Good design is aesthetic

You can probably guess because I’m writing this article that I like the clean minimalist design aesthetic of Dieter Rams / Jony Ive / Apple. That of course is my personal and subjective preference, which others are free to disagree with; I won’t argue with them. Much. 

There are certain graphic design aesthetics which are, for want of a better way of putting it, national. Compare for example the design elements of a USA news channel with a UK news channel – look at the amount of information on the screen in tickers and in the Lower Third, look at the font choices, the aspect ratios of design elements, the use of colour, use of blank space around information, etc – when you sit down and perform a detailed analysis and compare CNN, NBC, ABC with BBC News, Sky News, and GB News, you’ll see not only does each channel have its own channel identity, but you’ll also see the shared common aspects of the USA channels which are different from the shared common aspects of the UK channels. That is to say, there is a shared on-screen design aesthetic for USA news channels, and a shared aesthetic for UK news channels. In a nutshell, the shared USA news channel aesthetic is to cram a lot more text on to the screen in upper case condensed - narrow - sans serif fonts, whilst the UK aesthetic favours less text in standard fonts with much more space and solid colour.

I’m not noted amongst my colleagues as being somebody who minces my words; there are too many council websites where the overall visual design is an abomination. It is clear there has been little design applied to on-screen elements in the context of other on-screen elements. Depending on who might have supplied an asset and when, there are too many council websites where you’ll see a button with a round bevel on one page and a button without a bevel on another page, where you’ll sometimes see gradients and sometimes you won’t, where you’ll see colours which don’t fit in with any of the other colours in the site’s palette because the page’s owner ‘wanted it to stand out’. 

There are some council websites which have the starting point of a shared aesthetic by virtue of the web Content Management system and its default templates they are built in, and when; you can often spot a website built in LocalGovDrupal from its home page because of its top bar of solid colour with the logo and some meta-links, followed by the full width hero image with the search box in it, followed by top tasks and then a top services list, etc. You can often spot and date a Jadu website from its use of icons on the home page for top tasks. 

What would be interesting to see might be a common UK Local Government Design Aesthetic – not an enforced blandness where every site looks like a copy and paste of every other site with just a global find and replace of ‘Yorkshire’ for ‘Lancashire’, but a common aesthetic which, like the way in which you can tell BBC News apart from Sky News apart from GB News but at the same time you can switch any of them on and know visually you’re watching a UK news channel, you can go to any UK council website and see that it’s a UK council website you’re on, and if you want to do something on that website you’ll know from experience of using other UK council websites where you might have to click to do it. Such a common aesthetic could be produced as a result of an analysis of the best of current websites, and also the worst. I might even put some effort into starting such a process myself in a future article.