Who will design the next generation of readable, writerly web layouts?
Layouts for sites that are mostly writing. Designed by people who love writing. Where text can be engaging even if it isn’t offset by art or photography. Where text is the point.
With well considered flexible typesetting, modular scaling, and readable measures across a full range of proportions and devices. With optional small details that make reading screens of text a pleasure instead of a chore. With type sizes that are easy to read without needing to zoom in. And with a range of interesting sans and serif fonts (including variable fonts) that support reading and encourage creative exploration where headlines are concerned.
Well? How did we get here?
The web has come along way since design meant crafting UIs in Photoshop and exporting them as sliced GIFs. Flash. SiFR. Table layout. Rebellion and rethinking. Liquid layout. Semantic HTML and CSS layout. Adaptive layout. Responsive layout. Intrinsic layout. Web fonts. Big type and super lightweight UX emphasizing readability was new (and controversial!) in 2012. We’ve long since accepted and improved upon it. Today’s news, magazine, and blog pages are more flexible, readable, and refined than ever before.
So what comes next? For writers, one hopes that what’s next is a fresh crop of small, innovative advancements. Improvements that are felt by readers, even when they aren’t always consciously noticed. Layouts that are not merely legible, but actually feel inevitable, at all sizes and in all contexts.
Beyond outside the box
Services like Typetura may point the way. A marriage of type and tech, Typetura is different from other typesetting methods. An intrinsic typography technology, it “enables you to design with more flexibility, while dramatically reducing code.” Disclaimer: I’m friends with, and have long admired the work of, Typetura founder Scott Kellum. Designing With Web Standards readers will recognize his name from the Kellum Image Replacement days of the early 2000s, but that ain’t the half of what he has done for web design, e.g. inventing dynamic typographic systems, high impact ad formats, new parallax techniques, and fluid typesetting technology. Scott was also the coder, along with Filipe Fortes, of Roger Black’s late, lamented Treesaver technology. But I digress.
The tech is not the point—except in so far as it improves our ability to think beyond our current understanding of what design and layout means. Just as Gutenberg’s printing press was not the point, but it was the point of departure. Initially, the invention of movable type reproduced the writing we already knew (i.e. the King James Bible). But ultimately, by freeing writing and reading from narrow elite circles and bringing it to more (and more diverse) minds, Gutenberg’s invention transformed what writing was and could be—from the invention of newspapers to the fiction of Virginia Woolf to multimedia experiences, and perhaps even to the web.
Let us all to play with Jen Simmons’s intrinsic web layout ideas and Scott Kellum and partners’s Typetura. While we also sketch in pencil and spend time looking at well designed books —printed, bound ones as well as digital publications in various devices. And specifically, not just fabulous coffee table books, but books that you’ve reread over and over, to understand what, beyond the text itself, encourages that reading response. So that, together, we may take the experiences of both reading and writing to the next level.
If you’re new to the interplay between design and code on the open web, or if you just want a refresher, here are some evergreen links for your further learning and pleasure:
- Getting Started with CSS Layout—Rachel Andrew, Smashing Magazine
- CSS Grid Layout—MDN web docs
- Grid by Example—Rachel Andrew
- A Complete Guide to Grid—Chris House, CSS-Tricks
- Practical CSS Grid: Adding Grid to an Existing Design—Eric Meyer, A List Apart
- Jen Simmons Labs
- Layout Land—YouTube
- A Book Apart: The New CSS Layout, by Rachel Andrew
- The Story of CSS Grid, from its Creators—Aaron Gustafson, A List Apart
- Transcript: Intrinsic Web Design with Jen Simmons (The Big Web Show)
- CSS Grid Layout with Rachel Andrew (The Big Web Show)
- My Poynter Style Guide
- Authoritative, Readable, Branded: Report from Poynter Design Challenge, Part 2