No design is good design

Design.I’ve been noticing an interesting trend of late with blogs I find interesting: their design is minimal to non-existent. And sites that did have elaborate designs are severely scaling them back or removing them entirely.

A few examples:

Daring Fireball
Of course. This is one of the most “designed” of the sites I’m talking about today. It actually has color. Well, if you call gray a color.
43 Folders
Merlin Mann’s site may be the inverse of my own, and not just in name. It was once loaded up with “clever” design elements suitable to its “get your (creative) work life organized” philosophy: manila folders, paper clips, etc. But in its latest incarnation it’s stripped down to a bare minimum of design. The only remnant of the old look is the red color of the title at the top of the page, and outside of images and a subtle yellow highlight hover state for links, that’s the only color on the site.
Rafe Colburn’s site is the very definition of minimalist design. White background, black text. But clearly a lot of thought went into the choice of font (yes, even though it’s Helvetica), relative text sizes, and the sporadic use of shades of gray for things like block quotes.
Khoi Vinh’s site is masterfully designed, even though (or perhaps specifically because) it’s black-and-white-and-Helvetica-all-over. Oh, except for the slap in the face of bright orange when you mouse over a link. Pow! Bort! Mint! Snuh! (That one’s for CheckersSpeech.)
Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report
Zeldman’s site is an explosion of designy-ness compared to the others on this list. But compared to something like Web Designer Wall it’s strikingly spartan, and deliberately retrograde. (And, in trying — unsuccessfully — to find his old post where he discussed this latest incarnation of the site, I discovered that he also covered this exact topic six months ago. Looks like I’m late to the party, as usual.)

If less is more, then none is all.

What’s the point of blogging?

STFUNo, it’s not a rhetorical question. What is the point of blogging? If you’re a blogger, why do you do it (assuming you have a cogent reason)? If you’re a blog reader, why do you read the blogs that you do?

Here’s a secondhand quote on the matter that I found on one of the blogs I read:

In many ways the core of blogging is a willingness to apply what you know to every problem you encounter, and see how good a job you can do of it in a more or less integrated fashion.

That gem, which I had to read five or six times to understand, but the more I read it the more I agree, was written by Tyler Cohen on another blog I (less often) read.

Thinking about the blogs I read most, the authors have a clear purpose; the blogs have a clear theme. The authors are experts (or at least well-versed) in the subject matter they’re writing about, and the blogs become a commentary on the events of the day (within the author’s realm), bringing to the reader’s attention items of interest that they may have otherwise missed, and supplementing the link with a tidbit (or more) of relevant discussion.

So then, assuming that the success of a blog in achieving this goal is an end in itself, the point of blogging is to act as a niche news service with commentary, or perhaps more accurately as a trusted adviser — that “in-the-know” friend (though you probably don’t know the blog author personally) who knows what you’re interested in and keeps you on top of the latest and greatest.

It’s fascinating to think of the power blogs have in this way. But it also reinforces the importance of the trust I mentioned in the last paragraph. A blogger’s stock in trade is their trustworthiness. Readers need to know that the blogger actually knows what they’re talking about, and perhaps even more importantly, that they’re not being misleading — whether deliberately (for unknown nefarious purposes), accidentally (because they goofed), or due to the invisible hand of an outside influence (money from sponsors, potential to achieve a position of power and authority).

It’s easy to say that this is a reason not to trust blogs, and why blogs will always be — or at least are for now — inferior to “legitimate” journalism. But given numerous recent examples (all of which in my mind right now involve Glenn Beck in some capacity) of the failures of traditional media for many of these same reasons, I think blogging deserves more serious consideration.