Addicted to novelty since 2001

Friendly Web Design

I have, on occasion, spoken out in praise of Ray vanderWoning’s excellent photography and comely site design. Recently Ray expressed his admiration for two sites which seem to come from a similar school of design. They are Biddlebugs and Lousco Labradors. I haven’t lingered on either of these sites, but I agree with Ray that they’re very well-designed.

They strike a great balance between professionalism and friendliness. Working in technology, I see so many sites with generic stock photography and clinical designs. Admittedly, they feature photos of babies and dogs, but these sites achieve a warmth while still being places you might buy something from (I don’t think they’re selling anything, but they inspire confidence in me). I’m rambling, but the point is this: designers, don’t be afraid to inject some humanity into your designs.

8 Responses to “Friendly Web Design”

  1. donna

    is it just me, or do all three of those sites look exactly the same? different colors, different pictures, but the exact same layout on each one…

    maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of websites that all look the same. Humanity is one thing, conformity is another.

  2. Darren

    Donna: Does it bother you that all books look the same? I draw the parallel because they’re both first and foremost information-delivery mechanisms. We’ve optimized the book format, and we’re working on optimizing the website in the same manner. I don’t think we’re there yet, but it’s no mistake that most sites kind of look the same, with a banner at the top, navigation in predictable places, etc.

  3. Donna

    If every book I bought had the exact same cover, I’d start to wonder what lazy-ass designer was working in the book companies. :)

    It just sorta annoys me when I go from page to page, and *nothing* changes — down to the pixel. Title in exactly the same spot, exactly the same size… even the width of the pages are exactly the same, and all centered “just so”.

    I’m not saying that some conformity isn’t good — it is. But there are different ways of displaying information that doesn’t totally thumb it’s nose at usability. I’m a little tired of seeing the exact same thing everywhere.

    Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely looking sites… but they’re also exactly the same as every other “trendy” looking site out there.

  4. Darren

    The only sites I know of where, design-wise, nothing changes, are those generated by content-management and blog software. So, lots and lots of MT and Blogger-borne sites. Any site actually touched by a designer (like any book), is going to look unique.

    Take any sample group you like: 20 software companies from the ISA, the top twenty sites off Blogdex, or 20 random sites off my sidebar (most of which are blogs, but I’d bet they all look different).

    I asked about books because it’s more or less the same level of information design. Basically, most books look the same. They’ve a binding, a front and back cover and pages in-between. They may vary in size and illustration on the cover, but no more than sites vary in design.

    If you’re only referring to the three sites I mentioned, there’s plenty of difference in the layouts (not to mention colours, typographical elements and images). One would never mistake these sites for each other. More importantly, one can navigate them quickly and easily. There’s a strong information architecture at work–it’s apparent what the more and less important information is. For most sites, conveying information should be your #1 goal. These sites do an exceptional job of it.

  5. donna

    The three you mentioned were what I was referring to — it’s entirely possible that it’s just me, but save for the actual content, the layouts on the pages are almost identical. While a lot of sites do look similar these days, it’s still unusual to have someone point out three unrelated sites that look *that* similar to one another. And there are a lot of other websites that look exactly like that, too. (Blog templates in particular.)

    I don’t necessarily know that books are a good comparison. While both have conveying information as their number one goal, the internet is still a much more visual medium than books. If I went to a website that looked exactly like a book, I’d probably go elsewhere. That’s not what people have been conditioned to expect online.

    Mostly, I’ve found that as long as I can remember, there have always been “trends” in how websites look. The three you pointed out are perfect examples of the current trend — and to me, they look near identical. Usable, yes, I still don’t think you have to sacrifice all creativity for usability.

    But read my first point — I noted that the color & content is different, but they still look almost identical to me.

  6. Darren

    I think you’re looking at the sites through the eyes of a Web designer, or an alpha-class Web surfer. If I grabbed 20 people off the street, showed them the three sites and said “are these sites almost identical?”, the answer would unquestionably be “no”.

    What’s similar about these sites?

    * The layout

    What’s different about these sites?

    * The colours
    * The images
    * The fonts and related typographical elements (bullets and such)
    * The subject matter

    I never suggested that websites should look like books–I was just drawing the parallel between information design. You make a good point about books being less visual, so I’ll amend my comparison to comic books. They’re laid out almost identically (banner across the top, price in top-left corner, stapled spine, pages divided by boxes, etc) but they manage to deliver text and visual information effectively and uniquely.

    Also, when you speak of “trendy” sites, you’re speaking of a small subsection (in terms of sites and visitors) of the Web. None of the top 20 (or 100, even) most-visited sites on the Web (say, off the top of my head, Google, CNN, Slashdot, Yahoo, Fark–add 15 more) look anything like these sites. They’re all subject to trends, of course, but not this one. In fact, my original point was that the rest of the Web (and particularly corporations) could take some valuable lessons from the ‘feel’ of these sites.

  7. Mimi

    I passed the links on to a friend of mine, siting it as an example of clean web design. She immediately pointed out the smallness of the font, which I guess I didn’t notice because I was enjoying all the white space and perceived usability of the site.

    It’s interesting what we all consider good design elements versus bad design elements. Thanks for prompting such discussions on this side of Canada.

  8. Ali

    A website should be clean, very very clean. One of the greatest web design achievements:

    It’s functional, it’s to the point, it’s colorful yet not cluttered with links, ads, etc. Not that this is an issue these days, but loads up quickly on a 56k modem too. Personally I could do without the “I’m feeling lucky” button too, it’s, uhm, tacky.

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