Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Web Design: The Emergence Of Page Apps

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A web designer creates beautiful layouts for the web content of his customer. The customer is happy at first, but as he grows more knowledgeable about the web and its possibilities, he starts asking new layout changes, integration of new features and more.

Photo credit: Peshkova

What happens next is that the designer grows angry to the customer instead of rejoycing for the new work, knowing that changes and adjustments are more of a pain in the ass than an opportunity for extra revenue.

At the same time the customer slowly develops a feeling of frustration and imprisonement by having to depend so much on his web designer / agency to get what he wants.

So, everyone loses in this equation.

But then, how can the typical freelance web designer or small web agency scale itself if the complexity of the technology behind a web site then binds them to the customer for any little change or request?

Small clients in turn, need to operate rapidly and independently and do not enjoy at all the idea of having to depend on someone else to make changes or improvements to their web site. Worse than this, they don't expect and don't easily accept the idea of having to pay extra money to get these small changes done.

It's really a negative vicious loop.

How can it be solved?

Read on and see what I think is about to happen.

What Is the Problem?


Web designers can do less and less, while being stretched way too thin by their customer requests, so much so that the idea of having more customers becomes many times a dreaded problem.

The paradox is that while many a web designer are more than "willing" to help out his / her many customers with their small requests, on the other hand, accepting to work on these many little changes and revisions prevents them from being able to accept and handle new design work, which is the one that "pays".

Customers grow frustrated and unsatisfied with their inability to control, modify and edit their own web sites, "just in the time".

Even technically-savvy customers grow frustrated as well, because even though they can make adjustments themselves, they often result in less then optimally designed and usable results.

It is a vicious loop that slowly kills the web designer and his passion, while leaving often a customer frustrated and unsatisfied of his inability to modify and improve independently his own web site.

This is the problem.

Web designers do not want to succumb under hundreds of small technical requests and their customers need to be able to create "professionally designed" web sites, without having to depend constantly on them to maintain and edit them.

How can this problem be solved?

It may actually be that the solution is already well underway.


What Is The Real Need?


Let me step back for a second and analyze more specifically what the actual need of the user-customer really is.

The problem-need of the user-customer / web publisher is the one of being able to create, and then then update / modify / review, specific content-application formats on his web site.

He may have a home page, a landing page to sell a product, a subscription page, or a directory of services he maintains. There may be a small shop, a newsradar or even a blog. The list could go on extensively.

The point is that most professional web publishers and entrepreneurs will want not just a container for text, or a simple blog, but something which integrates, several different content functionalities / formats and which looks outright "professional", "slick", "usable" and "user-friendly".

While the functionality part may be satisfied in many cases by the vast number of plugins, and add-ons for web sites and blogs available online, the simple addition / integration of these is not without pain and it often results in a "patched-up" solution, where you can see that many new elements have been added without having been designed to be together.

Even the many templates galleries available on the Web do not provide a solution to this issue, as the vast majority of them provide a pretty standardized approach to web site design, mostly based on blogs and traditional web site architectures. The functionalities provided in these templates are limited to providing the basic building blocks to integrate any video, audio, text, image or feed into a page, but much less on providing specific in-page functionalities, devoted to take on specific "value creation" tasks.

Let me give you again some examples of such type of "page-apps", as I would tentatively call them:

  • Download PDF page with subscription/squeeze functionality
  • Sales / Landing page for new product or service
  • Catalog - Showcase page
  • News and feeds page on a specific topic
  • Infographic
  • Step-by-Step Tutorial
  • Gallery of interviews
  • Catalog of special custom itineraries
  • A Manifesto-declaration page
  • Job exchange service
  • News radar magazine and so on...

These are in my opinion, just a small sample of the type of content value components that individuals and companies operating on the web are increasingly demanding.

These individuals want better tools to produce "professionally looking" valuable content, without needing to keep a web designer on their payroll and without needing to call the webmaster every time they want to make some little change.


