10.12.2007

Print vs. Online with Tom Bodkin, Khoi Vinh, of the New York Times

Tom Bodkin and Khoi Vinh, New York Times

This morning's session, Print vs. Online, with Tom Bodkin and Khoi Vinh of the New York Times, felt more like a talk show debate than it did a workshop session and that's a good thing.

Tom Bodkin has a rich history in classic design academics and has been with the New York Times' print design team since 1980. Khoi Vinh, while having a similar classical design background, is also heavily rooted in technology. He's well-known for applying grid design concepts to the web, starting with the Onion's site redesign, and later, the New York Times'. He's even inspired a CSS framework for grid layouts on the web, called Blueprint. As such, the two this morning discussed their work at the New York Times and debated the differences between print design and web design, and discussed why more classical design techniques haven't been adapted for the web.

NYTimes.com's Design Efforts:

  • Platform
The New York Times' website doesn't actively design for the news; rather they're interested in designing a platform. Occasionally, however, they will customize the site in light of some events, yet only if the time to do so is available. The benefits of this is allowing highly specific design presentations, and that this is ideally how we should be designing online. Again though, the primary drawback is that this sort of specific customization is time consuming, and it also breaks the Times' syndication methods, RSS feeds, etc.

  • Community
Khoi also mentioned that they're really trying to ramp up community with its visitors. Apparently, we can expect to see article commenting options appearing much more frequently on stories in the coming months. Khoi is very much about conversation (more on this shortly) and this is surely a motive behind this concept.

  • Narratives
Tom argued that the internet is still not succeeding in functioning as a narrative device, or at least to the extent that it could. The internet is still very business-oriented and so there's an opportunity to take advantage of the narrative online. Khoi added that narratives are a basic form of communication and that needs to be translated to the web.

  • Mobility/Portability
Content needs to be portable and if it isn't it looses a lot of its usefulness. As devices get cheaper, smaller and improve in battery life, portability will continue to strengthen and so too will the importance of the narrative.

The Great Debate: Print vs. Online

Tom, rooted in print design, had some thoughts that could be summed up as such: currently, the internet is akin to an open-cockpit; a lot of people are experimenting with a lot of different ideas and methods. In the long-run though, the internet will become more like a streamlined jet. This open-cockpit is allowing a lot of people to call themselves designers. However, you can't call yourself a designer if you only design for the internet, because in not having a background in basic and essential design principles, you're flying without a destination. There are a lot of designers out there, but there are few really good designers.

Khoi, rooted in both print and online design, is able to marry the two and bring forth design concepts that shouldn't be new to the internet, but are, such as grid design. Speaking with Khoi after the session, he attributes that slow adoption of design concepts by the technical world to the sheer fact that the internet is still a very new medium, one which will experience evolution and progress similar to how the medium of film has adapted through its existence.

By the end of the session though, it was clear that developing narratives and initiating conversations are key in the transition from print to online, as they're both universal, unwavering elements of design.

William Couch
Orlando Sentinel

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