I’ve been seeing a new trend in web design as of late, and I’m not sure that I like it. The trend is one of minimalism in design. Lacking a certain visual appeal, this new black of the internet is stripping our blogs and sites of one their most powerful design features: graphics. The latest designs are essentially white with black or dark gray text and no graphics. Sometimes a second colour is used to background the header area, but that’s about it. I don’t like it because it is meaningless.
At its very inception, the internet was a plain Jane sort of affair, with only 16 colors to choose from and very little ability to display graphics in an attractive or relevant fashion. That is because the internet was intended to help academics and students share information. The graphics capability was supposed to facilitate the embedding of charts and the like as a support to the information being shared.
People being people, we rapidly found ways to stretch the existing technologies beyond their original design scope, and by way of some very creative table nesting, embed images that were not just functional but attractive as well. We began to use graphics as a method of giving meaning to our sites, not just via the content of said site, but meaning through its very presentation. To quote the newspaper adage, “The medium is the message”. The information superhighway was learning to be pretty, and in the process becoming a meaningful place in and of itself.
In our modern day and age we are blessed with an internet that not only supports graphics, but all forms of visual media in a near seamless manner, freeing site owners and designers to use these tools to create a visual message that will speak to visitors from the very first. So why strip it out?
The last trend in design was termed the Web 2.0 look by some. Essentially, it featured bright shiny colors and large, simple graphics presented in an almost cartoonish manner. The overall tone was one of friendly and social.
The advent of Twitter, texting and FaceBook status updates has pushed us to strip our communications down to the bare minimum, and it is my feeling that this sensibility is being carried over to web design. I also think that it is absolutely the wrong thing to do. While I do believe in keeping your message simple, I do not believe in paring your message down to such a degree that discerning the meaning begins to resemble an Easter Egg hunt with dozens of frantic children running in circles trying to find a limited number of prizes.
On a web site or blog, the visual presentation of that site is part of the fundamental message of that site. To strip away all those graphics and colors is to strip away the fastest method available to us for communicating that message. In the end, this trend will serve no other purpose than to force our visitors into working harder to figure out what we are about, because they will have to go digging through our site in order to figure out just what it is that we are about.
While having visitors spend more time on your site is a good thing, that time should be spent learning something valuable, not learning that what I’m looking for isn’t there. That will simply make them leave frustrated. Not a good impression, so far as i am concerned.
If what I say is true, then the good news is that this trend will not last long. The pendulum will swing, graphics will come back into vogue, and the internet will have meaning again. I, for one, am looking forward to that day.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Leave a comment and let me know.