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Comments (68) Posted 06.10.06 | PERMALINK | PRINT

The Editors

Redesign of Design Observer

We are pleased to present a new design for Design Observer.

Our original design was humble: a default template in Moveable Type 2.6 called "Trendy." We've stuck with this design for over two years, despite many complaints that we were 1) not being designers, and 2) that reversed-out type is difficult to read. However, when we started, we were determined to focus on the content first, and the form second, and this default template has served us well.

The design being previewed here today shares much with these original inclinations. We wish to maintain a focus on our main posts, and on these being readable as longish essays. We are moving to a three-column format so that our weekly Observed column may become a daily feature. And we hope to highlight more books and items from our archive. With this redesign, we have also joined The Deck, a leading advertising network of blogs we read and respect.

We'd like to here acknowledge the designer of the type used in our logo, Gotham, by Tobias Frere-Jones. Also, we'd like to thank Betsy Vardell, who has served as our design and technology consultant since our inception.

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Comments (68)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

Looks great. And much easier to read.

Very Respectfully,
Joe Moran
06.10.06 at 12:29

What a surprise! The new look is very welcoming, though I know it will take me a while to get used to (just out of habit). Congratulations, and great job moving DO forward.
J Tyler
06.10.06 at 03:03

Looks good.
Justin Paluch
06.10.06 at 04:04

Wider than 1024. Genius.
06.10.06 at 04:05

hark! my eyes have stopped burning!
06.10.06 at 06:40

Nice. The sidebar "recent comments" link take you to the newest comment. That's new, right?

Brian Alter
06.10.06 at 06:55

I personally enjoy the redesign very much.

Not much (if anything), however, was wrong with the reversed type before. In my humble opinion: Sure, the reversed setting can cause hallation in print but in screen-based media, there are actual advantages to reversing the relationship. For example, I'm sure people who stare at the screen (the light source) for 5 hrs a day appreciated the toned-down luminosity of Design Observer compared to predominantly white (luminous) web. It's supposed to be immersive reading, not "look up-and-go" site, no?

I suppose that there are reasons beyond mere flimsy why green type on black background became synonymous with "hacker" culture. Functionality must be one of them. Maybe some whose life consists of starring at the screen can confirm this?
06.10.06 at 11:05

My grandma can finally read the text on your site.
Thomas Locke Hobbs
06.11.06 at 12:14

This site just got better. Looking good!
06.11.06 at 04:39

nice. i like the nod to the original in the masthead, and moving observed to a place of permanence is a wise design move.
06.11.06 at 09:46

This design is a vast improvement. Congratulations.
06.11.06 at 10:09

The new site looks great. Congratulations.

Bill, you might want to advise your readers about the two separate feeds for the main posts and the Observed.
06.11.06 at 02:31

Great clean look. It's an easier read now since you utilized the white background. Nice work! Looking to enjoy some more inspirational reading.
Peter Roth
06.11.06 at 03:24

Honestly I am quite dissapointed. Dark background makes it easier and more comfortable to read on a screen while human eye gets tired from bright background. On a paper it is other way around but on a screen it is not working that good. Looks better but in terms of perceiving the content it is not good choice althought it looks clean, neat and tidy. I like the Observed section and keeping navigation on a left hand side. I have been experimenting with this kind of navigation for a while and the web soon will change I think.
06.11.06 at 03:55

Undoubtably better design. Only gripe is the link color. Hard to find on the green backgrounds and too much like the black regular text. Underline, another color, lighter background all possible fixes.
06.11.06 at 04:14

Content firts form second? Sounds like a copout, especially considering the level of talent pooled here. Are designers to busy to design their own blog? Or is it that on line design is in dire need of attention because print seems to be rolling on it's own momentum.

I like this design better.
06.11.06 at 05:32

This is my first visit to this site (via and I think the design is elegant and very legible. However, I also deplore the use of a fixed-width layout.
06.11.06 at 06:22

Congrats on the redesign, but it feels half-hearted. Not a huge improvement, imho: no underlined links, no attempt at Web standards, pretty small type, disorganized information architecture, no hierarchical use of type, shabby accessibility. I find it strange that companies and organizations dedicated to the advancement of design and its users don't seem to think straight when it comes to their own design needs. See also the new Emigre.
06.11.06 at 06:44

I must say, I was a big fan of the old look.
But, it won't stop me from visiting....
I will just have to get used to it.
06.11.06 at 08:38

Thumbs Up
06.11.06 at 08:52

what i find really amazing about the redesign is that is has not stopped the administrators of the site from removing comments by visitors that are the least bit critical. removing insulting, profanity laden posts is reasonable, removing posts where someone chooses to directly and clearly make a point against the content, writing, or other aspect of this site feels a lot less reasonable, and a lot more like helping the authors' egos by making everything appear all happy and benign.
06.11.06 at 08:52

what i find really amazing about the redesign is that is has not stopped the administrators of the site from removing comments by visitors that are the least bit critical.

