Last week's Design Week (23 May 2007) Vox Pop [paid sub may be required] asked: Mark Porter has defended The Guardian's decision to put functionality over aesthetic considerations when the paper relaunched its homepage last week. Did it deserve a more sympathetic response to its redesign? Some moderately enlightening responses were published from Denise Wilton (moo.com), Ryan Shelton (BD4D), Rick Lippiett (Glass) and Michael Dorrian (Start Creative).
I should first note that Guardian creative director Mark Porter deserves credit for being one of the few established British editorial designers to pro-actively embrace online interaction design. He can also talk about his work more cogently than some of his peers in the online news industry.
As Porter has found, unlike other areas of design, everyone is a critic when considering the Web. Yet the quality of our discussion of this areas of interaction design is less developed -- even in the design media. For instance, it is crude to to juxtapose functionality and aesthetics. This imposes on the Web a print-derived model of evaluating design. Although graphic design has influenced Web design -- as I discussed in my contribution to Rick Poynor's 'Communicate' book -- they can't be evaluated in the same way. In fact, good aesthetics can improve functionality, or at least usability, which Denise Wilton champions in her Vox Pop. And functionality also has an aesthetic, which profoundly influences user experience -- but there is little mainstream discussion of, for instance, the design of the forms that we interact with all over the Web.
In the case of the Guardian, the real problem is that the wrong functionality is being addressed. As we embrace new news models around syndication, Weblogging, story rating tools and customisable portal pages, newspaper home pages become increasingly unimportant. But the new design challenges are increasingly important -- and we need them to be engaged with by more of our talented, established designers.
Jeff Jarvis, in this week's Media Guardian, makes a similar point in his column 'Home pages, such a quaint old-fashioned notion ...': "I think this aesthetic confluence [of the home page design of major newspapers] demands that we reconsider – or explode – not just the home page but our conception of the web page and even of the website", he writes.