All these horizontal, design-y layouts

In an interesting article on Nieman Lab, Bill Nguyen makes some interesting remarks on the new graphic trend of some of the major American websites – technology-related, but not only.

The tendency noted by Nguyen is to set extremely brilliant, creative and cool layouts – more “design-y”, so to speak – instead of the classic static container of articles. In a sense this is a reaction to many forms of the typical web stuff, which is still loaded with awkward, ugly, full of advertising solutions that kill your attention after ten seconds.

In place of this, the idea is to make digital publishing more and more beautiful – always more enjoyable, also from an aesthtetic – and not only functional – point of view.

Editors have realized that just writing a good article is not enough for digital spaces. It is equally important to make it interactive and user-friendly. The readers find it more enjoyable and are ready to even pay for reading such an article. Find more information about how a digital publication can be enhanced more. Digital publishing is here to stay and it is better to use innovative ideas.

Nguyen cites as a particularly inspiring example this article on ESPN.com, a real piece of skill where the content is enhanced and augmented by the presence of images and other graphics solutions. More an experience than just a reading, in the words of the journalist.

So this will be the future of the web?

On the one hand we can hope so: but the risk is to put too much attention on the graphics to the point of making it an end in itself: too much “experience” and too little reading, whereas the long pieces first need a clean template that can naturally fit the bare words.

To be sure, this doesn’t mean “Okay, let’s get back to the most minimal layout we can draw” (something in Daring Fireball style, just to make things clear): the enjoyment of a digital magazine also lies in its ability to take full advantage of all the resources typical of its environment. And this is even more true if we consider the content in a multiscreen key.

As far as we are concerned, in any case, the most important fashion that we have observed in recent months is horizontality – but combined with a wide flowering of cool graphics solutions – shades, slide, interactive elements, fonts large body and typically a striking visual impact. In a very little time, this “wave of coolness” has become a real standard.

As you are probably aware, the inspiration comes from the revolutionary layout of The Verge, tailor-made for long-form and super-interesting content:

Of course this is just a glimpse of the homepage: the quality The Verge’s work can also be appreciated in the individual pages.

Now here’s some screenshoots of some very recent redesigns you have probably already noticed – if you are a tech news addicted – but that maybe you haven’t put in a row.

Let’s start with PandoDaily:

And this is Read Write (formerly known as Read Write Web):

Now here’s The Next Web (if you’re struggling to find your way and these screenshots seem to belong to the very same site, don’t worry: this is the point).

And finally (even if the redesign here is not that recent), Ars Technica:

In all four cases the pattern is pretty clear: a template structured in blocks (often asymmetric) with a particular care to the horizontal balance: plus a general attention to a “modern” style.

Some other examples? Maybe outside of the tech area? Sure. Here’s Pitchfork

… and the brand new look of that fantastic magazine which is The Atlantic:

In short, here’s the new trend: fancy, more complex, “bigger” (bigger blocks, bigger images), and somehow unconsciously Pinterest-y.

From the conceptual point of view, this triumph of horizontality seems to convey a certain absence of hierarchybetween the various content, somehow stressing their permanence in time. (Beyond the most recent news or the latest update, of course).

If, however, this approach makes a lot of sense for long-form pieces and great inquiries, the value of which is resistant to the flow of the news, perhaps it makes less sense to pill-style articles like this. Verticality and simplicity, after all, are not bad per se: and an information architect should think of his website’s own requirements instead of simply following trends.

In the end it’s all about the reader, not about the next design wave.

 

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