I've said some borderline offensive things here over the years, and the editors have never edited anything I've said, just as long as it was carefully written.

Congrats on the redesign — the white type on a dark background never bothered me either, but it was irritating to hear someone comment about it on every single article, so this change is for the best.

P.S. — I just previewed this comment, and it was still in the old format. Just FYI. Still working out the bugs, I'm sure.
Ryan Nee
06.11.06 at 09:08

Although we say "We discourage comments that are off-topic, unnecessarily antagonistic or defamatory, or in violation of intellectual property laws" in our general notes, in truth we almost never remove comments.

We do keep experimenting with anti-spam software that sometimes appears to have a mind of its own, and the current reformatting process, as Ryan and others have noticed, has introduced its own level of confusion. Hopefully this too shall pass.

If you've attempted to post a comment and you feel it's been arbitrarily or unfairly deleted or altered, I encourage you to email me, Bill or Jessica directly.
Michael Bierut
06.11.06 at 09:20

At Armin's suggestion, I'd like to update readers about our RSS feeds.

We now have two feeds, accessible from the "About Design Observer" section of the center column.

A Main Posts feed at:

And a separate feed only for Observed items:
William Drenttel
06.11.06 at 11:03

aahhh. This site just got a lot more pleasant to read. Good stuff!
06.12.06 at 03:25

i salute the new DO design. this is truly a relief for my eyes. now I will surely finish reading your articles.
vlad mateescu
06.12.06 at 06:58

The design is very nice, I find it a huge improvement.
However, I'm very disappointed at the way html has been used. Tables, font tags..: no attention to web standards at all. I think especially a design-oriented web site should realize the importance of web standards and the use of clear, semantic code.
06.12.06 at 07:14

Mmmmmm, so delicious. I like it so much more.
Ansel Olson
06.12.06 at 07:14

Yawn no more. The bright background keeps me awake all through the night when I'm reading your goodies.
06.12.06 at 08:32

Much better! Nice work
06.12.06 at 09:24

Site looks great guys... well done.
i do miss the grey a little though :)
06.12.06 at 10:17

ahh, that's a shame. yes - the three columns are a good move but the change to a white background is no where near as nice as previous. the way the type was treated previously was also far more interesting (even though the basic web fonts were used). it's ok though - i visit for the content - not the design. keep up the good work!
06.12.06 at 10:31

The site looks great.
Errbody else can cram it.
06.12.06 at 10:45

Lovely redesign made even lovelier by the suddenness of it all. Other sites should take note, its better to keep quiet and launch the new design over night then pull your site down and say that your new site is coming sometime between February and November...
Tony Goff
06.12.06 at 10:57

There is too much noise to the right for me. It is distracting from the content of your blog, which I so enjoy reading. I also tend to not use my browser open too wide, so now it is truncated. Overall, the site feels like it takes more work from me to enjoy. But then...I am 1, and the Many seem to greatly approve.
06.12.06 at 10:59

Less strain, more gain.

Good work.
Dan Lewis
06.12.06 at 11:33

Your page titles are all identical. Oversight, or did you deliberately design it to be hard to navigate, bookmark, and index?

The design is clean enough, though, and at least the width isn't used in too annoying a way, so well done on that.
Paul Mison
06.12.06 at 12:06

It's probably too late, but I really liked the reversed type. My eyes are already burning from the glaring white background. Onscreen type design has different design considerations than print design. Otherwise the new layout is great.
06.12.06 at 01:15

ah, what a surprise,
such a relief to my eyes!

i appreciate your redesign to accommodate your readers' needs. one thing that is still a bit disturbing: the link color in your sidebar. it's sometimes quite hard to find the active link on the green background (not enough contrast). subtle, but definitely irritation.

otherwise, things seem good so far.

curious though why you chose for the content to be on the left-hand side of the page. unusual, so i'm very aware of it as i type right now.
06.12.06 at 03:41

To My Beloved DO Family:


I can't get over the NEW L0OK OF DO.

