We are in the business of content – development, marketing and strategy. We are keenly interested in the ongoing discussion about the role of content in evolving web design practices. Recently, Swedish design firm 1910 had a blog post that revisions the design of one of the world’s most trafficked websites – Wikipedia.
Their prototype design would take the online encyclopedia out of its ordinary template from the 1990s to a more modern, responsive one. For typography, they would center the text and make it more readable, as well as making the images larger. For the desktop version, an eight column grid that has the body spanning over the first four columns, and the grid would scale down to four columns on tablets and two columns on mobiles, with the sidebar moving to the bottom. The header would have a search box and a horizontal side menu.
From a design perspective, these are not bad suggestions, although it doesn’t really look too different from the current design. All in all, the prototype designs give the site a clean, minimalist look. However, based on some of the comments to the blog post, some wonder why fix something that isn’t broke. Sure, it’s not “modern” by current web design standards. But the vast majority of people who visit Wikipedia are not going there for the hip design; they are going there for the content. Content is what makes a website.
Take for instance two other popular websites – Craigslist and the Drudge Report. They are both visually unattractive; however, they get high traffic because they are providing users the content they want. A simple web design works for these three websites because they are connecting users directly with information. The goal of good web design is to connect the right content with the right user at the right time. A designer should be an advocate for the user, not the website.
Also, one has to keep in mind that Wikipedia caters to a worldwide audience that uses many platforms for viewing the site, ranging from those with the latest iPad Mini to those who might still be using a computer that is eight years old. Furthermore, some people have slower internet speeds than others. Believe it or not, there are some people still using dial up internet connections. Having a simple web page with no features loads quicker and creates a better user experience for more people.
As German industrial designer Dieter Rams once said, “Good design is as little design as possible.”
If Wikipedia had to change anything about the site, it would need to improve how it edits and verifies content, but that is whole other conversation for another day…