Designers everywhere tweeted praise for Bat For Lashes’ Pitchfork “cover story” last week, raving about its elegant style. How impressive could a text interview really be? Well, if you haven’t checked out the site yet, take a look. It’s design and photography at its best.
Pitchfork spokeswoman Jada Williams told Evolver.fm that this interview is part of a larger initiative at Pitchfork to do more with the online format — to become more like a magazine while taking advantage of the web’s possibilities, and we’d say it’s working so far. I’m not a big fan of the English singer-songwriter Bat for Lashes (ed. note: some of us here are), so I had little interest in reading an interview about her when I followed those links. But the article’s aesthetics grabbed my attention and made me read about how she wants her new album to sound “like an inventor living in a lighthouse somewhere on the English coast.”
Listen as you read:
This design draws you in, in a way we don’t see enough of online, or in magazines for that matter. Its beautiful, black-and-white photos slowly change as you scroll, snapping your attention back to the article the moment your mind start to drift. As any good designer knows, striking a balance between simplicity and detail is crucial, and Pitchfork’s creative director for that feature, Michael Renaud, flaunts his self-evident knowledge of that design principle here.
Using little more than the same, mundane elements found in any online article — words and images — this simple design places crisp black and white photos (beautiful on their own, by Shawn Brackbill) against colorless backgrounds are well-complemented by the scrolling features and flip book-like action. Isolated pull-quotes summarize the ideas in the coming paragraph. It’s clear that Pitchfork made this story for the net: It didn’t simply take what looks good on paper and translate it into web material, but used elements paper can never replicate.
Other publications with the time and money to push the proverbial envelope should take note: Bottom-up creation for the web, rather than tweaking the old newspaper and magazine designs, can spawn something more interesting.
Unfortunately, the article doesn’t work smoothly on mobile devices, as noted by Martin Belham who calls “not so fast” on design critics who rushed to call Pitchfork’s Bat For Lashes interview “the future of publishing.” Granted, photography as stunning as Shawn Brackbill’s don’t look as good on tiny screens, but no doubt Pitchfork could have tried harder to build a more mobile-friendly version. Designing different versions of the same article would take a lot of humanpower, but it could be worthwhile with a scalable format.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Who cares? If a publication contains great text or a band plays good music, I don’t care what it looks like.”
But the truth is, you do.
Otherwise, companies wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on creating brand images. Design, which works on our subconscious in ways we can’t fight off, is just another aspect of branding. (Even AOL has hopped on the redesign train.) The point is, by adopting well-designed layouts, you not only help the audience digest the content more easily, but you can reach a wider audience.
Mobile version or no, more sites should copy the process Pitchfork likely used, creating web content not by transforming paper, but rather by exploring what the web has to offer. Yes, it sounds obvious, but most popular publications aren’t doing it. Of course, it takes money. As mechanisms continue to evolve for convincing people to pay for online conten and ad networks create ever-more-devious ways to extract cash from free content, this chicken-and-egg problem could become a thing of the past.