In April I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine entitled ‘Designing for the Future Web‘. In it I laid out my thoughts and opinions on how our experience of the web would change over the next few years, and how we would need to adapt our thinking around design and content. The main points of the article were:
- The number of devices connected to the internet would grow
- We would not be able to predict with any certainty where or how our sites would be seen
- To maintain a seamless customer experience, users should be able to have the same core experience regardless of the device, and switching from one to the other should present no challenge.
- To design for this we would need to concentrate on content structure first and visual design second, creating richer experiences for more capable devices.
Unsurprisingly, considering the general audience demographic of Smashing Magazine, this didn’t go down well with some of the readers. My favourite comments being:
i feel you my friend, as far from i know design is dead and designer swept away by the multitude of the wave. im thinking doing some admin/ Logistic work rather than be a creative. suck my balls corporate people – YR
…. that’s Fking RETARDED, please get better authors on here…. – Nick
Well, I’ll ready myself for more of the same, because, without a doubt, content is more important than design.
Go on then, tell us why
The internet has always been a joined up medium. HTML was designed to link together documents to create a ‘web’ of content that could be searched and explored.
Since the days of CERN, the amount of content that has been created has grown in unspeakably large volumes, to the point where no human could ever possibly know where to find the content they need. So we developed search engines to help us with this. They crawled and indexed on our behalf so that we could bring information to us when we needed it. And this is the crux of it: the right information when we need it.
We’ve now reached a point where the ability to access information is driving changes in the products and services that are being developed, and in our own behaviour.
In iOS5, Safari has finally gained the same ‘Reader’ functionality that is available on the Mac OSX version. Pressing the ‘Reader’ button will strip all design from the page and publish only the content, resized and restyled. No fancy fonts, just Georgia. It’s like you’re reading a page from a paperback. If you like it, but don’t have the time to finish it, just save it for later.
Why have they introduced this? Because Apple understands that you go to sites to consume information. That content is valuable as a traffic driver, and in turn, a revenue generator. So the experience of reading that content on a mobile devices must be as clear and simple as possible.
The concept that information is always available, wherever we are, is defining a new set of services. Companies like FourSquare could not have existed a few years ago, but the broad availability of hardware-specific functionality such as geo-location has changed the game. Their partnership with Groupon to provide localised real-time deals starts to hit the mark, despite the issues with the Groupon IPO. These service are not about design, they are about content. Targeted content.
The evolutions in products and services are in turn driving a behaviour change. Our ability to access information wherever we are is funnelling into the purchase process. We check prices and specification in-store at the point of purchase, we may even be swayed from one brand to another, or one shop to another, by the targeted offers we receive. Targeted location-aware, identity-aware content is turning us into savvy consumers.
We’re finally able to make good on the marketer’s dream: the ability to deliver the right content to the right person at the right time, driving sales and adding value to the purchasing process.
It’s clear, design is the enabler not the driver; users don’t need design, they need information that benefits them in a clear and tangible way.
So, sorry designers, but content is more important than design.