I had a discussion the other day about ideal line length for reading content. I’ve got an ideal number in my head, but I wondered if there was any consensus out there on how long lines should be. With so many sites going responsive these days, there’s a tendency to let the max-width on the content container be huge — often upwards of 1200px. That’s just way too wide for me. On sites that do that, I’ll normally resize my browser window to pull things together a bit better. Seems to matter less for others, and some research is indicating that it matters less online overall.
It certainly matters to me! Google “ideal line length” to find more than you’ve ever wanted to read on the subject.
Out of curiosity, I went to some of the sites I visit with some regularity. Here’s what I found:
Seems that at least the news sites are in alignment with where I like things to be.
What are our designs telling users to do when we bury a 12px font-sized river of text in a sea of animated banner ads, sensationalist flat belly links, and fixed positioned social sharing widgets? In my mind, if users leave they’re just doing what the design told them to do because all the crufty noise linking elsewhere is the most engaging thing on the page.
—Trent Walton, Human Interest
The latest Crome Canary comes with a few minor tweaks to search interface. The missing search bar being the most notable.
The most interesting thing for me is the search menu (Web, Images, Maps, and eventually, More). It’s interesting because there’s room on that bar to fit more (between “Search tools” and the gear icon way over to the right) , but Google has opted for sparseness and hidden all the rest in a menu item.
There’s so much room for less in everything we design. Let’s avail of it.
The last line of this tweet hit me right in the face today. We all benefit from better design.
I guess I’ve never really thought about it before, but “modern design” or a “modern aesthetic” is like a fluid, always-moving glacier. New stuff and old stuff constantly grind against it, and somewhere in the middle there’s a loose convergence of colour, style, shape, feeling, experience.
What I like most about it is that it enables us to imagine a modern aesthetic. I know that that isn’t an actual thing that you can point to or print off, and you’d probably never get two people to agree on it, but it does provide some weight to your opinions. At the moment, for example, its flat, has muted colours, and often has thin sans-serif type. You can love or hate it, agree or disagree, but it’s true. In a year’s time, it will generally be something different. Again, the older and the newer will still be there, but we’ll still have a new, pervading “modern aesthetic.”
What excites me about this most is the weight it lends to a new design of your’s. When you present a prospective design to a client or boss, and they hate it because it’s “grey” or because it’s “boring” and “flat”, you can point them to something huge like Google and tell them to get with the times.
This excites me quite a bit.
After a few weeks of planning, photographing and coding, Matthew and I launched his new site this week.
Built with WordPress, the wonderfully extendable HTML5 theme, Toolbox from Automattic, and featuring Backstretch, a jQuery plugin from Scott Robbin, to make the backgrounds flex and stretch across the screen.
The site has already been picked up by Design Fridge and The Best Designs. Lets just hope some of the flood of new visitors are music fans!
Ira Glass has been haunting me for weeks.
I’ve been struggling with a design for a new project for weeks and weeks. It doesn’t really have a lot of images I could use, nor does it have any major typographical element I could make stand out, nor does it have a central hook that I could play with somehow. It just doesn’t have anything jumping out of the page. Yet, I know that if a better designer looked at the scattered piles of material, they’d come up with something amazing. I just know they would. They’d see something I’m not seeing and make it interesting, make it compelling. It would be great by virtue of its starkness if nothing else.
What you’re left with if you haven’t found that compelling angle to run with is something that’s just good enough. What you’re left doing is just gathering up all the content, styling it neatly with a tidy grid, using nice fonts and a nice subtle, tasteful background, with a nicely crafted menu, and then you sit about and secretly loathe it. You haven’t designed anything at this stage: you’ve cobbled something together. Using bits and pieces of your aesthetic and your style, you cobble. But you don’t design.
The same thing that makes something good enough is precisely the same thing that makes it crap. I really wish Ira had spent more time talking about how we get past this.
In the past few weeks, I’ve looked up dozens of local business websites. Almost all follow a similar pattern: including pages for a welcome message, company history, products/services on offer, often sub-pages for each individual product/service, a contact page, and sometimes a company blog.
While some of the homepages I visited look ok, most of the other pages don’t. The strange pattern they all followed was that they almost seemed to run out of gas after they’d come up with the homepage. In almost every case, sub-pages looked like this:
Of course we know that they didn’t run out of gas—they simply ran out of content. All of these sub-pages suffer the same enviable slim-around-the-middle fate, without enough content to expand the beltlines. There’s a better, easier and more effective way: Put it all on a single page.
The best story you’ve ever told, all on a single page
The page above is flat and lifeless. The sidebar continues on forever down the side, the footer just sits there discontentedly, and the actual content looks sad, naked and exposed. Designing for one page forces you to actually think about what you want to say, resulting in a tighter, firmer outward appearance for your clients.
Why do you need those pages anyway?
- Contact us—a single line in the header or footer would work just as well. List your phone number and email address, done and done.
- Company history—if you’re depending on your company’s history to draw in new business, you’re doing it wrong. Your company is successful and long-lasting because of your great service, committment to customers, and your positive attitute. These core messages belong front and centre on the frontpage, not hidden on a History page that no one will ever read.
- Products/Services—unless you’re selling products that I can look at and order online, you don’t need a page for each of them. An accountant, for example, doesn’t need individual pages for bookeeping, personal income tax, corporate income tax, consulting services, etc, etc, etc. You’re an accountant—just put these things in a list under services. If I’m already looking for an accountant’s services, I just need to know if you offer it or not.
The result of a one page site could look something like this:
Even without real content, you can see it looks much better already. It’s all the same stuff you wanted to say before, but now it’s thought out much better and will do a way better job of grabbing attention. The last step is counting the money as it rolls in. Have a look at a few examples to get you going.