Opinion

Work / Opinion

Do platforms that cover design need to be well-designed themselves?

In light of our recent changes and the launch of the new-look Design Observer, Rob Alderson reflects on design websites’ redesigns. As ever you can add your thoughts using the comment thread below, and we’re particularly keen to hear what you’re making of our new look!

“We live in a world where you can’t even redesign a logo without a pile-on. But I’m grateful to live in a world where at least now people who are thoughtful will figure out why they hate it.” So said Michael Bierut, Pentagram partner and one of the most thoughtful design writers around when interviewed about the new-look Design Observer site.. “I’m sure we’ll be criticised for continuing to favour a design that is beholden to the legacy of print,” he told Fast Co.

Michael and his fellow Observer editors unveiled the new site on 1 July, and explained in the launch article: “We remain, as ever, deeply committed to thinking about and reacting to the visual world. With this relaunch, we renew our promise to becoming more timely. More dynamic. More critical and daring. More democratic in our reach. And more committed to international coverage.”

The first comment appeared within minutes, beginning witheringly: “This is such a missed opportunity…”

The relaunched Design Observer site came just a week or so after our own redesign. Ours is intended to be the first stage in a bigger overhaul, but we were keen to simplify our content stream, improve legibility on articles and tweak some of the navigation.

The feedback we got via social media was pretty positive on the whole, with several great bits of constructive criticism that we’ve very much folded into our thinking.

Redesigns are always complex, time-consuming and emotionally draining projects, and as a platform that covers design we felt the pressure was very much on us to get it right. We’re sure Michael and his colleagues knew their work would be similarly scrutinised; perhaps even more so than us given their position in the design blogosphere.

But I sometimes wonder if we overthink this kind of thing. There are some hugely successful design sites which, I would argue, aren’t that well designed. Does it detract from what they do? Does it matter? At the end of the day design journalism of every stripe is about showcasing, analysing and exploring design and arguably that can happen whatever the site (or the magazine) looks like. It might be argued that if we can’t get our own platforms right, are we really best placed to comment on the designs work of others. But this may be disingenuous. Would we expect a theatre critic to be able to write a great play, or a food writer to be a great cook?