design and the internet as ephemera

Hang tight... this is going to get a little esoteric.

The expirement really begins with three realizations. 1) That no one seems to agree on the direction that previous and next should be in blog navigation, 2) that no one really goes back and reads a blog’s archive, and 3) that the web is both a new age of ephemera and completely permenant.

Ephemera, if you are unfamiliar, are the cheap printed pamphlets that you often receive from people trying to get your signature on a petition. Or, the cheap signs pasted up for local band’s concerts. (More information here: With the rise of the internet, cheap domains, and cheap hosting, the internet has become the source of most of our ephemera.

Most events, even one time events, have websites now. We crank out brochure sites for marketing campaigns. Manifestos, love letters, political discourse, these all now live on the internet instead of the printed ephemera that they occupied since the printing press was created.

Really the articles that we all churn out on our blogs are ephemera as well. They are popular now and gone tomorrow. Up to date information today and completely out of date six months from now. And yet they are still there. Still present in search engines indices though they have slipped from the collective conscious. They are permenant ephemera, like a concert poster trapped on the corner window of a dillapiated building that somehow sticks around for months after the concert is over.

In thinking about this I realized that the most important thing on any blog is the most recent article. That no one really dives into the archives unless they are directed there from a search engine. So in the pursuit of minimalism in design it felt pretty clear that most navigation could be visually hidden since it is mostly a detractor from the experience of reading which is why people are there in the first place.

Other design decisions have been drawn from this as well. Things like having the root of redirect to the current article’s permenant address. Having swipe gestures for linear navigation through the "timeline" of posts.

This swpie based navigation and the next/previous links at the bottm of the page represent the most obvious forms of navigation. The rest is hidden behind the logo, much like a hamburger menu.

Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry famously said, "It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove." That has been the core design philosophy behind That anything not essential, anything that doesn’t serve the main reason the user is there should be removed. So nav gets hidden, gestures for touch devices get added, an API for consuming content, and the option to navigate to past articles presented at the bottom once you have finished what you actually came here to do.

I am generally trying to get out of the users way, so they can do what they need to.

There are a few things I am still trying to work out with this approach. The chief being that google doesn’t seem to handle the 302 redirect to the permanent URL for the current article nicely. So... I am working on that. There are also a few visual tweaks I’d like to make to the hidden nav and I am playing with the idea of adding a menu button, though that takes away some of the theoretical beauty in exchange for better discoverability. I am not sure if I want to do that yet. The last thing I am working on is a good way to measure the results of this. To identify if usage is going the way that I think it is. Because without measurement this is really more of an artistic manifesto about the internet then it is a design experiment.

Published: 2 Nov 2017 | Tags: design , navigation