An Event Apart: Slow Design for an Anxious World

by October 28, 2019

In his Slow Design for an Anxious World presentation at An Event Apart in Denver, Jeffrey Zeldman espoused the benefits of design that aims to increase comprehension and intentional use. Here's my notes from his talk:

  • We live in fast times and care a lot about making things faster for people. In this world, "slow" is often associated with friction. But some things are better slow.
  • Fast is best for transactional customer-service designs. We optimize our checkout flows for efficiency and our code for performance. Likewise, service-oriented content must be designed for speed of relevancy. Getting to content like driving directions, return policies, and more should be quick and easy for customers.
  • Slow is best for comprehension. Reading slowly helps us understand more of what we read and even transactional sites have some content that we want people to understand more deeply.
  • There's lots of resources for site optimization but few for slowing people down so they appreciate and understand our content.
  • Legibility means you can read what's on the page. Readability is where the art comes in. You don't need to be a graphic designer to improve readability. When focusing on readability you're focusing on absorption not conversion.
  • Improving readability means putting the focus on content and removing distractions. The service Readability optimized Web pages for this by removing ads, third party widgets, and more.
  • Considering different reading modes like in bed, at breakfast, on your lap, etc. can trigger ideas for layout and type for sites. For example, big fonts can help you lean back and take in content vs. leaning in and squinting.
  • Big type used to be a controversial design choice on the Web but now has been adopted by a number of sites like Medium, Pro Publica, and the New Yorker.
  • To be readable: use big type (16px should be your smallest size); use effective hierarchy for type; remove all extraneous elements in your layout; art direction helps you call attention to important content; make effective use of whitespace.
  • Art direction can bring unique emotion and resonance to articles online. In a world of templates and scalability, distinct art direction can help people take notice of intentional high value content.
  • Macro-whitespace is the bigger columns and padding around content we often associate with high-end luxury brands. Micro-whitespace is the space in between letter forms and between the lines of type. Consider both in your designs
  • Ensure your content is branded so it stands out. When all content looks like the same it all appears to have equal value. Have a brand that sticks out to be more trusted.
  • With all these techniques we're trying to get people to lean back and have a good "readable" experience on the Web.