, functional and presents content as the most important aspect of the site. I for one struggle to pull anything web-orientated off – so more ‘golf claps’ to them.

Unfortunately I don’t think DO’s as functional and well designed to meet my expectations.

If it was beyond them to push the limits of the template any further, - they should have sent out the call, or even better run a 'competition'! I've seen hundreds of freelance web designers who could have made a great impression (or firms) – was all the work done in-house so to speak? Not that it would be bad – but I get the feeling the inner circle is impenetrable some times at DO.

For me it feels they worked with the confines of the template/MT - it would have been nicer to see more of a webdesign implemented, without the atheistic of a ‘blog’ showing through.

But despite the design banter about the new look content should shine through. I shall wait to see if it can with the new design.

On Jun.13.2006 at 10:27 AM
pk’s comment is:


there are some days i wonder why you write under a pseudonym.

there are so many others upon which you answer that question so eloquently.

On Jun.13.2006 at 10:27 AM
THE 5TH BEATLE’s comment is:


You are without question the Cognoscenti in Information Architecture and Content Development.

Give my Best to Su.


Honestly, I'm not supposed to be writing.
I have to Fool myself I'm not.

THE 5TH BEATLE is my way of paying Homage to BILLY PRESTON who recently Passed. Keyboard Player for the Beatles and Rolling Stones.


On Jun.13.2006 at 10:52 AM
dan’s comment is:

Thanks DM - I now get it! Nice homage skills!

On Jun.13.2006 at 11:18 AM
pk’s comment is:

You are without question the Cognoscenti in Information Architecture and Content Development.

thank you.

i'd like to think i'm a good designer as well. the truth of design for the web is that there is nothing keeping an opinionated cleint from damaging their outward perception by changing the work once you've stopped. gawker media should be much more handsome than it is. that's another post entirely.

On Jun.13.2006 at 11:22 AM
Christopher Risdon’s comment is:

It's tough as a designer to have designers judge a design/redesign. We inevitabley put things in the context of "I would've done this, I would've done that". Really I don't expect everything that is designed well, or poorly, to be esthetically pleasing to me and my own tastes.

So I'm less concered with the design from the esthetic point of view. I don't mind the color scheme (although I actually *liked* the reversed version) or the arrangement of three columns.

My critique would be relative to accessing and engaging in the content.

I don't think the content is highlighted properly in the right two columns.
a) The "Observed" items should have their date on them, or at least be divided more distinctly - a paragraph break between each is not enough to make all that text look like nice nugget-sized, easily digestible chunks. Us the DO Orange, or something that provides more contrast as a divider that would improve their approachability.
b) On the far right column, the different content should have more distinct headers - again they get lost and instead of nicely divided - digestible - bits of content (recent comments, recommendations, etc.), the headers are too passive and the column takes on the feeling one long gray column. You almost don't see "Recent Comments" and "Recent Entries" because it's all washed out. You can still be minimal/restrained, while using contrast to your advantage for information design.
c) Bring up "recent comments" (and all the content that follows) and push down the writers and contributors. Part of the selling point is, of course, the writers, who are established and respected names. But the people who come on a daily/weekly basis know this and it would be more helpful to keep as much of the utility content above the fold, or just more prominent. If you want to highlight the others immediately, integrate them into some top banner, or in all that Design Observer logo space.

I would like to see maybe even more of the designers/authors personalities in the site - even if it's superfluous elements, but mostly I would be concerned with the "information architecture" of those right hand columns. Small tweaks would just make it so much more engaging.

I love reading DO, and definitely welcome the 'progression' of a redesign beyond it's initial blogger template.

- Christopher

On Jun.13.2006 at 12:00 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Frank makes some good points. One of the reasons I wanted to do this Round Table Discussion is that I see the redesign of DO as being as important as the redesign of Print or CA (and also, because they're our rival pals, we were amused by the idea of turning the spotlight on them).

