Is Web Design Becoming Less Important?

Design may be less important than you think. More and more users are reading content from locations other than that content’s Web site. More simply put, users are turning to RSS feeds and the like for catching up on information.

When I redesigned the old Life After Web blog earlier in the year, one reader acknowledged that the new look was better, though he read my blog through a feed and never really saw the design anyway. This comment made me realize I worried way too much whether visitors to my blog would be adversely affected (particularly when I’m not exactly CNN here- it’s just me writing a little about technology and a little about life).

Anita Campbell discusses this notion in her article, Do You Know Where Your Content Is?, where she argues that “most of the activity involving your site may be happening off your site.”

Users want to control what they read, when they read it, and how they access it. Personally, I use netvibes to follow technology news, my favorite blogs, and the local weather, all of which I hand selected by source. Beats visiting those 17 sites individually.

This shift means that site owners must think of content in a different way. Content should be chunked and it should be portable. Read Anita’s article for ideas on how to do that.

All that being said, don’t panic. Your Web site isn’t obsolete. People still visit it. And some people don’t. Hopefully those people will read your content through some other method.

Most importantly, remember that you can’t control how your user gets to your content. Just make sure they get to it.



  1. Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    My first reaction to this post is “Nooooo!” :)

    My second reaction is, “Good point.” Not that I think the diversification of user platforms, and hence the shift in what matters about websites’ visual designs, will be evenly distributed across the Net — I think design will perhaps become more important in some areas (like brochure websites) and less in others (like blogs and other info-rich sites). Also, as mobile devices’ displays improve, will a new web aesthetic emerge, or will the emphasis stay on a minimalist display of information?

    Regardless, I wholeheartedly welcome the reminder that we can’t control how the user gets our content. Yielding control is really hard, and really important!

  2. Sherri said,

    Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Excellent comment, Beth. I think visual design is still important, though equally important may be considering the other ways in which users may find Web content. As with all things, a lot of this comes down to what purpose a business’ site serves, and that answer is not the same for everyone.

    Thanks for your additions!

  3. J. said,

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Hi Sherri,

    I’ve thought about it some more after my initial comment.

    Actually presentation design is becoming more and more important. This is obvious with the brochure sites that Beth mentioned, because they have to be visually appealing. But it’s also very important for informational sites, be it for another reason.

    In this day of information overload we need to be fed clear chunks of information that are easy to consume. If the information is not clearly identified, or if it is difficult to read, we tend discard the information all together and move on the the next source. To accomplish this you need a good design, which is a combination of the right colouring and layout. Since the information is still primarily read on your web site, the web design is indeed important. But if it’s not read directly from the web site, you still have to make sure it doesn’t hinder the other presentation design (e.g. the RSS-reader). This is done by using proper markup and paragraphs.

    So yes, presentation design is essential and that includes web design.


  4. Sherri said,

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Great point. Thanks for your addition, J.

  5. Pedro Henrique said,

    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I think you’re right that web design doesn’t play that big role today.

    However, I don’t believe the reasons why that is true is the one you proposed. This thing of content being viewed outside your website is happening, but, intensively, I don’t believe it’s happening for any website that are not on the top 100-1000 (somewhere between that) on the web.

    Just so that we get concrete here. 1000 websites are LESS than 0.000021% of all the websites on the web. For that I believe that this idea of content being viewed outside your website is far from a reality for MOST people.

    Summing up, unless your website is superfamous, I don’t believe you can just suppose most of its content views happens outside the website.

    I surely agree that it’s a trend though.

    I believe content is more important than design because we’re in an “age” that people are hungry for information for themselves. They don’t care about the website anymore, they care about what is in for them MUCH more than they did before.

    “Yesterday”, people used the web to have some fun. “Today”, they use it for serious work and research. There was a shift on how people use the web some years ago that put content in front of looks.

    By the way. I’m just considering information websites. I would not risk to guarantee that all this stuff I talked about would be valid for e-commerce for example.

    Anyway, great post and blog you have. Peace.

    • Pedro Henrique said,

      Friday, October 2, 2009 at 4:53 pm

      I just want to add something to my comment.

      This post is from November 6, 2007 and my comment is from October 2009. So…

      The reality of the web back in 2007 was a little different. In a way that I don’t believe that many people were viewing content outside the original content provider if compared to today.

      So, what I’ve just written is way more valid if applied for the 2007’s situation.

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