November 1, 2015
By Denny Royal
November 1, 2015
In early web design days, we defined the breaking point of a website as a “fold.” This analogy, taken from the fold of a newspaper, is still being used as a limitation today. When people first transitioned into a digital world, this may have given them something familiar to relate with a new concept. But with today’s technologies, we should be free to design for digital media without this self-imposed limitation. A modern view of website design considers the modern context in which people visit a website.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “skeuomorphism.” In digital design, it refers to the borrowing of visual features from the past—not for function—but for looks and familiarity. Examples of this are ebooks with pages that flip and can be turned, or a digital volume knob that looks like the one on your car radio. These presentations might be easy to pick up and understand immediately, but a problem arises when clinging to skeuomorphic ideas keeps us from advancing in new media. Limiting ourselves to paper-like pages doesn’t make the best use of a digital format, and people have come to understand how to read off a screen.
Another consideration is the changing format of websites. Once upon a time, web designers only had to think about users on their desktop computers. But today, the same website may be seen on dozens of different devices, with the list ever growing. Each screen size is different, and the real-life contexts people use the website in have changed too. Someone visiting a site while they walk into a store from the parking lot may not expect the same experience as someone at their home computer desk. Context of information, format and design is valued now more than ever before.
When users don’t know where to begin or find information on a website, skeuomorphic reasoning tells us to make it look and act like a real-world equivalent. In reality, though, there are many more, and better, solutions. Skeuomorphic design tackles problems from the wrong perspective—it ignores the digital context and instead focuses on established ways of thinking. It only looks to the past, problem-solving within unnecessary limitations. A better approach is having an open mind to what fits modern contexts. Without the restrictions of physical media, there are far more opportunities for innovative ideas and advances in technology. Sticking to the past may be safe, but it won’t move progress forward.
Going back to the idea of a “fold:” do we still need a carryover limitation from paper media? We aren’t in the early stages of transitioning into digital media anymore. So let a website be designed to be a website, not a newspaper. It’s better to break away from dated metaphors and not let them limit you. A web page isn’t a literal page. Your desktop isn’t the top of a desk. As the Internet continues to advance, morph, and flex, the best designs will step away from the past and look to the future.