Existing Solutions


The available solutions today, do go beyond standard web site templates, but without solving the issue. The possible alternatives to design a web site without using a web designer today include:

a) Templates Themes (see my Top40 Templates Design Galleries map)

d) Blog platforms

c) Web site builders

d) CSS Design Frameworks

Each one of these alternatives, provides some unique specific advantages, but as I have pointed out, none really solves the issue. Let's look at each one and see why:

  • a) Templates
    Existing design templates tend to be very standardized and supported functionalities are limited to providing the basic building blocks to integrate any video, audio, text, image or feed into a page, but much less on providing specific functionalities and in-page "value creation" tasks.

  • b) Blog Platforms
    Tools like WordPress are a great solution and act as powerful enablers for all those who have some technical skill and who enjoy tweaking configuration files, learning new software and in general dealing with technical aspect of things. If you are not so technically-inclined, these consumer-CMS tools like Wordpress and its competitors, do not really provide a solution, as they demand competence in areas that have nothing to do with actual communication, the presentation of information or the delivery and packaging of it.

    As a matter of fact, even those who command such technical skills and choose to use one of these consumer CMS do then need to rely on some "design template" to give a professional appearance to their online communication vehicle.

  • c) Web Site Builders
    Limitations of existing web site builders is that, in general they tend offer a lot of easy to use tools to build rapidly and at very low cost a web site at the expense of providing a) good quality designs that can be easily customized, b) support for specific needs and functionalities that go beyond basic article publishing.

  • d) Frameworks
    Frameworks, such as ...... are super-powerful tools that simplify the work of the web designer in preparing and modifying web site layouts. Unfortunately, the complexity, technicalities and knowledge required to use these tools effectively, makes them uninteresting for the average web site publisher, who would need a course about DIVs, CSS and HTML5 before being able to take full advantage of these.


What We Actually Need


What I think is needed is a new breed of tools and services that allows entrepreneurs, marketers and web publishers of all kinds to easily customize, pre-set, "intelligent" design, which go beyond the aesthetics of creating a neat home page or article layout and into providing a very specific function.

If web designers can invest their time into "virtualizing" their skills into sets of functional templates / apps for very specific needs, then they can also provide, rent out or sell the tools, assistance or know-how required to edit and maintain them independently.

In other words: designers should gradually become creators of design tools that "enable" non-designers to produce effective solutions and to make them in turn distributors of design knowledge and skills to those that do not have it.

Designers need to express higher-value through their skills while being able to scale themselves.

That is: the publishing-communication tool without the design component is worth nothing. We need both the function and the design. Integrated into one.


From Static Content Pages To Page-Apps


Today, the name of the game for who wants to be effective in communicating and marketing online is engagement. To get your message across or to get people to support your cause you need to engage them. To have them discuss, to have them provide you feedback and ideas, to have them act as your best marketing agents, you need to engage them.

This is why going beyond the traditional blog post or the basic article approach is so critical in today online ecosystem.

Readers are looking for unique, high-value experiences, and especially for those where, beyond informing or entertaining themselves lightly, they can also contribute, share, participate deeply.


The Emergence of App-Pages

The good news, is that such new breed, as I would call it, of page-apps is already out there.

In essence, "page-apps" are web services or software tools designed to provide entrepreneurs, business people and web publishers with the ability to add, design, modify and integrate new content and web site functionalities, without ever needing to sacrifice on quality, precision, and without needing to hire a designer and a webmaster to do it specifically for them.

To best describe such page-apps it would be good again to refer to the shortlist of web site building tools I have mentioned above, as these new apps combine some of the unique traits and features of:

  1. Templates
  2. Website builders
  3. CSS Design Frameworks
  4. while adding the characteristics of:

  5. Content Wizards
  6. Interactive Visual Canvases
  7. Specific Application Use


Characterizing Traits of Page-Apps


These new emerging page-apps are recognizable by these traits:

  1. Do not require coding or tech knowledge beyond knowing a URL or an RSS feed
  2. Are very easy to use
  3. Are simple and intuitive
  4. Do not require manuals or tutorials to be used
  5. Work as simple wizards or fill-in-the-blank forms
  6. Can leverage both fresh new content uploaded as well as existing published content
  7. Integrate "design" intelligence across their features
    - Integrated design intelligence means that the user-customer can do no harm.
    - Integrated design intelligence means that the user can select and personalize within pre-established boundaries
  8. Provide professional-looking base designs to start
  9. Provide user-independent editing and customization
  10. Can be easily integrated into existing web sites


Examples of Page-Apps


Many of the "Profile Page" services provide what I would consider a page-app. Here a few:

Curation tools are a good example of page-apps that have a very specific function and which, in some cases, start to show some integrated design intelligence.

