Remember when websites had those things called ‘concepts’?
It’s 2020. You’re standing in the Design Museum, musing over a new exhibition. You’re enjoying a cup of Intracoffecino (it’s a sort of reduced sugar, increased caffeine number, available intravenously, pumped directly into the side of your neck; it’s so the thing) and you’re doing the ‘gallery walk’ (i.e. bolt upright, furrowed brow, stepping softly heels first, one hand folded behind your back), homing in on the installation called ‘Websites as They Were’.
Your brow furrows a notch tighter as you read the little placard that hangs as a wafer-thin shard of light above a MacBook Pro. ‘The late 2000s saw many websites built around concepts with the IA addressed as an afterthought’.
‘Oh how bizarre,’ you say, with a chuckle, suppressing a ripple of delight as you feel the caffeine kicking in. ‘How old school. What a hootington’.
And back to the present, and relax. Ok so it’s a figment of my depraved imagination. But is it just me or are most of the more interesting websites from the past couple of years the ones in which the navigation interface is the actual concept itself, and thereby making the entire experience more seamless and immersive?
Indeed, there are those who would say that concept in websites is a little like typography – the minute it becomes too overt and you notice it, is the minute it’s wrong.
Uniqlo has provided many great examples in the concept-is-the-navigation genre, especially with sites such as Calendar and the interesting data-as-design escapades of Uniqlo Try. Another interesting example (again, like Uniqlo Try, based around the data fuelling the nav, fuelling the concept) was the For the love of God exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2009.
There are major sites being released every day which never let the concept get in the way of the content, such as this recent one for Uniqlo, (NYC Voices) for the new flagship store on Fifth Avenue. It’s easy to use, it makes the content (stories from interesting New Yorkers) centre stage, and it makes the user feel something towards the brand. Another ‘endless scrolling’ site is this example for JWT.
The factors driving this momentum for more disciplined, content-first websites are wide and varied: the ubiquity of good content, the unwillingness of people to give up their precious time to frivolous flash animations, the return to more rigid template-led design on popular social networks such as Facebook, increasing mobile content consumption and the technical restraints it brings with it, the rise of HTML5. The list goes on.
Ultimately, it’s all a question of balance. With every site – mobile and iPad versions included – there’s always a tension going on between easy to find content vs making you feel something towards the brand (which was previously almost exclusively handled by the concept). If a site is skewed too much one-way or the other, then you’ll very quickly lose any feelings of being immersed in the brand.
O balanced new world! That has such user experience in it!
Make mine an Intracoffecino.