Jennifer Over and Our New Web Site
September 22, 2010 | by Thessaly La Force
You may have noticed that our Web site looks different. It's prettier, less cluttered, easier on the eyes—it's a delight to click on every page. Meet Jennifer, the Web designer with Tierra Innovation who was crucial to envisioning our redesign. Who better to explain our magical transformation? She recently answered some questions about the site via e-mail.
For those unfamiliar with the old site, what has changed?
Well, a big change is that the site now features a mix of evergreen content from the issue and more ephemeral content from The Daily and Twitter. You might drop in to check out something on the blog and then ten minutes later find yourself reading an interview from 1978.
Another change is that it’s easier to browse the archives of The Paris Review. For the first time, you can browse by genre, which is a whole new way of looking at the work. The new site pulls a lot of amazing pieces from the archive to the surface. I hope that it excites your readers!
What were you thinking about when you designed the new look?
When we first met to discuss the look and feel of the Web site, Lorin described a vision of the publication—and by proxy the site—as “rough and ready.” That turned out to be a pretty provocative and inspiring idea that we kept drawing from over the course of the design. What could be considered rough and ready online is really open for interpretation. Ultimately our take was a design that’s well-considered without looking too polished. Simple background shades and rules. No textures or finishes to make things on-screen look tactile and juicy. An environment in which text can stand out. And most significantly, a design that is loose enough to change with regularity. Specifically, the color palette of the site will change based on each new issue’s cover.
We also really wanted to embrace certain design elements of the print magazine, like the hand-rendered logotype, some of the mid-century-modern typography and the frontispiece illustration by William Pène du Bois. It was an interesting challenge to integrate those elements into a Web site in a way that feels natural and modern rather than anachronistic.
The Paris Review has undergone many changes from 1953, when it was founded, to today, as realized by our new art editor, Charlotte Strick. In your research for the site, was there a look you liked the most? The least?
What’s most appealing to me personally is the legacy, more than the look from any particular period. Throughout all its incarnations, the magazine has reflected what is current and relevant in literature and art. The covers are so representative of their time periods (Helvetica bold in the late seventies! Tracked out grotesque sans in the mid-nineties!) and that’s what makes them great. Certain elements from the early fifties and mid-sixties covers are having their moment again in Charlotte’s new design. Understanding the history of the magazine’s covers gives me great appreciation for her choices.
Do you have any guidelines about designing for online?
This is going to sound design school-y but I guess I’d say that the importance of hierarchy and typography can’t be overstated. No matter what trends or technologies are in favor, about 90 percent of what makes for a good Web design all comes down to clear hierarchy and thoughtful typography. And that’s probably not going to change for a long time, even as devices and platforms come and go. At least not until we’re all reading with our taste buds.
Any pet peeves?
On one hand, I love that designing in a digital medium means that you can constantly change and react to new ideas. On the other hand, the immediacy of the Web means it’s easy for visual trends to sweep across all corners of the Internet very quickly. Something that starts off as a thoughtful design element can get plucked from its original context, be massively co-opted, and wind up as a meaningless trope. One day you’re looking at something and thinking, ‘‘Wow, that looks fresh!” Before you know it, it’s the wallpaper on your aunt’s blog. Depressing.
Can you name other Web sites you think are beautifully designed? What do you like about them?
Actually, you brought this one to my attention recently, Thessaly: the redesign of Vogue.com, done by Code and Theory. Besides really capturing the spirit of the print publication, what’s striking about this design is that it challenges my expectations of scale and proportion for the Web. Those are some big freaking ads at the top! But if ever there were a place for extra large, eye-popping ads, this is it. Also, the wide center column, the use of a lot of portrait-oriented images and the accents of extra-large text all look refreshing to me.
I had a similar reaction to Fast Company’s design blog, designed by Scott Thomas and Cronan. The layout is simple, but the proportions are unusual and appealing. (That super-skinny little column on the left is totally inviting!) The large, typographically striking headlines also make the site stand out. As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me that putting something big and bold next to something small and delicate nearly always looks fantastic. It just works.
The Web has been so video-centric for the past few years that it sometimes feels as though everything about Web design has taken on the horizontal proportions of a screen. Plus, we’ve been designing to fit our laptops for so long. Now tablet and mobile devices are really shaking up those conventions, and, frankly, I’m stoked about that.
How do you think reading on the Web will change in the next five to ten years? Who should we watch? Who is innovating?
I can’t even imagine what things will be like in ten years, but I’ll venture to say that in the next three years or so I think we’ll all be doing quite a bit of reading on the Web but not necessarily at our desks. We’ve become very adept at scanning content online while we’re multitasking, but as Lorin mentioned in a recent interview, sometimes it’s hard to tuck into a good read while you’re fielding e-mails from your boss. Luckily, our digital devices are morphing into portable objects that we can use, if we steal away, for some prolonged reading enjoyment.
I’m excited that digital forms of annotation are finally breaking into the mainstream reading experience. It’s something that designers and programmers have been experimenting with for a long time, but now it’s actually happening. I can read a book using the Kindle app on my phone and pull up the definition of any word I run into right then and there. That sounds simple, but it’s huge! And probably just the tip of the iceberg. I imagine that digital annotation will start incorporating other types of media and make reading more of a layered experience.
Another great development is that syndication is becoming a lot more sophisticated and tailored. RSS used to just be about stripping content down to its simplest form, so that you could cram as much of it as possible into one place. But now people are beginning to focus more on what makes for a stimulating and personal reading experience. Apps like Flipboard and Pulse have taken the concept of RSS and applied rich user interfaces, which add a totally new value that has nothing to do with efficiency.