As Readability’s popularity continues to grow on the web, we often catch the occasional grimace from designers, art directors and the like noting that Readability’s “slash and burn” approach is unfortunate for design on the web.
We have to admit, when you click that button, Readability moves in aggressively and thoroughly, flattening everything in its way. It’s partly why readers love it so much. Readability hands control back to the reader at the expense of the original design of any given web page. One could easily argue that designers and art directors have every right to wince at the presence of Readability. It takes their work and puts a lit match to it.
Then again, save for a few thoughtfully laid-out sites, it’s hard to deny that things have gotten a bit out of hand on the web.
Let’s take a look at a web vs. print example. Here’s a fairly brief Q&A session with the actor Samuel L. Jackson from Esquire on the web:
Now here’s the same article in the December 2010 print issue of Esquire:
The difference is, to say the least, dramatic. On the web, art direction has been shown the door. The content succumbs to the tyranny of the CMS and its allies. Not only is art direction absent in the web view, there is no room for it. The print version stands in stark contrast. The content – the copy and bold photograph – stand alone with design integrity fully intact. It is no wonder that publishers are looking away from the web – to proprietary platforms and devices – to try to reclaim the elegance and readability of print.
As with any argument, we’re generalizing to make a point. There are well-designed sites out there that attempt to strike a balance between utility and a good reading experience on the web. Still, this tension between design integrity and getting that next click persists.
At Readability, we view our tools as a reboot: a new opportunity to wash down the canvas and start again. Today, we’ve made some modest efforts to hand some control to writers and publishers with our Article Guidelines. Still, we’d like to do more. We’d love to recapture the beauty and austerity of thoughtful art direction in print and marry it with the convenience and flexibility that readers have come to enjoy with Readability.
We’ve always believed that the web is capable of delivering a world class reading experience. The “reading view” doesn’t have to be spartan and utilitarian. From beautiful photography to pull quotes to stronger brand prominence, we’re convinced that comfortable reading and great design are not mutually exclusive. Maybe what the web needs is a new type of “standard” or guidelines that live alongside the “regular web.” Guidelines that ensure an optimal reading experience for readers and a fresh new canvas for designers and art directors.
When control over an experience is redistributed, even partly, new opportunities arise. Rather than being viewed as a unilateral mandate to force a particular experience, we view Readability as a spark that can hopefully kickstart a conversation between developers, bloggers, designers, art directors and publishers. While Readability works as advertised today, we recognize that reading isn’t just about “data in.” Just as a great article can evoke strong sentiment and emotion, so can a great visual experience around the text.
Looking ahead, we plan to experiment with and share new ways of enabling designers and art directors on the reading view. We would like nothing more than to see great design meet a great reading experience.