The new breed of “anti-design” websites

This article by Corey Szopinski is a good summary of a trend I’ve been noticing for a while… the move towards simpler, cleaner, low glitz, no glamour designs and layouts.

“Maybe it started with craigslist, google or maybe ebay. Or if we go way back, it could have been unix itself, but 2004’s most popular sites have a nearly “anti-design” approach to online site branding. Gmail, Flickr,, and 43things are conspicuously devoid of design, yet are intensely popular because they focus on speed and serviceability.

Since I come from the world of over design, I have been studying the method in the madness of these new sites. Unlike highly branded sites like nikelab or diesel, these sites focus on lightweight presentation, sophisticated round-trip data work, and css-driven accessibility.

The sites also have another, critical, dimension: social networking. Pioneered by Friendster (could the home page be any uglier?), and duplicated ad nauseam, these new sites have finally done it right. Flickr, for example, clusters your photos and your friend’s photos into groups. Photos, like things to do (see 43things), are better when shared among friends. What good is a photo if it’s trapped on your home computer? That shot of your drunk friend isn’t doing anyone any good if you can’t pull it up at a moments notice to have a good laugh.”

and Ben has a good response in the comments…

“The principles of effective visual organization are not beyond the capacity of the average developer; it’s just that they are rarely given much attention. With just a couple of minor changes to the typography (forget the layout for now), these sites could retain all of the advantages of their “under-designed-ness” while improving 10-fold their usability.” (More)