Can Good Design Save Online Media?
A few design tenets online media outlets can follow to encourage slow, careful reading of important content
By Ryan Hatch
At a conference in Denver recently, New York-based creative director Jeffrey Zeldman gave a talk he called “Slow Design for an Anxious World.” The world in question was that of the wide web. In short, Zeldman says this anxious world is built for speed, and speed can be good. Speed online is good when filling out an address form or trying to pay for sneakers.
But speedy digital experiences don’t always translate to pleasant ones, particularly when deeper concentration is needed to understand and digest complex information, as is often the case when consuming news. To illustrate the point, Zeldman included in his presentation screenshots of several websites: the New York Times, Washington Post, the New Yorker, ProPublica. All of the sites, he argued, were enjoyable experiences at least in part because they provide readers with the chance to immerse themselves in the content.
He was right — the sites were a breath of fresh air in a landscape littered with pop-ups and autoplay videos. But why? What, even at a brief glance, made these experiences “good” beyond the absence of full-screen surveys and male enhancement display ads? Zeldman pointed out that across these sites there is a strong focus on type size. That is, big type, not unlike what’s seen on this platform. (Zeldman pushes for font size 16 point and above. Medium uses 21-point font, as does the New Yorker, at last check.)
He argues readability, big type, hierarchy, minimalism, art direction, and whitespace effectively deployed create a more readable experience, one that translates into content absorption rather than merely conversion.
Zeldman argues that big type on digital platforms has a dual effect: people tend to lean back — literally, physically — to consume the content; this, in turn, causes them to slow down, to consume the content at a more measured pace. In this case “slow,” he says, is good, and it’s best for reading comprehension; bigger type…