Last week we updated the design of Volkskrant.nl. Most of the changes came from usability research and the natural change of things at a company. The previous design update was one year before.
The front page of the website is still the major outlet. RSS feeds and widgets are important, but most traffic is still generated on the homepage. With the 2006 update we changed the complete structure, last weeks update is more focussed on the presentation of the front page and article page. We improved on readability.
We have good arguments for everything that changed, some minor details, but I think the visual direction we’re heading is a solid one. What is more interesting is what this is the start of.
Object oriented design
We (users of the web) go to an object based environment. Widgets, feeds and API’s are all made to be transportable. With this new phase of data-transportability we need a design that can work with this. You need a lay-out that can be as exportable as your xml. Simple, clean and understandable.
Different parts of the Volkskrant website are made by different providers. What you want is a design that is extremely extendible like Lego, uniform like Lego and creative, like Lego. You want design to be object oriented as well. Instead of just an overall design philosophy.
There is a simple reason for it. There is just too much. The future of website development is one where not a programmer, but the designer could be the limiting factor. We can use widgets, script libraries, export and import content over databases, but we have to ask a designer to provide style elements.
Templates and CSS worked great in centralizing design, but what if your content starts drifting away? How will you stay consistent over all those widgets and interfaces? It’s a designers nightmare.
Everyone will be designing
Sure it’s great to have full control over all aspects and use of a design, but this could eventually slow down progress. We have to think around it. Style guides are a classic solution for this problem, but those are often made for other designers. Not for programmers, editors or users.
I think this new lay-out will give more freedom to develop object oriented design, small common objects that make it easy to combine and present great content. It’s like designing Lego blocks instead of the castle. And I’m quite happy with it.