Musings on Business and Tech

No, Graphic Designers Aren’t Ruining The Web

I woke up today to this provocative article in The Guardian about how graphic designers are ruining the web. Naughton’s main argument seems to be that graphic design adds unnecessary bulk to websites, wasting bandwidth. Naughton is absolutely right that page sizes have increased over the last two decades of the web’s existence. He is also right that this is a problem.

However, he describes the problem as a “waste of bandwidth.” Last I checked, “bandwidth” is an infinite resource (unless maybe you extrapolate bandwidth to barrels of oil). The bigger problem is that more elements on a page (and bigger individual elements) will slow down page load times and potentially be frustrating for the user. If Naughton is saying that people who make websites should work to reduce the number and size of the elements on their pages, I completely agree.

But it does not then follow that websites also need to be ugly (he uses Norvig.com as an example of an underdesigned site that is compelling for its content if not its look and feel). Highly-designed websites need not be bulky. Just because the BBC News page sends 165 resources on every request to its homepage, doesn’t mean all designed sites do. NPR.org is a lean and  mean website, requiring roughly 50% fewer requests than the BBC News. Yet I would say it offers a bit more of a user-friendly way to access information than Norvig’s site.

And we could improve things even more than that. We can combine and minify JavaScript and CSS files. We can reduce the number and sizes of images on each page. Many requests on big sites like these are to 3rd party tracking pixels and JavaScripts. How about we agree to pay for the services and content we use on the web so we don’t have to deal with all this bullshit marketing crap? Graphic Design is not the cause of all this bulk. Increased user access to bandwidth and marketers are more to blame.

I’ll agree that some underdesigned sites are excellent because they are underdesigned: Craigslist.org and (the original) Google.com. But if Apple has taught us anything over the past decade, it is that things can be designed without being complicated and bulky. And that is the direction I’d like to see the web going in. That way we get to have our cake and eat it too.

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