Zeldman and the giant redesign

The web design community is aflame with comments and criticism over Jeffrey Zeldman’s most recent redesign–a stark, content-first (well, content-only) layout that looks undeniably odd against the norm of modern desktop web design.  This single-column, text-only layout has attracted a wide assortment of vitriol, prompting a rebuttal from the man himself.  You’d think the guy raped a panda.

While this new design isn’t perfect (to my tastes), it’s right in line with a lot of my thinking of late.  What I see in Zeldman’s site is basically a middle finger to the desktop experience, a site that’s designed for a tablet and adapts to larger screens.  It’s a layout designed for the most appropriate device instead of the largest.

The idea that it adapts to larger screens is a bit of a stretch. In actuality, it just becomes a giant tablet layout.  But what’s most important is that it stays true to the best format for the content it delivers instead of adapting to accepted desktop conventions.  And by staying true to an uncluttered, single-column layout, it solves a lot of the fundamental readability problems that we’ve grown to accept on the internet.  There’s a reason that services like Instapaper and Readability are so popular.  It’s because a single column of large text with a relatively low line length is a much more pleasant experience than, say, 98% of current desktop websites.  Sure, you might get sick of scrolling with the desktop version of Zeldman’s site, but it sure beats squinting.

This new layout has been lambasted as bad design. It’s not bad design; it’s an extreme design. View it in the same way you would view conceptual art.  This layout is a statement, for sure.  It’s a giant yank in a new direction, intended to move the dialogue toward some issues that we’ve mostly been ignoring and need to change.

And yes, it is a little difficult to read at first.  But that’s because we’re used to reading 14-pixel type at 2200-pixel resolution.  In contrast to the environment that we’ve conditioned ourselves to, it is definitely extreme.  But I’d argue that it’s more readable than just about any other blog out there.

I think it’s brilliant, and I wish more people would take such bold risks.

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