As I often do, I sent out an article this week to the Sullivan employees' email list because I thought it offered an interesting point of view and was worth a read. It was a blog entry by L. Jeffrey Zeldman, posted on his own site, zeldman.com, entitled, "Web Design Manifesto 2012." I didn't give my opinion right away, but I did point out this money quote:
“We can’t keep designing as we used to if we want people to engage with our content. We can’t keep charging for ads that our layouts train readers to ignore. We can’t focus so much on technology that we forget the web is often, and quite gloriously, a transaction between reader and writer.”
(Go ahead, read the post -- if you don't at least see what it looks like, the rest of this won't make much sense.)
Jan, our Design Director, responded first:
While I applaud the author's ambition to simplify and focus on the relationship between the writer and the reader, the result is unfortunate. Big type doesn't mean good legibility. One of the characteristics of good typography is that you shouldn't notice it. It shouldn't interfere between the message and you. Zeldman's message is nice, but the delivery is poor and goes against his main premise. I tried to hear his message, but I was being constantly interrupted by the loudness of the BIG TYPE, bad line breaks and obnoxious orphans.
Therefore, I don't think the web (and not just the web) is a transaction between the writer and the reader, but rather between the message and the receiver. That said, I'm glad there are people like him who actually think about those things and are trying to improve them.
Then Chance, our Director of User Experience, chimed in:
I had a different reaction to the big type. The big type completely changed how I was reading. It was more slow and deliberate. Awkward? Yes, but I think that was the point. So much of reading on the web today is not "reading" but scanning. Why? Because we are in a perpetual Easter egg hunt, looking for good stuff. I have a feeling this is why the iPad and Kindle, and not the Web, are leading the way in delivering a better experience for the reader. Looking around on the train, I've noticed that everyone has a Kindle set at 14+ point font. This can't be some strange coincidence.
In response to both comments, I decided to give some context:
To be fair, Zeldman's post should have a few caveats:
- While he's talking about the web broadly, he really is focused on communication platforms where there is a primacy of textual content -- like his personal blog or news sites. I think the point he's making, whether the point size is the right one, is that we all have learned to ignore content because we've been trained to. When you read a news article on any major outlet you know that there will be a box intruding into the text two to three paragraphs down that contains an ad of some sort and around which the text flows. I don't know about you, but I don't even see the box anymore, I just move on past. Clearly, and he states this, he is responding to people like me who use instapaper or who use the 'reader' function in Safari to get rid of the contextual crap and surface the primacy of the text itself to avoid distraction.
- He's clearly throwing a bomb to kick off a conversation; I imagine even he does not fully subscribe to the point he's averring. But hey, you don't make waves by dipping your toe into a pond, you've got to commit and really toss a big stone off a high bridge sometimes…
- I admire anyone who can invoke Full Metal Jacket when describing typography.