A Fortnight Without Design

Here at Versailles, we have expended not-inconsiderable effort in interpreting the interplay of design (or interface or surface or style) and content (or substance). We went so far as to run the issue by three fabbo content creators and TypoBloggers:

contenu.nu – Are you seen as more authoritative or credible by having advanced graphic design – where, in one of those ironic inversions, simple = advanced? If you had the same “content” but your site looked like a Tripod automated homepage, would it still work?

Andy Crewdson – Well, as I’ve alluded to, I’m pretty sure it helps not to look amateurish. Though my site is only six weeks old, I’m continually surprised by the sorts of people who read it. Many of them are from large, well-known but not-so-cutting-edge companies (of just about every sort). I suppose if my page was more amateurish or cluttered, these sorts of people might not be as disposed to reading it.

Caroline van Oosten de Boer – It wouldn’t work for me. For me there has to be a good balance between brain and brawn. I don’t know whether the site is seen as more authoritative or credible by its visitors. In my experience, people will believe any old shite online (or offline) no matter what it looks like. 50% of the people who E-mail us at U2log.com thinks we’re the band. And I am sure it wouldn’t be any different if the site didn’t look as slick as it does. What’s important to me is whether I think it looks credible.

Tom – My site is very dumbed down by intent and experience. Plus I never revise the design. People don’t like change. I am locked down and love it – five years of this and I look what makes the absolute least work for me. Visitors are from all walks of virtual life; I have a person a minute 24/7 from 57 countries, there is not time to deal with browser gripes. You can’t shut anybody down on a disease site.

So who’s right?

Rare exceptions to the contrary, it is consistent with our experience to declare that even the smartest writing will be entirely discounted if it isn’t presented in a format that shows some kind of design care. If the design is not quite to your taste, you the compassionate reader may nonetheless give the benefit of the doubt.

But compassionate readers aren’t the kool kidz in this joint. Some of the more superswanky Überbloggers do tend to sneer at and dismiss any Weblog that doesn’t look like the hobby site of a professional Web designer – perhaps one who was only recently shitcanned and is officially “taking a sabbatical,” hence has abundant time to spend tweaking, possibly also in Photoshop.

As in meatspace, the Beautiful People of cyberspace only want to associate with others of their kind.

What does the realm of Esther Dyson have to say?

The high frequency of Weblogs means more emphasis on the content, says [a Weblog A-list benefactor]: You don’t worry about the way the thing looks, you only worry about what you are going to say.

Do we really think this is so?

It would be amusing to run a test simulation. Perhaps the ten most popular Weblogs would agree to run HTML 2.0–style text-only pages, with no attempt at graphic design whatsoever, for a full two weeks. Authors would retain their standard updating schedule. One could then do a before–during–after comparison of hitrates.

We could call it A Fortnight without Design, rather after the model of A Day Without Weblogs.

Do you really believe content is king, or at least queen?

Are you really maintaining your Weblog just to get the words out there?

Do you want to put your money where your mouth is?

No, we didn’t think so.

We’re stuck on this treadmill ourselves, which explains why we persuadedNot JoshAllen to redesign the NUblog. We weren’t being taken seriously, you see.

We still are not. But now it’s not because of our looks.

Posted on 2001-07-26