I haven't visited Do or Speak Up in about Six Weeks.

You Guys are Kicking Behind on the ReDesign, Taking Names and Taking NO PRISONERS!!!!!

I can only Assume DO will win all the Major, Major Interactive Design Awards 2006-07.

Jealous is an Understatement. I'm in Awe!!!!!!!!


06.12.06 at 05:20

The redesign is actually quite deplorable from any standpoint of contemporary Web development, as other commenters have noted. I realize Design Observer really doesn't like the Web, but now we have evidence you also don't know how to code the underpinnings of a Web site.
Joe Clark
06.12.06 at 05:20

Just great.
thorsten wulff
06.12.06 at 06:07

a welcome change. brilliant.
06.12.06 at 07:23

Have to agree with "mia's" post above about low contrast. After viewing the site at work in an office setting with a window behind me I couldn't see the links in the grey/green bands at the right hand side.

Light House International and Paul Nini have done research into partial sight or diminished sight considerations for those who are "legally" blind or just those who are getting older.

I called and asked Light House for some brochures about designing for low vision or partial sight audiences ( free ) and have referred to them ever since. Fascinating stuff, as is Mr. Nini's AIGA post ( and follow up posts ).

Hey we're all getting older. Why not communicate to everyone conceivable -- young and old?

High contrast=easy to see. Low contrast=hard to see.

Joe Moran
06.12.06 at 08:04

I haven't looked at the code, so I can't comment on that, but I've written up some brief thoughts about the redesign. Glancing through the comments I see that a number of people agree with the main issues I raise.
Ben Eastaugh
06.12.06 at 08:14

i think too much focus is on whether we, your reading audience, like the design of this blog. do i like the forest on gray? can i comfortably read long columns of tiny type on a white screen? will the double right sidebar really ever feel right? i wonder if the average reader of this blog ever thinks to himself: maybe jessica helfand and crew know more about design than i do. i don't like all design, but i love it when designers flex. i don't have to like the redesign design observer, but i do because it bleeds intellect (and cajones). they way some of these self-puffed naysayers are shedding on this design reminds of one of my favourite artists: john reuben. he's a white christian hip-hop artist, and he catches more flack from other christians than he does from non-believers. i'm a Bible-believing christan, and i feel john reuben. listen to "DO NOT" on his my space page. he's not asking you to like him or buy his album, he's just asking for your respect, and if you won't give it to him, he'll keep on praising God anyway. copy this into your add bar and give mr. reuben a spin:
06.13.06 at 01:14

Nice Redeisgn, to say the least...but I liked the older version more. I think it is ieasier to read white text on a dark(er) background, rather than have the whole screen turn into a source of white light which makes one squint to read what is written.

Just my two cents.
06.13.06 at 02:35

This is one of the better three column layouts I've seen. It's a welcome change that still retains the Design Observer feel.
Dat Nguyen
06.13.06 at 06:47

> but i do because it bleeds intellect (and cajones)

Design Observer bleeds Drawers? Wow. Bill, I had no idea. We could never match that.

(Sorry, couldn't resist. It's cojones).
06.13.06 at 08:32

much better than the previous "designer" black background.
three column grid. well organised.
dark grey rectangle on the right corner is fine. but the position of DO i am in two minds.
still very deep vertical scroll.
mild green links could be better or darker.
need some more time to get used to it.
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran
06.13.06 at 09:39

I was one of the few that never found it difficult to read the white type on black, so it wasn't much of an issue. What I do find distracting now is the green side bars. As much as I fight it, my eyes keep drifting right. The two greens together seem lifeless too. One more gripe, I think there needs to be more contrast between text and links. Observed is a good idea, but it might be worth considering a way to signify new content. Back to my own soapbox now.
Michael Surtees
06.13.06 at 12:12

"The redesign is actually quite deplorable from any standpoint of contemporary Web development, as other commenters have noted."

Joe Clark knows what he's talking about!

This table-based layout can easily be imitated with semantic markup, I'll link a mockup in a while.
06.13.06 at 01:26

And 2 hours later, well into it. BTW, I find a white background to be teribble on PC's, just greying it up a tad helps (here I used #f5f5f5, tested on IE6 and Fx 1.5)...

Look ma, no tables!

Aak, to think I could have used those 2 hours to redesign my own neglected site...
06.13.06 at 03:51

Me likey, me read you long time
06.13.06 at 09:41

Very nice design. May I make a comment as a traditional designer who is not a graphic designer?