Custom landing page builders, squeeze page and video-squeeze page building systems:
Here is a reference map pinpointing some of the tools in this space.

But there are tons of examples in all possible areas:

Here are some web site design tools made for designers which are already moving in the right direction:
Map of custom application builders.

Tools and services to create elegant photographer or web designer portfolios.

Shopping and e-commerce examples:




Benefits to Designers - Developers

The benefits to designers is the ability to scale themselves by "virtualizing" their design skills and providing a much greater number of individuals with the ability to use and create professional designs.

Designers get also the opportunity to move beyond static, aesthetically pleasing designs into functional designs that allow their customers to go beyond average content publishing chores and into specific value creation offerings. While this may be considered a challenge and not a benefit, it offers designers the opportunity to build a reputation not based just on design skills but on their application to specific uses, applications and profiles/targets.

Further such tools and services free up designers from having to constantly assist customers for small changes and refinements while providing them with the opportunity to reserve their extra energies to share and divulge their design skills to their fans and customers.

Benefits to End Users

End users benefit from these new custom designed web apps by having access to "functional" and "professionally-looking" components that allow them to provide real value to their readers and potential customers beyond the typical articles, news and blog posts.

End users benefit by having the ability to edit and update this content value modules independently without needing to resort to a web designer or to a webmaster and therefore saving time and money to their operations.




I have a very strong feeling. The CMS and publishing tools we have been using over the last 10 years or so, are about to give way to a new breed of communication tools.

These new publishing instruments and tools will differentiate themselves from the traditional CMS and blog publishing platforms by allowing non-technical individuals and non-designers to create professionally-looking content-pages-with-functionalities for their web sites.

Specifically these new publishing tools:

1) will integrate a muh higher level of design "intelligence" making virtually impossible for authors and publishers to create amateurish layouts and compositions.

2) will provide the ability not to be just"content containers" but to utilized for interacting and providing a specific function, app or service to the user such as showcasing a gallery of images, displaying a directory of services or tools, comparing different softwares, curating a thematic newsradar, and so on.

3) will be easy to use, highly interactive, will contain many great presets, and will be economically accessible to most web and mobile publishers.

In more general terms:

a) We can't expect web publishing tools, however sophisticated, to solve all of our problems as such tools are not aware of our objectives, nor of the type of message we are trying to communicate.

b) A web publishing platform / tool without integrated design "intelligence" is worth nothing. We need both the function and the design "intelligence".

c) Design-wise, we are improvising too much, and relying excessively on highly expensive designers and web agencies, instead of realizing the importance of building new publishing tools that integrated both design intelligence and valuable functionality. (Considering also that this would be also a huge opportunity for web designers and agencies to scale themselves and increase their revenues).

d) The goal is to innovate and improve; not to repeat the print media approach on the web. If this is a medium that does not require readers to stay passive and read only, let's start building the tools that will empower publishers to do so, while freeing them from web designers enslavement and allowing them to produce stunning results.

Suggested reading: The CMS Is Broken by Erik Hinton


Originally written by for MasterNewMedia and first published on July 26th 2011 as "Web Design: The Emergence Of Page Apps"

Photo credits:
What Is the Problem? - Cyril Hou
What Is The Real Need? - tomeng
What We Actually Need - Vacuum3D
From Static Content Pages To Page-Apps - AmbientIdeas
Characterizing Traits of Page-Apps - Davide Guglielmo
Examples of Page-Apps - Michelle Gibson
Benefits - Stephen Aaron Rees

Robin Good -
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posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, July 27 2011, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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