1. Does the design community put web/interactive design on par with more traditional forms of design?

It's clear that we do not, and there can be this perception that "it's just a website." But aside from Speak Up (which I have realized anew is a work of staggering genius), DO is the only publication I read nearly every day. To me it matters a lot how it looks and functions.

With the exception of Tan, who, unfortunately had to run from the table, I was probably the most critical of the redesign. I think it needs a lot of adjustment just to function properly. We made some suggestions in the post, and Christopher, above has reiterated those and provided more.

And I still lament the presence of personality. By that I don't mean ornament (as we have here), pictures, or wavy borders. I just mean an overall design aesthetic that makes it distinct. (And while I think they might go back in there and address some of the functionality, I'm certain the overall look is what we'll be living with for some time.)

Design on the web and in print is very different, and the understanding and critique of web design is completely segregated. I'm no expert, but I maintain that it is difficult to design in a way that breaks out of the web template. I always tell my students that the web is the perfect place to practice their International Typographic Style, because the grid and the font limitations are already forced upon you.

Given that the designers of DO are predisposed to this structured, pared-down look, it still would take more effort to bring that to perfection.

I don't know who did the design. I'm afraid to ask, but I agree they should have brought in a professional.

or even better run a 'competition'!

HA HA Ha Ha ha haha hah ah ha ha aaaaah... Funny, Dan.

On Jun.13.2006 at 12:49 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Oh and Maven, don't give up your cookies. That's just not fair.

On Jun.13.2006 at 12:51 PM
cweese’s comment is:

My first impression was that I love the colors and the grey box, but that the site felt heavy on the wrong side. The rag on the left-aligned text of the main column has nothing with which to anchor the weight of the color.

This was especially highlighted since the site as it loaded into my browser window showed only half of the grey box, and so immediately drew my attention there.

(A side note; anyone checking out my sites to see if I'm qualified to comment will probably laugh at them ;0 but in defence I would like to say I am at heart a print designer... which is perhaps a factor in why I prefer traditionally left-weighted layouts.)

On Jun.13.2006 at 01:09 PM
pk’s comment is:

I always tell my students that the web is the perfect place to practice their International Typographic Style, because the grid and the font limitations are already forced upon you.

but that's not true. that's what print designers always think. you're looking at the lowest common denominator of the web, which is the box. the same could be said for any digital design tool; they all work from boxes. the web could be almost as visually fluid as any printed page could be with production from someone who knows what they're doing.

what's so upsetting to me right now, and as of developments over the weekend, is that print designers still misunderstand the web so badly, even as the talents creating both are beginning to converge.

the technology and document structure behind design observer is my only gripe -- it's not very good -- and the production behind emigre nearly made me cry. that site is built like the web stopped growing new technology in 1999.

to see that designers whom other designers identify as some of the best in the field are now people who do things themselves and mess them up so obviously, after years of advocating responsiblity on both thought and craft is embarrassing. it's as if conversations about craft never happened.

On Jun.13.2006 at 02:08 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I like the fact that it's clean and simple. When it comes to websites – especially news or blog type sites – the cleaner and simpler the better.

But I agree that it feels weighted wrong. Like with a newspaper, you want to read the name first, then the headlines. Also, like most people (I think), I usually have my browser window in the upper left corner of my computer screen. It usually doesn't extend to the right side, and often doesnt extend to the bottom. Therefore, having weight on the right side feels unbalanced. (Do web designers ever consider the position of someone's browser window? Im just curious.)

Also, there's nothing wrong with their banner/logo, but there isn't a lot of design in it either. It could offer more typographic contrast to the rest of the site, and have something about it that makes it unique or distinctive.

On Jun.13.2006 at 02:31 PM
Ravenone’s comment is:

Taking my time off from drawing werewolves (darn addictive things) and sipping mochas...
I'll say I didn't like the DO update at first glance, and now it's starting to grow on me. Not quite like a fungus, but still; after some putzing around, I'm re-evaluating my initial opinion of "WTFBBQ!" and "OHNOES!!!" and turning it towards ... "Innneteresting". Looking at it widescreen, it doesn't look great or exceptional, but decent, which is good enough for me, and it's starting to make some sense. Might look a bit squishified in Normal View, though...

