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A Prettier Wikipedia Design That Could Never Work

Even so, you can admire the effort.

A Prettier Wikipedia Design That Could Never Work

Wikipedia’s designers are working hard to bring the site’s aesthetic into the 21st century. But they need the consensus of the entire (and often wrong) Wikipedia community to make changes to Wikipedia’s 32 million+ pages.

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Salomon Aurélien, a UX designer with no affiliation with the organization, can do whatever he likes. His concept for a new Wikipedia is eye-catching and packed with good ideas. Most importantly, it still operates largely like the Wikipedia we all know and (admit it) love. But there’s a problem: It can’t possibly work.

Aurélien’s single biggest change is the way he has narrowed Wikipedia’s ultra-wide text, which stretches to fill the width of your browser, into a skinnier, easier to read column. And to this column he has added inline pictures like those you might find in a blog or news article.

New design.

The second biggest change is the entry index, which generally butts right into the text. Aurélien moved it off to a left sidebar. In his design, you can click or tap on any subheading you like–such as history or geography–and as you scroll down the page, reading, a little eyeball marks where in the index you currently are.

The third biggest change is the right sidebar. While Wikipedia has this feature now, it’s relatively ugly. They’ve set it up as a crude HTML table, with images wrapped in unnecessary borders. Aurélien has increased the image size and has integrated a clean monochromatic map.

Existing design.

The changes are, for the most part, welcome. This page is absolutely more readable than the Wikipedia we have today. And it’s prettier to boot.

But the problem–and the chief reason that Wikipedia hasn’t adopted a design like this yet–is that of accessibility. Wikipedia needs to work for anyone. This page would need more consideration to fit on screens of all resolutions (including antiquated monitors). The lightly shadowed gradients in its sidebars, and the rounded notification bubbles borrowed from iOS, would increase page load times because they’d have to be downloaded from Wikipedia’s servers, rather than simply rendered within the software of someone’s browser. And they’d also render poorly for many users who work on less advanced, more pixel-prone computer hardware. The extra images could be taxing on some systems. And that clean world map? It actually lacks the fidelity to zoom into even medium-sized countries, so it’s just borderline pointless.

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Aurélien would have probably been better off going with a truly minimal flat design, dividing his three-column format with simple black or gray lines, and leaving Wikipedia’s core components, such their maps, intact as a workable compromise. And in fact, any designer who’d like to tackle the monster project like Wikipedia should remember that if you want to make a webpage that renders for every person in the world, you need to design it for the worst computer in the world.

If you like this design, see what Wikipedia’s in-house design team is working toward next.

See more here.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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