Art directed design blogs have become *the trend* talked about all around the web community blogosphere. It is pitched as the latest and greatest thing that you need to be aware of. In short, it's what all the cool kids are doing. A recent article brings this up as a revolutionary and future trend in the blogging world. I don't completely agree with this article or the praises of this trend.
The future of blogs are not over-photoshopped articles. It's better content.
It seems the reason this trend is being heralded as the second coming is for much of the reason pointed out in the article: "I noticed such unique post designs get a lot more attention than usual ones even if actual post idea isn’t so original!" So as admitted here in this article, designtainment is amuck online and most of the common content is a slight variation of something that ran the previous week. However, with some art direction -- a.k.a. adding some big type, pretty pictures, and colors --- they can squeak out more views with sub par content.
I liked Jason Santa Maria's take on art direction for websites when it came out a few years ago. Let me clarify by saying that I do admire the approach when it fits good content. At this point though, I've seen a half-dozen posts talking about the power of sketching, and they look like... (gasp) sketches! Some of the articles out there applying this trend have reason to do it, and they do a nice job with creating a sort of segmented experience. The problem is that so many designers will fall into this trend trap, that the value of a few blogs actually crafting well thought out art directed posts will soon become just one of many.
In fact, it has become a reality. You know a trend has truly taken off when there are several galleries dedicated to tracking it. Heart Directed and Unique Article Designs are two of them. Some of the entries listed in these galleries don't seem to all fit the same category of a blog with multiple unique posts. In addition they are not all at the same level of design or quality content. Which leads me to a few points.
Creating these types of blogs are difficult to sustain. Writing a well thought out and researched article for a blog takes a lot. Add in art direction and it is a huge time investment. There are some designers and web design blogs that I'm sure have the time and ambition to write a quality article, design it, and code it. Can it be done week in and week out though? I have only seen a few come even close to doing this on a regular basis. I think it's a pick two sort of scenario. The choices are: great content, great art direction, or regular schedule. If you try to hit all three, one of those will begin to fall short.
The next thing to consider is the trade-off of legibility. They are definitely fun to look at and experience, but when it comes to a longer, full length article, they become cumbersome to read. Using strong metaphors in design has grown with this trend. As mentioned before, if the article is about sketching, using obvious special effects related to that become abundant in the article. The logo might look unfinished like it had been drawn and scanned from a notebook and the background of the post is styled so it looks like it had been written on a piece of crumpled paper. Reading a shorter post like this might be ok, but anything more than that becomes distracting and gets in the way of legibility.
In addition some of it seems to be design for design's sake. Or worse, content for content's sake. Consider some of the articles talking about something completely unrelated to the blogs main focus, where it appears to have been written because they found some cool image. Others chop the content into blocks placing them almost randomly on the page. Boring? No. Hard to read? Yes.
The expectations will continue to rise as art direction becomes common. Bringing in video and more interactivity will be expected as blogs and larger publications try to out shine each other to market themselves for devices like the iPad. A trend can't cover up something that is lacking or missing. Even if it can, it won't last for long. The most important part of the equation on the blog without art direction, is the same with one that has the slick art direction. It's all about the content, content, content.
The danger of blindly following trends like these is in the promise of being led straight to the land of success. In the end it really doesn't help anyone except making the trend itself stronger. The future of blogging should be aimed at better content that delivers thought-provoking stories and reliable information.
Scrivs here, I just wanted to give my perspective on offering unique designs for your blog entries. While I don't go as far as to have art-directed articles on this site, the majority of my articles do have a unique feel about them. Each article has the whole page to work with and it does wonders for the content. I fully believe that this site wouldn't be where it is today if people weren't attracted to the look of the articles and this is only possible because each one is allowed to form however it wants to.
This also causes me to make sure that each article is good. I mean really good. You ever walked into a friend's house that was extraordinarily clean and you didn't want to mess with a thing? That's how I feel when I write articles here. I know that I have the ability to move the content around any way I want it so I need it to be good in the first place. Unique layouts shouldn't be a gimmick, but a better means to present your fabulous content.
It's great to have some flexibility. When you visit a blog that offers the same layout for each article they can begin to run together. Some articles work well with full screen images, while others need pull quotes. It's hard to achieve that when you have the same skinny column for each and every entry. While I wouldn't go as far as making each article an art production, being able to expand the constraints placed upon your content can go a long way in how people view your site.
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