Friday, March 23, 2007

Good design is elegance, built in

You've heard me talk about the importance of good design here before. Turns out I have at least one ally: William Powers, media columnist at the National Journal.

Design isn't about pretty (though good design almost always, irresistably, is). It's about ease of use, elegance, intuitive navigation, common sense -- and all of it built in, from the ground up.

I agree completely with Powers on a key point: today's consumers both know and expect good design. There's no easier way to look old fashioned, outdated or irrelevant than to offer them products that don't measure up.

Here's a snip from his short post, available in full here:

Most American papers look as if they've stopped caring and are just going through the motions. And it's a really bad time for newspapers to look bad. First, they are losing audience like crazy. Second, Americans have gotten more sophisticated about design...


  1. Very interesting topic. I agree that good design is not about pretty. However, I think the issue of design is not a very major one when it comes to what ails the American newspaper. The customer may be more sophisticated, but I really doubt much of the problem stems from customer reaction to design, bad though the design may be. You don't have to go beyond the "I'm reading" list to find an example that explodes the design issue. Is Craigslist successful? Is it good design? Is it a design model for news? I'm not an opponent of devoting attention to design. On the contrary, I've studied it, worked on it in the past and continue to be a fan of folks like Edward Tufte. But I'm also come from a Bauhaus upbringing. Form usually should follow function. The current problems with design reflect a form that is stuck on the old function, but we haven't really figured out what the new function is. When we do, then we can start improving design in a meaningful way.

  2. and (via Doc Searls) newspaper website sins are enumerated here, 6 paras down:
    "The trouble with the online newspaper sites is simple. They can’t build Web sites properly... They just don’t get IT and don’t get the Web...The HTML sins just go on and on..."

    (dunno how many of the listed sins are committed by your papers, but it's an interesting collection)