For my eye, the black box on the right is visually heavier than the white background on the left, so I feel like the top of the page is out of balance. Of course I realize that many designers like to intentionally play with or work against ideas like "balance."
06.14.06 at 08:25

I like the design overall, but I wish for a couple of adjustments for the "Observed" section. I would like some kind of divider between entries and the date of the entry included. Please consider. Thanks.
06.16.06 at 03:59

just when one got used to the dropped out type. this seems lighter but the eye seems to wander to the "heavier" right side, which is also much busier thanx to the double column and the images.

is busy busy in fashion, first the ny times with their incredibly unfocused design and now here it seems to go in the same direction. i guess ueberinformation has reached information design. nice try, but seems to need some work.
06.17.06 at 07:00

It goes without saying that this discussion isn't about the site's content, which is generous and, I'm sure, greatly appreciated by all who comment here.

This discussion is about how the site looks and performs. DO is visually more inviting and restful now: reverse type just doesn't work for reading great quantities of text imho, onscreen or off.

How the site works, though, is a different story. I mean, tables? I wholeheartedly agree with Joe Clark, and it seems to me that Hasan has done you a very nice favor by producing a semantically correct design. Why not use it? Get your markup away from your content, put your CSS and javascript in external files, and save tables for tabular data.

What's striking to me is that so many people still seem to believe that observing web standards is a choice. It's really not, at this point.

Standards compliance simply means being accessible to the greatest number of people on the widest range of devices.
Caren Litherland
06.18.06 at 10:09

I wasnt happily surprised to visit the site and find this new layout.

It really doesnt seem a step forward, but nostalgia for print, like saying, "ok we are tired and we know how to do print, so lets just get something up."

I am sorry to say that as I truly enjoy design observer. But how can a design-oriented site not engage and work with the languages of the contemporary web - that is, why not combine database of text with selection, either print version, and then also screen version, and some benefit if one stretches the browser wider, or god forbid, we old people have to have the text a bit larger...etc.. rather than this rather fixed-in-concrete-afraid-of-the-webs-openness thing?

So you mean, there is no benefit to having a larger monitor? All that type on the side, two columns of different kinds of statements aligning next to each other...That is an improvement to one column...because?

I think it was an elegant solution, using a readymade and tweaking it to an aesthetic of being one of the blogs. Now it is sitting somewhere very much inbetween alot of web/blog/aggregator/whatever directions, but looking fondly backwards to print.

06.19.06 at 05:07

As some "dude" once said: "less is more". I think there is Waaay too much info going on here.

David Flaherty
06.20.06 at 02:01

Something else nags at me as I look at the page. This isn't a rhetorical question; I'm very interested in the answer: what was behind the decision to dedicate so much screen real estate to the logo?

The logo image itself is 420 x 200 (the height could be cut by half), and it's floating in a vast...table cell. Why? What is the function of all that ample dark padding? What does it do?
Caren Litherland
06.20.06 at 04:01

There is quality in simple layouts when the focus is on content. In the case of the DO redesign the layout is boring and not working for me. I'm not able to read an article from top to bottom because my eyes are more attracted by the two crammed columns on the right.

I was a loyal reader of DO, in fact it was my browser's starting page. Since the redesign is up articles just seem to be less interesting (visually) and not worth spending my time. Sorry to say goodbye.
Rainer Fabrizi
06.26.06 at 08:19

Please reduce the height of the large rectangle block with "Design Observer" so more info in your right columns will show up without having to scroll down.


Mark Eastman
06.26.06 at 10:16

This is lookin' quite good. Far more inviting to me. Way to go!
Al aka El Negro Magnifico
06.27.06 at 03:27

When I came here today I was a little disappointed. I'm a big fan off reversed type. I'm getting used to the new look. Truth is, I never really came for any other reason than the content. You keep that goodness going and I have no worries.
06.27.06 at 08:06

great design and better to read
digital artist
05.29.07 at 08:53

well, to me the design is ok but as some readers commented, "my eyes are more attracted by the two crampped columns on the right". I have gotta agree with that. Maybe more design emphasis on the main content rather than the sidebars...DO quite inspired me to start my own blog on designs too....feel free to check out my blog's layout at

06.03.07 at 01:50

something called balance is lacking here! olne of the principles of design remember!?
Paul mason
11.15.07 at 12:16

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Design Observer is edited by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, Julie Lasky and Nancy Levinson. William Drenttel is Editorial Director and Publisher.
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