Type is Beautiful Too

Apr 24 2006

Have you ever witnessed someone surfing the web with images turned off? There’s a setting to let you surf the web with images turned off, at least, last I checked (about five years ago). Even years ago, I would notice friends and acquaintances who would do just that. As if to create a more scannable and easy to understand web experience. From a design perspective, I was just shocked…

I was just totally perplexed! What if the entire world just started to surf the web like this? From a usability perspective, I had to analytically understand what must be going on in the mind of the user to go through the trouble to dig into the preferences to turn off those images. At the time I remember pretty much chalking it up to it just being a highly technical person who had less desire for images in the first place. Or maybe someone playing games with me because they knew of my desire to make web pages as desirable to the end user as possible.

Fast Forward, now we are seeing an evolution that brings us closer to my earlier observation on a more mass scale. I have been holding off on writing a post using the “Web Two Point Oh” word. But I cannot help but notice some trends that take me way back to the beginning. Before the first beta versions of Netscape. In design school we had a huge focus on type. We were fanatical about celebrating type as a science and then correlating it to print. Now, research shows that users have evolved in how they assimilate content. How the eyes have become trained to scan pages to find the elements that are pertinent to the goals of the user. So often, Web 2.0-esque applications (as the buzzword shows) have a certain look and feel that carries common attributes in how they try to celebrate usability based on best practices. It can at times seem like less design and more like a simple text page. Web designers today must painstakingly pay attention to a huge amount of research and countless studies on usability from the labs. Funny enough, from a designers point of view, watching the web experience evolve can be like watching a car accident happen in slow motion, but how can we argue with the research? It is our job to create great design by combining the perfect blend of design sensibility with research. Not just any research, but the right research.

I find articles like this interesting. Dated in 1997, Jakob Nielson writes about “How Users Read on the Web.” Remember what the web looked like back then? Sometimes I think that we are going back to the old days when I do the squint test on sites developed according to today’s standards.

Back to the title of this post, let’s keep type beautiful. After-all, content is king right? I hope we can reverse the slow motion car wreck and celebrate type as best practices sans bad design. That’s what we get up every morning to do…

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