As a web designer here at Roundpeg, I spend a ton of time inspecting, judging and building new web designs to launch on the unsuspecting Internet. One of my other interests is design and architecture. So, I wondered: what would some of Earth’s great landmarks look like as websites?
The first odd couple on the list is united by a shared love of parallelograms.
UN Secretariat Building and Design Observer
That’s the UN headquarters in New York City. It’s bold, big and, if we’re honest, it’s flat. All those windows. There are like, three shapes going on. Square, rectangle, and curvy rectangle. Not so bad, but kind of cookie cutter. Right? Actually, it’s pretty smart.
UN Headquarters is built in the International Style. You’ll see it in skyscrapers across the world, from Daley Plaza to most any other corporate structure. What makes them the same? Not the actual designs. But there’s a unifying principle: form follows function.
Famous architect Le Corbusier called houses “machines for living.” Minimal web designs are just that: machines. They deliver words, pictures and media but strive to add nothing extraneous to distract from getting the maximum benefit from the content.
What did Design Observer web design learn from this style? Whether it’s cramped NYC or your phone screen, there’s no space to waste. Minimalism and the stripping of extraneous features is well suited for content on mobile devices.
Of course, this means everything but the content seems similar for every design. Is that so bad? Your real goal when you visit a website is to consume the content you requested, not to gaze for hours at the box it came in.
International style is one way our buildings adapted to changing technologies and new demands in the 20th century. There were centuries of other styles before. For example, these meticulously stacked rocks!
Machu Picchu and the Space Jam Website
Hidden in the majesty of the Andes lies this legendary Incan citadel. It’s an impeccably preserved artifact of an ancient civilization, constructed by pioneering engineers with methods lost to time. One cannot fail but be reminded of Space Jam.
Both are, incredibly, still accessible to anyone who wants to walk the ancient paths. Whether it’s the Inca Trail or typing www.warnerbros.com/archive/spacejam/movie/jam.htm, there’s little to block your way to complete immersion in an alien culture. Best make your pilgrimage soon though.
While Machu Picchu is a physical location, protected by its remoteness and the Peruvian government, there’s no guarantee the Space Jam website will last forever. It’s at the whim of Warner Brothers. Websites are so often changed and replaced that efforts to preserve these real cultural artifacts are just catching up. Efforts like the Wayback Machine at archive.org have a long way to go.
Nobody needs the Space Jam website today, it’s true. But it tells historians a great deal about early web technology and construction methods as well the web’s impact on marketing and entertainment. Future humans may discover “Space Jam” and gain greater clarity on their own civilization and its roots in our own.
Maybe Space Jam is our Machu Picchu.
Mitchell Corn Palace and xkcd.com
Hidden in the majesty of America’s Northern Plains lies this legendary tribute to all things corn. The current Corn Palace was built 1921 and it gets new corn-based murals every season. It’s a regional center for sports, concerts and other community events. Hundreds of thousands of people visit each year. Which is a paltry number compared to the fans for long-running web comic xkcd.com.
Like the Corn Palace, Xkcd is a little old-timey. Launched in 2005, the web design was last updated in 2006. But it works great for what it does! Which is simply posting the latest comic and giving easy access to the archive.
Like the Corn Palace. Xkcd is regularly updated with new things to look at. There’s a comic every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The regular, consistent update is great for fans and contributes to a community that’s still growing. Like the Corn Palace, its fans and advocates return day after day, year after year.
When your website delivers on a promise of fresh, quality stuff on a regular, predictable basis, you build trust with fans who return again and again.
Sydney Opera House and E Carey and Associates
You can’t beat this world famous, monumental sculpture for personality. The “shell” geometry repeats in surprising ways, revealing new subtleties at every angle. And it’s a joy to behold. The Sydney Opera House looks like a 24/7 celebration of art and achievement.
It was hard to think of a web design to pair it with. The design needed to balance a certain simplicity (which can often feel cold) with personality and warmth. I chose Roundpeg’s recent work for E Carey and Associates.
Like the Sydney Opera House, this web design offers simplicity at a distance. The closer you get, the more you’re delighted. I love the photograph on the homepage. There’s conversation and team work going on. I know they’re stock photo robots but these robots do a great job pretending to work.
Take the time to scroll past the first headline and a blue-patterned section emerges, revealed as the photograph is lifted like a curtain as you scroll. The pattern is made from enlarged logo tiles, overlaid. This surprise reveal makes a moment of delight that draws attention to the three blurbs in that section.
It’s not just the pattern or the visual that does the trick. For both the opera house and this web design it’s the combination of context, content and in-the-moment action that deliver rapt attention.
The Great Wall of China and The Wall Street Journal
So, this one’s kind of a joke. There’s nothing really similar about The Great Wall and wsj.com. Other than The Wall Street Journal readily adopted the kind of pay-wall that regularly annoys me. See all these key icons? That means you get to read the first few sentences for free and that’s all.
Hate it. Don’t have quite enough gray hair to pay for access. So, until then it’s just inconvenient. But like the ancient Mongols, you can always raid across the wall with a few clicks.
While it might seem like we’ve just been comparing apples to oranges, major design principles are often shared across disciplines. Architects are known to make chairs that make a statement about their ideas for future designs. And big creative agencies like the famous Pentagram do work in branding, web design, art direction and even architecture.
If your website was a famous building, what would it be? What do you wish it was?
Roundpeg is an Indianapolis web design firm.