Something to be said for old school

I like working as a web developer. My job is to take graphic design for a web environment and translate it into a working interactive interface that allows the user to read, view, listen to, and interact with the creator's content. A slick interface with animation, interactivity, and vibrant imagery can be very engaging.

There are times however where we sometimes see that this level of complexity is not really required, and can in some cases take away from what the user is actually looking for. Working in this industry for more than 25 years, we see the trends come and go and the one thing that seems to remain consistent is that a simple straightforward presentation of content is always preferable to slick, colourful designs filled with animation.

I would say that I am somewhat biased in this opinion. I have a strong sense of wanting to cut through the fluff and the slick paint job to get to the heart of the content.

We've always advised our clients that it is important that the design shouldn't get in the way of what their audience is after. We ask our clients to take the perspective of who will be visiting their website or web application. Why are they visiting? What are they looking for, or what do they need to accomplish? Once they can answer those questions, we can start on the construction.

The reason we push our clients in this direction is because sometimes they get caught up in the intricacies and politics within their own organizations. They feel the need to push forward an agenda for the stakeholders. However that perspective can backfire for those stakeholders if the audience of users can't find the information they are after.

Recently we had a client with a new website administrator that was looking at their current content and realizing that the content did not represent the audience they were looking for. This wasn't an oversight, it was more about the evolution of the organization's purpose over time. The initial purpose of the site was to inform the public about the organization, its purpose, and its presence in the community. This involved information about public consultations, the history, and eventually construction.

Now that the organization is established, the purpose of the website has changed. They are now more focused on the services it provides to the community. Therefore the site architecture needs to change to better highlight those services. While the historic content of the site may be interesting, it is no longer the focus. A change in structure can also dictate a change in design.

If the focus of the content changes, the design may need to change in order to better present this new dynamic. Where a flashy design with a focus on big ideas was needed to catch the attention of the community as a form of marketing, the new focus may need to be more subtle and full of contextual content for the new audience. Substance over marketing.

Getting back to what I was originally getting at here. With this kind of change in focus, sometimes a more simple design makes more sense. Back to basics, so to speak. A simple layout of copy with minimal graphic design and imagery. Get the contextual point across without all of the figurative icing. And by working in this way, we also end up designing and providing content that is accessible to everyone by default.

As I said before, I am somewhat biased. I don't like ads. I don't want to see them cluttering up my viewing experience on a website, application, or social media. I understand the need for marketing, and I do appreciate good design in marketing, but I could do without seeing it, and I would safely guess that I am not the only one.

I would always advise keeping the design simple and keep marketing subtle. I watched Ready Player One again last night and there is a scene where the corporate villain is talking about filling up to 80% of the player's field of view with advertising in order to make a profit for the shareholders. This resonated with me when I look at web and social media interfaces today. I didn't like the idea in the movie, and I don't like it in reality.

When your website, it's marketing, and initial purpose has been successful, remember that you are now building and writing for an established audience. Use that knowledge to power through your re-design meetings and keep all the stakeholders focused on serving your audience. You will end up with a better project, better content, a more accessible site, and an ever increasingly loyal audience.

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