There are two interrelated fundamentals when we look at the possible future of the printed page: the authority and trust we give traditional print media like major newspapers, magazines, and book publishers, and the pure utilitarian aspects of information printed on paper.
The authority and trust issue seems to be resolving itself quickly as major newspapers, journals, and magazines shift to fully-realized online forms. I have the same trust and expectations of quality from the New Yorker or New York Times sites that I have for the print versions. The shift has come more slowly in academia, where the print form of journals is still tightly bound to perceptions of prestige and importance, but even there the ground is shifting. The MIT faculty just made an aggressive public commitment to free web access to their scholarly publications, a welcome step toward taking science publishing out of the hands of high-cost high-profit commercial print publishers who have had a 100-year monopoly on "prestige" academic publications.
The continuing utility of print documents is another matter. Screen resolutions are getting better, but print still has huge practical advantages in reading, manipulating, annotating, and organizing large amounts of information that you are actively using in your work. I think it's best to think of digital and print forms as part of an information lifecycle, a concept I first saw well-articulated in The Social Life of Information.
I did an information lifecycle diagram intended for our latest version of the Web Style Guide, but in the end it didn't really fit into the book, but I've included it here. Click the graphic for a larger version.
By Sarah Horton on March 24, 2009 8:36 PM | No Comments
I am fascinated by the Clay Shirkey post, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. He writes about how the publishing industry is in the midst of a revolution, with the old model of publishing overturned by the Internet.
"It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves - the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public - has stopped being a problem."
Pat and I have been navigating the world between print and online for some time now. In fact, Web Style Guide began its life as a website, and only later became a book that was available online in pretty much the same format as on paper. Now, with this edition, we are exploring ways to leverage the attributes of online communications, such as the two-way dialogue afforded by this blog. But we still post the entire contents of the book online, free of charge.
We are clearly in the midst of a major paradigm shift, and I suppose the next edition of Web Style Guide may be go back to being entirely online, but in a form that we haven't yet imagined.
"...an artist is someone who has the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind
at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Designer Douglas Bowman's reasons for leaving Google remind us that there's a reason we call design an art and not a science. Data and user feedback are always important ingredients of good design, but they are never the sole ingredients of great design.
We've used CSS-based drop down menus for several years now in some of our Yale University sites, and our site metrics show that these header-based menus are one of the most heavily used navigation tools on the sites. Amazon has used them since their last redesign, but we first saw the idea well-executed on the New York Times site about three years ago. Ironically, the Times abandoned the approach just as other sites were adopting CSS-based drop downs. See Jakob Nielsen's recent article on the technique.
We've known for a while that the use of laptops has grown to a major portion of web users, and I just saw some of our local Yale Google Analytics data that shows the split demographic between students (heavy laptop users) and staff and faculty (mostly desktop users). The design implications are clear: if your designs push any "must see" content down more than about 750-800 pixels, you risk pushing content "below the fold" for many laptop users.
A substantive review of the Kindle as a reading medium, and the continuing need to optimize the presentation and editorial design of content to fit the display medium. I fully accept the need to structurally separate content and display in modern "web standards" designs. But the tools for optimizing presentations for particular digital media are still relatively crude, and often leave you wondering which media to truly optimize for (screen, print, mobile, etc.), and which media will "degrade gracefully" to a less optimal experience. This is especially true as newer display devices like the Kindle and Apple iPhone blur the distinctions between the "screen," "handheld," and "print" experiences.
Massimo Vignelli has always been one of my favorite designers, one of the last of the classic 1960s lean-clean modernists still active today. We highlighted his superb modular print design system for the U.S. National Park Service in the latest edition of the Web Style Guide. If you've ever been on a New York subway, you seen Vignelli's work: he did the iconic New York subway system map.
Vignelli has recently released The Vignelli Canon, a free PDF document of his core design philosophy. The original Vignelli site has been hammered by demand for the PDF, so I've also posted it here for downloading.