On Jun.13.2006 at 03:38 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

but that's not true. that's what print designers always think. you're looking at the lowest common denominator of the web, which is the box. the same could be said for any digital design tool; they all work from boxes. the web could be almost as visually fluid as any printed page could be with production from someone who knows what they're doing.

Well, patric, we seem to be agreeing and disagreeing here. Basically what I've been saying (as I said in the piece) is that the easiest, default action on the web will give you a monotonal, grid-based design ... similar in principle to ITC. I've said that to break out of that takes effort; in short, you do have to know what you're doing. But I never said it couldn't be done—in fact I implied that it could and that it is desirable to do so. So are we in agreement here?

I say that to my students because although, yes they start with boxes, their ability to fuck things up with a pile of different fonts, sizes, angles, positions, colours etc. is incredibly easy, and it makes it very difficult for them to exercise self control (as a learning experience).

But I'm curious, are you saying that your only gripe with DO is the back end?

On Jun.13.2006 at 03:47 PM
pk’s comment is:

i misunderstood. sorry. i thought you meant that the international style was the way to design online.

But I'm curious, are you saying that your only gripe with DO is the back end?

visually, the only thing i'm not crazy about is that the ads don't fit the grid. but whatever -- they're ads; it benefits the advertiser to break from form.

construction-wise, it suffers from print-designer-gone-online syndrome: looks great, is not so cute underneath. a site's code should inform its content's meaning and structure; this just holds stuff together visually.

it means that browsers have to guesstimate how to render the page. browsers outside the US don't know where the page is coming from, so they may render it as garbage text. there's no semantic structure, so that means the pages can't be translated into other media (like screen readers for the blind). stuff like that.

On Jun.13.2006 at 04:53 PM
David E.’s comment is:

Another web design question: Do web designers consider back end stuff like what pk is talking about to be a part of the design? If so, why? I wouldn't consider it a part of the design anymore than I'd consider the engineering of an automobile to be a part of it's design.

On Jun.13.2006 at 05:07 PM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

Another web design question: Do web designers consider back end stuff like what pk is talking about to be a part of the design? If so, why?

Because web coding entails more than just
"coding"; there are a lot of different ways you can
write code; it is design in itself..I'm sure PK can
expound much better than I can.

Btw, engineering is a type of design too if you
think about it – problem solving with mathematics
instead of aesthetics.

On Jun.13.2006 at 05:25 PM
pk’s comment is:

Do web designers consider back end stuff like what pk is talking about to be a part of the design? If so, why?

because it describes the meaning of the page's content. a document needs a semantic flow to be interpreted by a machine to a person, and that implies designed thought. not machined.

I wouldn't consider it a part of the design anymore than I'd consider the engineering of an automobile to be a part of it's design.

crafting a site badly is the same as building a car that looks like a bentley but is made of cheaper materials: looks great from ten feet away, but is a crapper close up, and won't work for very long.

On Jun.13.2006 at 05:27 PM
dan’s comment is:

Marian - glad you had a laugh! I thought the timing between posts was too good to let the opportunity slide. But anyhow - hearing more news on what the 'back-end' looks like is not positive for DO. Hard times when your in the spotlight! But to preach and discuss the importance of design really requires a site to support this!

On Jun.13.2006 at 05:28 PM
Armin’s comment is:

David, what pk is talking about isn't as extreme as your comparison to engineering in a car. These are basic web design principles (at least basic if you are a web designer in 2006) that every web designer must think about when designing, otherwise you are just painting flowers on a canvas. A couple of years ago I didn't give a crap what my code looked like or whether I had javascript and CSS code all written into the main HTML files as long as the thing looked good on screen. That was in contrast to my nerdiness and obsesiveness when I prepared files for a print piece, everything in place, things perfectly labeled and ready for the printer to grab and print. I finally realized that I needed this same rigour on my code and little by little I have been trying to learn good web semantics and CSS and all that jazz. As I quipped in the round table, you gotta lubricate that engine. If things aren't in place, more likely things will go wrong. So, in short, yes.

