Web Design Taking a Cue from Instapaper

Jeffrey Zeldman himself is a product wrought with an extra dose of quirkiness. All the same, I still see his objectivity. These are his own words about his recent significant redirection for the interface of his site.

Screen Shot of Jeffrey Zeldman's updated web interface

This is Zeldman.com’s new look; very accommodating for high pixel density displays.

This redesign is a response to ebooks, to web type, to mobile, and to wonderful applications like Instapaper and Readability that address the problem of most websites’ pointlessly cluttered interfaces and content-hostile text layouts by actually removing the designer from the equation. (That’s not all these apps do, but it’s one benefit of using them, and it indicates how pathetic much of our web design is when our visitors increasingly turn to third party applications simply to read our sites’ content. It also suggests that those who don’t design for readers might soon not be designing for anyone.)

It’s nice to see another designer come to grips with some of the web’s recently spawned realities. It’s also great to see him do whatever he so choses, and make the site his own.

It’s not that Zeldman disregards web standards, or what most consider ‘readable.’ He just doesn’t think it’s right for all situations; particularly his own brand. The site is a significant departure from what you typically see online today. The new Zeldman.com says, “I am what I am, and I don’t plan to be otherwise.” I like that. Individuality is hard to come by.

If this were a client site, I wouldn’t push the boundaries this far. If this were a client site, I’d worry that maybe a third of the initial responses to the redesign were negative. Hell, let’s get real: if this were a client site, I wouldn’t have removed as much secondary functionality and I certainly wouldn’t have set the type this big. But this is my personal site. There are many like it, but this one is mine. And on this one, I get to try designs that are idea-driven and make statements. On this one, I get to flounder and occasionally flop. If this design turns out to be a hideous mistake, I’ll probably eventually realize that and change it. (It’s going to change eventually, anyway. This is the web. No design is for the ages, not even Douglas Bowman’s great Minima.)

But for right now, I don’t think this design is a mistake. I think it is a harbinger. 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. »

If you enjoyed this entry, and Zeldman’s thoughts in general, you may also appreciate his free e-book, Taking Your Talent to the Web.