This new fad, which to me resembles very much the old designer fad of all flash sites, which also resemble dreamweaver etc sites, has absolutely dumbfounded me since I started to see it appear.
As far as I can tell, the basic rules are this:
1. make the font sizes so large that they are good fits for the near blind or mentally handicapped. And small children, aged 3-8 years old. What's that you say, your demographic does not include those groups? Well, all the better, you get bonus points then!
2. place very large margins between each block of text.
3. expand the header to occupy as much above the fold screen space as possible. The more room you take, the more points you get. Also, it's good if that header contains almost nothing of information value. Remove the navigation from it if possible. Shoot for a minimum of 50% average above fold, bonus points for greater percent used.
4. totally eliminate anything that even remotely resembles adult level information density, in fact, the less information density you create, the better the page is (in the designers mind).
5. remove anything that even remotely resembles clean, easy to use navigation
6. increase the amount of scroll/clicks required to access information. The more you increase these, the better the design is. That's 'modern'.
7. make sure to put blocky images next to or around the big text. The less information value the image imparts to the text/cell, the better. cyclingnews.com and netflix did this extremely well. Remember, if you can make the user scroll more, you are doing a good job, and there is no better way to do that then filling the page with images, ideally at least one per article or item. Again, and particularly relevant re WebmasterWorld, the notion of optimizing pages, decreasing page load times, very important for mobile today, out the window. Best to have as many elements as possible in each page, for worst performance.
8. make the page load as slowly as humanly possible. 7 is very helpful towards this goal, but the below mentioned abuse of as many js framework/libraries, and css libraries, as possible cannot be discounted. This is particularly valuable on mobile, since, it's already a given that formerly good practices like using explicit image sizing so the page can build without redoing itself jerkily as each set of images loads, makes it almost impossible to use these on mobile devices. This latter is particularly amusing in light of google's latest attempt to make mobile pages load faster, abc or whatever it's called. Clearly google is psychotic, since they are on the one hand telling devs to make pages slow, resource intensive, and inefficient, but on the other, trying to get them to load instantly be inventing yet another web language or whatever abc is. Plus of course, their own page speed insights tool, which tells you fairly clearly not to do any of these things.
Nice to haves are certainly:
1. use as much terrible bloated js as you can. Bonus points for using cludgy heavy slow and particularly with mobile, battery draining js frameworks.
2. make the design for the developer/designer, NOT the end user. This is a critical requirement actually, from what I can see.
3. major extra credit for making a page that should be straight server generated html, easily read by googlebot, into purely js generated, for no good reason at all except that all the developer knows is js. You'll note how similar this result is to the previous all flash sites. It's particularly important to make sure that pages that have no reason to be dynamically generated by ajax calls or whatever be done that way anyway. Because, you know, well, you can.
4. Serious bonus points for showing a pure white page for people who surf with noscript type extensions, not even a noscript tag anywhere on the page.
5. further extra credit for placing so much white space around h1-h6 tags that they occupy 20 to 30% of the view screen on a desktop. Google does this in their responsive web dev section, for example, so follow that example to get full credit for making your site suck as badly as humanly possible.
6. Also, make sure to never host most of your key js and css libraries on your own servers, always use remote 3rd party sources, linked to directly, to increase the odds of even slower page loads. Again, violation of every page speed optimization principle known. That way, when various versions of these come into conflict, you will have no idea how to fix it, and the client has to pay for the site repair. While not strictly required, this is a popular way to earn bonus points when you are striving to worsen page speed and performance.
I've followed a few sites that did this switch, and without exception, the users HATED the upgrade (sic, how can you call a severe reduction in usability an upgrade). Big sites in their niches I've seen do this, with howls of outrage from their users: chowhound, they just did it, cyclingnews.com, they did it last year. Both of those were owned by larger web property holding companies, and the decisions were clearly made by idiots who had no clue, ie, the ceo assigned to run that particular site/property.
Other sites I've seen massively drop the information density of their pages - this drop is particularly idiotic when you cater to smart users, and when you had excellent mobile and desktop versions of the site already, like bloomberg did - all now require far more action/scroll to get only a fraction of the information you could get before with a quick scan of the above the fold content.
I've been debating starting a thread trying to figure out where this total idiocy started, and who propagated it, and continues to, maybe this is the thread?
