Is Google Killing Design?

How would a minimalist work rank on Google? Imagine Mondrian, Malevich or van Doesburg paintings: they look like they are not much, they look like there is nothing more than a few lines and (few!) colors (in Malevich and van Doesburg, not even lines: only colors, being them “supermatists”). Yet, the aesthetic content is so much. What you see hanging at the museum is just a facade of what really is going on in the artist’s mind.

How Would this Painting rank on Google?
Theo van Doesburg – Composition V (1924)

This leads me to the question:

Is SEO (and indirectly, Google, Bing and Yahoo!) killing design?

This is not a simple question, so the answer can’t be simple. A few days ago a really interesting article, concerning Windows 8’s flat design, came out on the New York Times. It mentions that also Apple is going to flat it’s design, aiming towards an even more minimalist design that it already has. In web design, think also of all those start-ups that have extremely minimal designs for their splash pages. Look at IFTTT (If This Then That), one of the services I often use; or try 500px. Or look at Google’s homepage! Was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe right when it mentioned Browning, stating: “Less is more”? We can’t know for sure. But design is certainly moving that way. This presents a challenge to Google and any search engine out there: “What is content really and how can you define it?” Is 300 words, an image, headers etc. really a synonym of good content? Basic SEO would tell us: “yes, it is.” The truth is, it is not. We SEOs know it more than anyone else.

This is a search engine’s biggest challenge therefore: to develop empathy. An understanding of the emotions, feelings and needs of a user. This would leave web designers free to experiment and develop a new way of communication. If reading is not natural (see Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention by Stanislas Dehaene) then the basic idea of circa 300 words for good content is already wrong.

I wish there was a world without the need of SEOs and the sad practice of link building. In which search engines would rank based on the quality of material products (phones, bags, cars and so on) and immaterial ones (service providers, software, reading material), defined by an ever-changing “emotive feedback” and not by standards, which can be exploited and taken advantage of.

One day, maybe.

Ad Maiora.

Giulio Menna
Lover of: all things digital, humanities, and medieval manuscripts. I created Sexy Codicology and the DMMmaps Project and run them both with passion and love in my free time. I am an MA graduate in Book and Digital Media Studies at Leiden University. Still happily living in the Netherlands.
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