On Jun.13.2006 at 05:35 PM
pk’s comment is:

actually, i thought of a better way to explain it. coding for the web these days is a lot more like writing than creating something for a machine to use -- it's like describing a document to be as flexible as possible so it can be seen by as many people as possible. if you use css to describe your content well, then you're giving many different people opportunities to see and manipulate your information as they see fit, and for their own purposes.

i think su would be a better person to describe this. i'm actually a print designer who works online; su's the actual online designer.

On Jun.13.2006 at 05:41 PM
Ravenone’s comment is:

Armin - You're the reason I shall never paint flowers again! *SOBS*. Actually, I never liked painting flowers- darn buggers can be /hard/.

I do think in anything knowing the backwork is important. If you're gonna paint, prime the canvass first, or you'll end up with a couch-painting like that pollock piece that fell apart a few years back...
Knowing how to apply that knowledge is hard.
I know my own website's in a bit of a nutty space as I work on the new version (Will it ever be done? who knows? who cares?).

back to DO I do find it interesting that their setup seems to lead the eye in reverse to how my eye normally goes; instead of going left to right, it seems to lead my eye right (logo) to left (column a). It feels awkward. Anyone know if this is intentional?

On Jun.13.2006 at 08:40 PM
cweese’s comment is:

I do find it interesting that their setup seems to lead the eye in reverse to how my eye normally goes; instead of going left to right, it seems to lead my eye right (logo) to left (column a). It feels awkward. Anyone know if this is intentional?

Yes, that's exactly what I meant when I said I felt that it's weighted awkwardly; I'd be very interested to know if it was intentional... Also I think it's been proven that reading left to right is a cultural habit... I'd be curious to hear if anyone who grew up reading right to left has these same issues. Though, the predisposition of reading left to right has been built into our browsers (and computers), with the windows being fixed left/expanding to the right, so maybe this is not so much a cultural problem anymore.

On Jun.14.2006 at 01:54 PM
Cheshire Dave’s comment is:

I agree with PK that DO missed an easy opportunity to create a standards-based site. These days, with the number of IE 5 users below 5% and dropping, there's no excuse anymore to get away from using tables for layout. And this would have been a simple layout in CSS. (By the way, PK -- you explained the benefits of standards-based coding just fine.)

On Jun.14.2006 at 07:29 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

OMG Cheshire Dave!!! I'm a fan! Hey, Hi!
(Sorry ... just a geeky groupie moment there.)

On Jun.14.2006 at 08:00 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I'm actually kinda shocked about the tables thing on the DO site ... to be honest when I first read that I thought "Naww..." That's right—I didn't believe it! I thought it was a metaphor, like "stone knives and bearskins," as in "How am I supposed to build an intergalactic radio transmitter using stone knives and bearskins?" ... "They built the site using tables." Ha ha, I thought. Funny.

Yikes! Because doesn't one have to go to quite a bit of trouble to format a MT site in tables? I wouldn't even know how to do it ... all the MT templates are in CSS, right? Doesn't one just start from there and fumble one's way through customizing the CSS? That's how I've always done it.

This is like ... taking the engine out of a BMW and replacing it with the engine from a Ford Fiesta (to return to an earlier metaphor).

On Jun.14.2006 at 08:25 PM
Su’s comment is:

MT doesn't care what your templates are made of. It's your responsibility that they work. By extension, if you work in tables, then it's probably easier to make MT build tables than for you to figure out a div-based layout.

Many people, even developers, find the new(as of 3.2) default MT templates overly complicated, and immediately scrap them and start over rather than try to make them do what they want.
(Note that their complexity isn't an inherently bad thing; it allows for great flexibility, too. But sometimes it's easier to do it yourself than figure out an existing framework.)

