A heavily focused article around online newspapers, but also applicable to content heavy sites.
The trouble with rigid containers like the article template is that they pretend as if all content takes the same shape. The designs don’t adjust to the needs of individual articles: long titles and pull quotes fit awkwardly, and the same visual weight is given to beautiful panoramic photos and to portrait snapshots. Interactive elements struggle to fit inside existing templates, relegated to small sidebars or appearing in popup windows. Long-form features, when they’re not broken up by arbitrary pagination, appear in long columns that are grueling to read.
Thank goodness we have access to such great apps like Instapaper that provide a better reading experience, but they still don’t give the articles justice. Allen explains how making some changes to the way articles are produced would provide a greater experience for all.
Design is about establishing a set of relationships between elements. By codifying these relationships as a set of principles instead of a single, stand-alone template, we make it possible for other designers to extend our work (per article) while remaining faithful to its core ideas.
Being involved in the digital newspaper industry myself, I couldn’t agree more with Allen’s way of thinking. I’m sure many passionate designers would be more than happy to introduce some or all of these aspects into their organisation, but rolling these changes out is a different ball game. Legacy systems, workflows, politics, funds, etc.