I love design, yet I’m filtering it, I’m opting out of it, I’m killing it. I confess: I’m torn.

Here’s my predicament:

 On one hand, I do appreciate — after more than 25 years of design practice — a beautiful, well-crafted website.  I can get really envious (because my websites are always put together in a hurry) when I see beautiful typography systems, with well-paired typefaces and generous white space, pleasant character-count per line and just the right leading (distance between lines of text). I can enjoy seeing the right amount of micro-detail, subtle branding hints, beautiful color palettes and cool features.

 On the other hand, I do hold this belief that one of the greatest UI breakthroughs of recent years — able to empower consumers — is Reader View , and, I confess: I have it set as default view on all devices. Everything opens in Reader View — effectively stripping all the great design, from every website, rendering all that painstaking work useless, unseen — on my Macs, my iPads and my iPhones.

It hurts to do it — to kill design. But it hurts even more not to.

Rewinding 20 years:

  • Back in the ‘90s we were soaking this fabulous novelty, the blinking, dithered GIF internet like sponges,
  • Then we raced through the ‘00s Macromedia Flash b(l)oom, a full embodiment of psychedelic naïveté,
  • To finally arrive at the ‘10s dreams of CSS zen.

Consequently, what we see nowadays is a tone-downed, almost utilitarian version of the previous webs — on the surface, anyway — the most restrained and civil chapter in web’s history so far.

Then why?

Short answer

I’m really not sure.

Long answer


One Web fatigue. Fatigue of dealing with web’s underlying business model expressed as design — even when it is relatively good design — like web page trinkets, bland or impossibly idealized stock photography (going to be soon replaced by an infinite superabundance of AI-generated cliché utopias), marginalia cruft, calls from affiliates, banners that bots and only bots click on, popups, unmoderated comments, Like buttons, enthusiastic calls to action and the below-the-fold garbage from the scummy Taboolas and Outbrains of this world.

The Reader View filters out almost all of that, leaving a black and white, bare-bones, essentialized version — a firewall for the senses and thought.

In this case the Reader View acts like an abstraction layer, ensuring functional aesthetic compatibility wile delivering information separated from the good, the bad and the ugly of the specific implementations. A software device enabling me to separate the useful signal from noise.

Two Ergonomics. Retina screens tend to encourage using higher density — historically, the Mac used a 72 pixels/inch default (in fact we’re still referring to 72 ppi as “screen resolution” even if right now my laptop screen is set at 129 ppi, close to double) — and with higher density the small type on a web page becomes even smaller — rendering some pages hard to read and some impossible.

In this case, the Reader View becomes an accessibility filter, killing design to save content by making it accessible. A software device improving the acuity of my vision.

Three Change. Reader View is a symptom expressing a deep systemic change — parts of the web are no longer needed as colorful entertainment, but as reliable utilities, just like water and power. The experience design for this parts needs to become predictable and flatter — flick a switch, turn a tap — as the web becomes itself a utility transporting and delivering information intended for maximum reliability and minimal friction.

What parts of the web are becoming utilities and how to design the “taps” that give access to them? How to monetize those utilities, ads no longer being an option? That’s up for debate.

In this case, the Reader View becomes the conduit delivering the utility, safely and reliably for everyone. Or a form of quality assurance for the utility service — enforceable by the user. Any user.