Design Observer looks dated.
DO’s header boasts proudly that it’s been operating since 2003, and you can tell. Look at it with 2014 eyes and you’ll observe a non-responsive fixed-width layout with tiny text. Is that really a blogroll? Where are the ubiquitous social sharing buttons?
It’s like a time capsule of early-2000s blog design.
And that’s why it’s so great.
Design Observer reminds me of a lot of websites from the ’00s, some of the first blog-ish things I ever read. (Like Pixelsurgeon! Or Design is Kinky! Or Pixelsurgeon!) Maybe I owe the fondness to my youth, and its design limitations to the bad old days of primitive web browsers. Or maybe it was just Web‑1.9(beta) style. To my eyes, though, the look holds up well.
The information density on Design Observer is amazing and that probably has a lot to do with the typeface, which is tiny by today’s standards. I peeked into the HTML because I knew the typeface appealed to me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. IT’S 8 POINT VERDANA, you guys!1 It’s so tiny, yet so crisp and readable. (Compare that to Arial, or its blatant rip-off Helvetica.2)
The site was definitely not designed with the current tablet craze in mind, and as a tablet owner who doesn’t love tablets, I like that. That said, I shudder to think of what Design Observer must look like at unscaled ‘retina’ resolutions.
Speaking of the future, I fear the day I’m going to visit Design Observer and find a Mediumification has happened — this has to be on their roadmap. It does seems a little strange for a design site like DO not to be following what are, for better or worse (Here’s my ballot! I vote ‘worse’!) modern design conventions, which favor clumsy UI for smudgy fingers over — you know — the stuff that helps people do stuff.3
And once it’s gone, it’s gone. Sadly, Design Observer’s robots.txt file tells most search engine crawlers to simply go away. DO specifically included a rule banning the Internet Archive, which means the page has never been captured by the Wayback Machine, the Internet’s somewhat-official time capsule… and never will. This makes it tough, if not impossible, to see what Design Observer looked like ten years ago, two years ago and even last week, to see how it changed with the times — or didn’t — to become what it is today.
And when this frankly wonderful design is replaced by something “better” and “modern,” it will also disappear forever. Hope this helps.
- In college, I probably spent more time choosing a font for AOL Instant Messenger than I did studying for some classes, and this size Verdana was what I’d always come back to.[↩]
- I kid… I own the DVD, honest! Now please put down those tasteful Dieter-Rams-designed pitchforks.[↩]
- I’m not against designing while keeping mobile devices in mind, but these designs almost always come with designers choosing to reduce functionality across all devices in the name of consistency. Hey world, news flash — you can do responsive design in a way that doesn’t do away with sidebars, page chrome and just general functionality until websites look like WriteRoom. Just make it degrade nicely.[↩]