On Jun.15.2006 at 04:47 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Marian, for the previous version of Speak Up I had it built in tables. I stripped the relevant MT tags, in bundles, from the default CSS-based templates and placed them in tables. Not that hard, really. And as it was my first foray into MT (and didn't have enough experience in CSS) I actually found comfort in my Quark-like tables.

On Jun.15.2006 at 08:30 AM
tkd’s comment is:

The redesign looks good, but not great. The articles in the left column just doesn't feel right. As I read I feel like I'm cramped against the left side of the window.

I realize a lot of users have thier screens set to 1024 width these days (I do). But there are still 800 width screens out there, and many people (like me) have thier browser set to 800 x 600 in a 1024 screen. The result is the DO layout just chops off the end, and the design doesn't seem to allow for that. Many site designs will at least organize the layout so content clipped on the right clips neatly, and still presents a whole-feeling design.

I agree the back end part of a web site design is just as important. It's much like print design, in a great design/layout is a fantastic start - but the mechanics of then creating it (production, printing, prepress, etc) is equally important. A great design that is rushed through the printer with little attention will suffer. Same situation here; a good design for a site that is not strong on the back end can suffer as well. Either by effecting the experience of the visitors or simply by causing problems for the site authors as they continue to develop and make changes.

In the end, the content of DO is good enough that none of these things would make me stop visiting regularly. I can, over time, adjust to the first two. The third is really something the authors will need to deal with in time.

On Jun.15.2006 at 09:03 AM
pk’s comment is:

the one thing i find incredibly baffling about the creaton of the site is... why is there no external stylesheet? it's pretty common practice to, um, about everyone.

if they used an external stylesheet, they could change the stylesheet, and they're done. it would automatically reflect in every page which referenced the external stylesheet.

the way the site's designed now, to change the design means to actually recreate every single page on the site. doesn't make sense.

On Jun.15.2006 at 08:26 PM
Cheshire Dave’s comment is:

Wow, Marian -- but I think you got it backwards: I'm a big fan of yours.

Now back to observing the design of DO: the code really is a mishmash. Most of it is built in tables, but then the footer is formatted with a div. Go figure.

And PK is right again: Let's say that the DOs eventually agree that there's too little contrast between the two right columns. What could have been a two-second fix in one place on one external style sheet now has to be a manual fix on six columns (those two columns are actually made up of six: narrow wide narrow narrow wide narrow).

Fortunately for DO, since the site is built in Movable Type, they probably only need to change a few templates and then click the rebuild button. Still annoying, but not nearly so as it would be to fix every single page. And rebuilding a large site takes some time. A CSS fix would be quick, easy and immediately visible -- with no rebuilding needed.

I can't believe it -- after years of resisting, now I sound like one of the CSS zealots. Speaking of whom, Zeldman's part of the Deck -- he shoulda stepped in to stop the madness.

Back to the low-contrast columns: Those and the excessive height of the page are my two only real gripes about the redesign. It's kind of quietly radical in sticking the main content on the left and nav on the right. It's clean and fairly elegant, though I think it would be twice as elegant if it had half the copy.

On Jun.16.2006 at 03:58 AM
Mike Harper’s comment is:

I have to admit I found this critique via the Signal vs. Noise blog at 37signals so I obviously approach this from a web developer, not designer, position.

I initially found the large logo block on the main page to be overbearing until I realized that it acts as an offset; the more important content, the daily blog, sits at the top left where readers will ideally want to begin their browsing. Lesser sections, such as the "Observed" linkroll and links into blog comments and credits, are placed out of immediate reach, and accordingly out of mind.

My main complaint is that post titles do not act as a link to the standalone page for that post as is the case on many blogs. Hunting down the "permalink" at the bottom of the post can be a waste of time when all I want is to see the new post on its own page without being distracted by extra content.

On Jul.10.2006 at 04:31 PM