5 min. reading

Web Design: Going Classic is Forward Thinking

While the main focus of design should be problem solving, all too often it ends up pursuing the "cool and trendy."

Sarunas Budrikas
Classic web design concept for computer

Design for the sake of design is bad design

The great American writer Mark Twain once apologized to a friend for writing such a long letter, because in his words, “if I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” What does this have to do with web design? Well, a lot, actually.

While it might be commendable for a web designer to know every trick in the book, using too many of them on a single page is cringeworthy. Instead of thinking about how to make a page clear, elegant and facilitating an organic user experience, designers instead often flood the page with unnecessary visuals that do nothing for the brand, and it’s an effort to simply amuse the client.

Design is all about solving the problem.

Take control by keeping it simple

I posit that design elements need to adhere to a rule of minimalism, yet retain impactful qualities. A good designer carefully weighs how they use different elements, just as good writers weigh every word.

Websites need to be designed around the purpose. And the classic, white (mostly) web page lends itself to the purist form of design. Experience shows that a classic design is less susceptible to client scrutiny and frequent changes.

Classic doesn’t mean basic, because that would imply that there are no complexities to a classic design. The opposite is true - a classic design is one that fully takes into account a full range of complexities, and all of them must be thoroughly understood and presented in a way that puts the spotlight on content, not style.

What exactly is “classic” design?

I use the word “classic” liberally here as well as “minimal” and “simplistic.” The topic might seem to be one of semantics, but when I talk about classic design, I’m considering minimalist and simplistic as separate qualities, and they help define what classic is. Classic doesn’t mean basic, because that would imply that there are no complexities to a classic design. The opposite is true - a classic design is one that fully takes into account a full range of complexities, and all of them must be thoroughly understood and presented in a way that puts the spotlight on content, not style.

For instance, when simplicity is pulled off correctly, it means the designer has fully grasped a complex issue and stripped it down to its very essence. Being simplistic is less about how a site appears and more about how it works. Designer and author John Maeda said it best in his appropriately brief book titled “Laws of Simplicity,” - “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”

Minimalism is often all too obvious while great simplicity can be practically invisible. Minimalism, on the other hand, is more of a design concept - a style, as Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO is so often quoted as saying. However, forcing minimalism for the sake of minimalism risks compromising usability. Pushing this design style when it isn’t fully understood can lead to confusion and frustrated users (and clients).

The classic design beats trendy

Porsche
911 has maintained a similar look over the last five decades, yet every generation is modern and technologically advanced. (Photo: Porsche)
Advantages of the classic design:
  • Every website needs to be up to date all the time, but users often have a difficult time embracing the change required to keep a website current. Classic design allows for progress in a more evolutionary direction, instead of revolutionary where the look completely changes from version to version. Companies like Google and Amazon are using this approach and you can hardly notice any changes on their websites though they’re updating it often.
  • The classic approach is less distracting and places focus on the value proposition of the website. The value proposition can be a product, a service, idea, etc., and the classic approach lends itself to showcasing this.
  • The primary goal of the Internet is to provide/share information, and the classic black on white design should dominate every website because it is the best method for clearly providing/sharing information.
Situations where trendy is appropriate:
  • Some website categories are a good fit for trendy design. For instance, special promotion websites, new product presentation and event websites often lend themselves to a the latest in design trends.
Disadvantages of the trendy method:
  • Trends are short lived. A website can lose its edginess the minute it goes live.
  • Trendy websites often have more complex technology that isn’t compatible with all platforms. For example, mobile users are often not getting the full experience.
  • The trendier the design, the more it outshines the product itself. The only good it's doing is helping the web design agency sell more sites while taking away from the real focus and purpose of the site.

Technology will continue to evolve as formats come and go, but designers need to carefully introduce these elements to their client websites. I don’t think the elements that serve as the base upon which an excellently designed website will ever change.

What’s your take on it?

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