The Web Design
July 23rd, 2008 by Lex

What role does visual design play in the evolution of the web? One might think that the effects are limited to aesthetics, but this is not true. One particular example shows how a visual set-up determines the consumption and creation of content, and how we react to that content.

Message boards and forums are as Web 1.0 as you get. They have a specific information structure. A single user posts a thread, and others reply to the starting post with their own posts. The design is such that the original post and the following post have equal visual weight. The first poster is similarly equal to everyone else.

Now take that single poster’s entire library of threads and pull it onto a single site. Keep the information structure exactly the same, with page numbers, responses and so on. However, isolate and highlight the first post. Make it large, colorful and bold. Make the title fancy. And then take everyone else’s responses and call them comments. Shrink them, thin them and gray them out. All of a sudden the forum turn into a blog. The visual change literally becomes the orator’s pedestal. It is a sign of power, a crown.

In the last few years, services like Twitter and Tumblr popped up as new, exciting, Web 2.0, paradigm-shifting approaches. Really? This is just another visual redesign of the old forum thread. The concept is exactly the same, only the design is changing. And this isn’t to say that the meta-concept is the same, i.e. it is all “conversation”, or the web is all “information”. No! The functionality here is identical, but how the service looks and feels drives its usage.

And this leads us to the grand importance of appearance. There has been a lot of innovation in information structure, such as the social network. Has there been a similar intensity of innovation in visual presentation?