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The strangely familiar Guardian book page redesign


I was excited to see the new books page at the Guardian, which launched this week. The Guardian has top literary content, and it's always a pleasure to visit there. They regularly have smart features on terrific British authors, news about things that we may not yet have heard about in the U.S., and an  interesting take on books from America, which don't always resonate the same way over there.

But when I landed there, I felt a sense of unease, and then dismay. The Guardian's books page still had its wacky pink-and-fuscia color combo around the edges (good, in my book at least) but otherwise it had lost some of its unique flavor. The big picture with text on the right side, a row of four thumbnails below, a rail on the right -- it all looked so familiar.

Where had I seen it before? Wait, a relaunch from just last week:

That's the Poetry Foundation, whose site had gone for quite some time without an upgrade. It was due for a freshening up. But it's a freshening up, apparently, that's happening all over the place, or at least, is also happening at the Guardian. Both sites have the same big picture on the left with an associated text column on the right. Both have the same four thumbnails below. There's another right rail, although in the Poetry Foundation's case, it's ad-free.

Is this redesign format taking over, like kudzu? Who knows, maybe it has proved useful, easy to manage and effective for search engine optimization -- those are all important things on the Web. But so is branding. As a reader, I look for the idiosyncratic touches, the design elements and flow and visual clues that indicate I'm on a specific site and not another. A useful template is only useful when it's not overused.

Of course, two websites does not overuse make. But I was certain I'd seen the format elsewhere. Then I realized -- while at this moment it doesn't conform, this is the template of the homepage of the Los Angeles Times. Doh! Maybe that's why it looks so familiar.

Is it spreading like kudzu, or just what's growing in our own backyard? Have you seen it around?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Images: Screenshots of the Guardian books page, top, and Poetry Foundation homepage, below.

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It's not a big deal that the site designs are similar. The similarity reflects the evolution of web design. Only a few types of layouts work best, given principles of web interactivity. What readers care about is the content. Good design should be transparent.

You can thank the folks at Adobe, Drupal and Joomla in part for this uniformity of style all over the web, as they have essentially forced developers to adopt the box model CSS template formula for web design. Every news organization uses it, including the LA Times. Not like the old days when almost nothing was predicable about web design.


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