Blogless: Blog of Design Less Better.

Posts tagged Trends.

Whitehouse.gov is a good design, but not because Obama is President

Politics and poor presentation mar what could have been an worthwhile discussion of the advancing state of web design.

In a recent Boston Globe article, Matthew Battles invited several designers to compare the Bush-era whitehouse.gov with Obama's. They were asking: "Why does the site look better than Bush's?" and "What does the new page say about Obama's approach to governance?"

I'm not sure I completely buy their answers to either of those questions

The format of the article is to take some page element —the use of color on the page, for example— and compare the new with the old. But it feels like the comparisons aren't objective for the most part.

Whitehouse.gov ca. 2009
What are you supposed to be looking at here? The colors.

For example:

"The Obama site now has bold graduations [of color], texturing; Like Apple.com, it calls for reaction and collaboration" The Bush site, by contast, was muted and chaste, a pastel blue limited to the margins..."a set of dinner plates that only come out for visiting foreign dignitaries."

Really? Does that sound like an objective assessment or are we projecting with the metaphors here?

Instead of saying "the use of bold color focuses attention on headlines and interface elements" we get some partisan statement about how Obama is Steve Jobs and Bush is a stuffy old guy.

The article is seven paragraphs about form and one about function. If you compare the two sites, the content of the new page is not substantially different from the old one. In fact, it may be less genuine than Bush's. Obama's "blog" is a rebranded feed of press releases— there's no two-way communication. Besides a coat of paint and rearranged furniture, what's really that different about the new site?

The article is asking us to read too much into the new design. I like Obama and I like his websites, but I think there's some cognitive bias at work here.

Congratulations, its 2009 and you have a new website

Websites go in and out of fashion rapidly. With rare exception, there are few websites from even four or five years ago that would look or function as good as they did when they were first launched. To compare Bush's site with Obama's as though they were somehow contemporary is akin to comparing a Pinto to a Prius.

If the Bush whitehouse.gov launched today, I'd bet you it would look very similar to the current whitehouse.gov.

Obama's design looks better because it's up to date. Large slideshow images, subtle texture, bold use of color, serif fonts, active voice in navigation elements, whitespace, center orientation — you've pretty much run down the list of the top web design trends of 2009.

You could argue that a Bush website that launched today wouldn't be as good because he's behind the times, but I disagree. I don't think any web designer today (working for the President, no less) would put together something like the old White House site. It's just not done that way anymore.

Let's address the elephant in the room: maybe we like the website better because we like Obama better.

The Presidential reality-distortion field

Obama has a good brand— a very good one. So good, in fact, that it has spilled over into what people think about his website. Perhaps that's the real story here?

I applaud the effort to get newspaper readers to think more about the design they encounter online, but I hate to see personal politics get in the way of what could have been a more objective discussion about better page design.

Thursday, I'll speak a bit on another reason this article misses the mark: poor graphic design.

See you then!

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NickFeb 10, 2009
 

Photoshop Toolbar Evolution

Photoshop's toolbar UI is finally evolving by doing less.

I ffffound this image somewhat instructive. The toolbar got bigger six times, and then all of a sudden got smaller.

Photoshop evolution
Photoshop evolution
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PaulDec 23, 2008
 

Your Starbucks Idea is not the point

My Starbucks Idea was recently heralded as a paragon of relevant community-based advertising, to which DLB intrepidly rebuts: "A paragon of what exactly?"

David Armano recently wrote some new lyrics to an old tune at Advertising Age, bemoaning the continued reliance on flashy microsites, and appealing to a policy of community activity as the most effective – however unglamorous – strategy for building brand loyalty.

When YouTube arrived on the scene, we responded by putting our TV spots on it or – better yet – creating spots that looked like they were made by amateurs. Little did we know that the real action happens in the comments.

He appeals in the article to the My Starbucks Idea idea, which in turn appeals to Starbucks loyalists: "You know better than anyone else what you want from Starbucks. So tell us. What's your Starbucks Idea? Revolutionary or simple—we want to hear it."

So that's the big idea. Ask people what you should do with your business, and let them vote and discuss their answers. This is, in fact, the big internet idea (qua advertising) in general, at least as it's developed over the past five or ten years. But, looking at the My Starbucks Idea site, I started to wonder if it was really working at all.

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PaulAug 20, 2008
 

Insights qua Google Insights

Google's new beta application can provide small businesses with a look at local trends in search...and possibly a competitive edge.

If you haven't checked out Google Insights yet, and you run a website, you probably should. The idea behind Insights is that you can compare and evaluate a handful of metrics — volume, regional interest, top search terms — on search results, given a particular topic and/or geographical area. For example, I took a look at the search patterns and volume in my area (Omaha) for "web design," a key item on the DLB menu, and promptly established that we're in the wrong business.

Search terms
This is clearly an unproductive metric. (From top: Generic search term, generic search term, generic search term, generic search term, indicator that people are uninterested in paying for service, indicator that people are uninterested in paying for service, generic search term.)

All glibness aside, Insights could certainly be used smartly to provide agile firms with a real-time look at trends in their geographical areas. These trends could be used to indicate growth markets, and this information could inform rapid-SEO strategies (aka. blog post keywords).

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PaulAug 18, 2008
 

Searching for the Anti-Stock Photo

DLB ponders: Where do stock photos come from? What do they say about us?

Slate has a thought-provoking article this week on how stock photography companies try to predict what kinds of pictures journalists and designers will need several months in advance. It's interesting to read about the various trends that are revealed by studying the rise and fall of search terms like ”Christmas” and “woman” and the subjects of images, like people staring off in the distance or children in the foreground. This kind of information is probably more useful to cultural anthropologists than designers, but it did get me thinking. Like the author of the piece, I hadn’t given much serious thought to how stock photos are made.

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NickJul 18, 2008
 
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