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No. 1615
June 18th, 2007

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Maybe Web 1.8 Would Be More Appealing? My Take on the Web 2.0 Aesthetic.

So of course there isn’t really a Web 1.8 (nor is there really a Web 2.0, Tim Berners-Lee would argue), but in my mind Web 1.8 is a concise way of saying the following: I like a lot of what Web 2.0 stands for, visually, but perhaps things have gone just a bit too far in that direction.

I hope you’ll indulge me for a few brief moments as I run down my opinions of the Web 2.0 hallmarks as laid out in my previous post.

Color Palette / Color Saturation
I have a sneaky feeling that a number of Web 2.0-branded sites will look dated in a few years, largely due to their rather “confectionery” color scheme of pinks, greens, and light blues. Bright colors are nice and all, if your website URL is “Flickr,” “Twitter,” or “StumbleUpon.” But for companies in more “serious” industries like, say financial services or healthcare, I’m not sure if some deeper, richer Crayolas wouldn’t make for a better long-term branding strategy. At the very least it’s something to consider for smaller companies who don’t have the marketing budget to redesign their website every year to two years.

Another problem with the Web 2.0 palette is that SO many companies have adopted it, few stand out as truly memorable brands. A black-and-white Web 2.0-style site? Now THAT would be memorable…

One of the most encouraging Web 2.0 developments, in my opinion. Text and images given room to breathe are SO much more powerful (not to mention easier on the eyes) than some of the designs we were subjected to back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Even content-loaded sites like ESPN and the San Francisco Chronicle have implemented subtle changes to their story template in recent months which use greater line spacing and padding on the sides of their paragraphs than before. Look for news-y sites like CNN, ABC, and FOX to do the same in the not-so-distant future. If they don’t, they risk losing online market share to news sites that are much easier to read!

I’m just not a fan of the rounded sans-serif font. To me, it looks childish and unprofessional, not “hip” and “warm” which I’m sure is what the marketing agencies for GE, T-Mobile, and Skype were after. Volkswagen was using the VAG Rounded font extensively as recently as a few months ago but seems to have dropped it in favor of the square-er Futura, which I think was a good move…

Visual refinements
It’s absolutely amazing what a subtle gradient can do to animate an otherwise dead background, button, or header image. Combine gradients with drop shadows, and designers these days are creating some really nice layered effects that really make important page content pop. Given the ever-decreasing amount of time spent on a given search result, these subtle graphic devices can really help draw a searcher in for a longer visit to your site, or increase the likelihood they’ll come back in future buying or information situations.

Text-to-Graphics Ratio / Typography
Increasing the amount of text rendered in HTML vs. that which is rendered in images is certainly an admirable goal from a usability perspective. Text that’s scalable, and text that screen readers can parse for those who can’t see well enough on their own, allows everyone to experience the web no matter their physical limitations. And designers like Khoi Vinh, Design Director for the New York Times, have really set the standard for the visual differentiation of body content from headings and sidebars.

My only concern stems from the lack of fonts available on everyone’s computer. Such a limited number decreases the diversity of experience from site to site. I’d be willing to guess that 90% of the world’s websites use some combination of Verdana, Arial/Helvetica, Times/TNR, Trebuchet, or Georgia for their body text. It’s hard to differentiate your brand from your competitors’ with such a small set of font choices.

I sense with the increasing popularity of techniques like sIFR, we’re heading towards a world where search engines are better at reading / computers become pre-loaded with a broader variety of fonts…but it’s not here yet.

Bottom line: if your company is nuts about a particular font for branding purposes, incorporate a limited amount of headings as images & use the ‘ALT’ tag to describe what that text says for screen readers.