The main site I do does not do this, and our users, who also, like bloomberg users, tend towards the more educated side of the market, consistently and spontaneously email us telling us how good our site is, and how much the like it. That's because I've consistently refused to target the layout to a set of people that I honestly do not believe actually even exists.
For a while I figured, ok, the clunky boxy chunky information poor sites at least are good on mobile devices? but sadly, no, a good desktop site, if properly responsive, continues to be a good mobile site, that's because you don't need to do endless scrolling to get to the content you want.
I realized this was becoming an increasingly severe issue when I saw google in their responsive web developer section use the same idiotic methods, that is, massive white spaces, huge headers, massive fonts. And this is for developers! you know, people who read and have to analyze a lot of data very quickly? When I saw google promoting this garbage I knew there was a real problem out there.
Leosghost I believe spots a few problems with the source article, particularly with the awful example of a vertical site, but even that example shows that even such a bad version of a vertical site worked better than the horizontal, but that's really a no dugh, webmaster world of all places should never have been surprised by this, this is where I learned about the basics of usability, jacob nielson, you know, all that stuff about sites being easy to use, easy to access information, etc?
I'm fairly certain that one main cause of this is a sort of dropaway in the skills of html and css, on two sides, one, programmers who could never be bothered to learn css and html (you know the ones, because they are too simple and easy, lol), and on the other, the same group that went to wysiwyg type dreamweaver and flash sites, designers, who could never actually learn programming or how to work with code. Both groups appear to have adopted css/js frameworks/libraries as the solution to this issue, that's all I can think of an explanation, this is so clearly a fad, done for bad reasons, that it simply cannot be explained without those being at least major contributing factors.
The rise of wordpress 'sites', which really are in general just the new version of the gui built brochure site, except made out of endless streams of modules, libraries, extensions, etc, all of which will inevitably fail on the next version update of something or other, ie, these are throwaway sites.
But that does not explain real sites like bloomberg doing this, what I have grown interested in determining is just what the decision process is internally when a formerly not just good, but great, site, decides to make itself bad.
The recent chowhound was particularly revealing because you got to see in all its shining glory the idiocy of those middle management types making decisions to show how bold and visionary they are, and that the users should really grow to appreciate this and not be so critical, that was roughly the response of the chowhound cbs properties ceo, for example. This while a user based platform was hemoraging users due to all the stupid faddish decisions made, all of which reduced usability, made the performance inferior, and gutted the very essence of what made the site popular in the first place.
There I could easily see the process, the ceo sees other sites go this route, some cheap outsourced web development sales guy hooks into him, the ceo decides to make a splash by taking a bold innovative decision that just happens to copy everyone else, use the same tools as everyone else, annoy users like most other sites that do this, and so on, so in that case, it was obvious.
After doing a large mobilizing of one of our main sites, I quickly realized all that nonsense about these new frameworks and design degradations had NOTHING to do with mobile friendly or not friendly, but they most certainly had a lot to do with technical incompetence, and wanting to churn results out very fast, at a low price. Same exact thing I've seen now for 15 plus years from web 'designers', as they pursue their non stop effort to never actually learn how to do web work, and use fast cheap hacks instead.
I see site after site ruin itself this way, netfliix did it a while ago too, it went from clean and fairly well organized to cludgy, slow, and heavily information poor, same as everyone else, chunky, boxy, image rich endless flowing pages, fed by i assume some react or angular js junk. I actually don't even know how it could be used on mobile anylonger since it takes forever to find anything on a desktop.
But so it goes, I guess these web fads will always be here, the best one can say is, at least this new fad is better than all flash sites...
google in the meantime seems to have decided our site is not just good, but an authority site... in fact, for a key widget search term, if you search that term, our site is used for the official google top of rankings definition, you know, like wikipedia, etc? So we are feeling pretty solid about our decisions not to fall into this incompetence driven fad. stickiness, way up, site interaction, way up, rankings, way up, you name it, it's up. Same for company revenue. But I make sure to forward to the boss every time I see new story of user outrage at site redoes, like chowhound, just to make sure he's aware that this type of change is NEVER done for the end user's benefit.
[edited by: lizardx at 9:50 pm (utc) on Oct 15, 2015]