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Dylan’s Desk: Design goes minimal, online and off

Homage to Mondrian by Kent Wang/FlickrLast year’s big fashion trend was the color block, and this year’s tech trend follows suit: It’s the square.

More precisely, it’s the big, colorful rectangle filled with a solid color (like Windows 8) or a photograph (like Pinterest).

Mondrian would have been proud.

What this signals is the triumph of the grid and the disappearance of overt user interface cues like window borders and menu bars.

Designers, take note: When I wrote almost two years ago that the hot new trend was “undesign,” I was attacked by some of the smartest hipsters in Brooklyn. But I was right. My point was not that design had become less important, but rather that it was becoming subtler. Instead of pages crowded with links, buttons, and display type of all different sizes, designers were simplifying their layouts. The smartest designers stripped away the nonessential elements of their designs, leaving clean pages that let the eye focus on whatever images or words had been put there by writers and editors. Why? Because if the designers didn’t simplify their web pages, readers were going to use utilities like Readability and Instapaper to do it for them.

The undesign trend followed the introduction of the iPad, which made web browsing a far more immediate and concrete experience than it is on a desktop. Suddenly you’re holding a web page in your hands, with very little interface getting between you and the page you’ve called up. That makes extraneous design elements look even worse than they used to. Thus: undesign, a minimalist, tablet-friendly approach to website design.

Squares are similar. Like undesign, they come from the mobile world. One of the first apps to embrace this sort of rectangularity was Flipboard, which launched in mid-2010. It transformed the process of browsing RSS feeds into a magazine-like experience by putting stories into a boxy, more readable layout. The app’s home page is a straightforward 3


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