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Josh is an academic researcher, specializing in online media and visual design culture. He is currently doing a PhD on youth engagement with new media. More about Josh Star

Some People Actually Read: Sparing a Thought for ‘Readers’ in the Design Community

The ever burgeoning web design community has received numerous plaudits for its incessant dedication towards collaborative information sharing. Tutorials, CSS website showcases and open source web development projects are some of the many treats available to the knowledge-seeking design enthusiast. Social media networks too have been thoroughly utilised in promoting the vast amount of material available for designers, amongst other like-minded visual arts aficionados. But what is there in store for the ‘reader’? – The normal thumb-twiddling average Joe who has a keen appreciation of visual aesthetics but is first and foremost a reader.

The ever burgeoning web design community has received numerous plaudits for its incessant dedication towards collaborative information sharing. Tutorials, CSS website showcases and open source web development projects are some of the many treats available to the knowledge-seeking design enthusiast. Social media networks too have been thoroughly utilised in promoting the vast amount of material available for designers, amongst other like-minded visual arts aficionados. But what is there in store for the ‘reader’? – The normal thumb-twiddling average Joe who has a keen appreciation of visual aesthetics but is first and foremost a reader.

It is rather ironic that designers, the people chiefly responsible for making the web a more visually attractive and ‘readable’ place, are men and women of few and calculated words. Till date, it is almost a rarity to find full-length commentary based articles on design related matters, apart from certain established web magazines that have developed rich content for years.

Learning Through Reading

Don’t get me wrong, information compilation and sharing are vital ingredients in stimulating creative inspiration, but we must also realise the true potentialities of the Internet as a discursive space for learning through reading.

It seems that a large majority of design practitioners have taken the ill-advised route of assuming the web to be a place for quick, superficial and intellectually undemanding browsing. “Information bombardment” seems to be an apt descriptor to account for the generous emphasis placed by designers on the collation of ‘lists’, summaries and other compact types of content that do little to stimulate concrete discussion. It is high time the community took a retrospective look at how to contribute more effectively towards incisive and analytical debate on design aesthetics; readable feature length articles on pertinent issues in the world of web design that engage and provoke constructive discussion. Initiating this seismic shift from information to content is however not easy.

Statistics have shown that online audiences are not ‘patient’ and passive readers, but rather active ‘clickers’ who have an innate tendency to dash through multiple RSS feeds at lightning speed.

Statistics

Chart showing the maximum amount of text users could read during an average visit to pages with different word counts. (How Little Do Users Read?)

Based on the above premise, it would be pointless to introduce substantial content-rich editorials. But the earnest is on designers to create design environments that encourage online visitors to read and respond and not simply scurry through. The process of design extends beyond the visual domain. It also concerns the dynamics of communication and information architecture – how content is put across and conveyed in a poignant and compelling manner.

It is thus a logical to infer that designers, to a certain extent, ‘design’ their own audiences. They have the power to instil and inculcate specific ‘reading cultures’ through the manipulation of various design elements, such as typographic compositions and content presentational techniques.

The field of web design in particular has progressed leaps and bounds, both in terms of community participation and technical prowess.

 

It's Time

It is time now for designers to take the next giant leap in designing a reader-friendly web not just for lists but for hard-hitting, ground breaking and poignant content on design.

Are you up for the challenge?

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