is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
A Tradition of Looking Great
I would have liked to have been able to re-skin my Vox page entirely from customized CSS, but apparently that’s not in the cards. Though to b fair, such customizability may not be quite as necessary as it is at, say, My Space; Vox is easily among the most attractively designed of the Web 2.0 sites I’ve yet seen. To begin with, its logo is subtle and unexpectedly smart: a cloud like compound object made up of individual circles framing a simple, sans-serif, uppercase “VOX.” It manages to denote community and friendliness without resorting to speech balloons, smiley faces or generic ISO-style figures.
For that alone, Vox’s designers deserve a round of applause, but the rest of the site is impressively orderly and comforting in appearance, too. One thing Six Apart have done consistently well is use design with great care and precision throughout all of their products. I still look back at early versions of Movable Type — which was designed by one of the company’s two founders, Mena Trott — as among the best examples of graphic design in the early part of this decade. Apparently, Mena has had significant, hands-on involvement with Vox, too, and she hasn’t lost her touch (or she’s really come into her own as a leader of a talented design team) because Vox possesses a sharp, deft design sensibility that’s both of its Web 2.0 contemporaries and a step beyond them. Let’s hope this team brings something similar to a future redesign of Movable Type.
The Features I Want: Not Coming Soon
Design aside, there’s not a whole heck of a lot about Vox that sets it apart from its competition, at least not yet. Six Apart allude to some coming, yet-to-be-announced features that will further distinguish it from the rest of the pack, and for now I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and consider Vox to be a work in progress.
One thing that I’m pretty sure that Vox won’t provide, though, is de-centralized social networking, which is something that I’m willing to bet that many of us who run our own weblogs and Web sites would like to see: an open API that allows users to include the apparatuses of social networks such as buddy lists, photo sharing, comment threads, etc. into our own sites. As I experienced with Newsvine, it’s a significant hurdle for me to integrate Vox into my day-to-day online authoring process when I’m already maintaining Subtraction.com on my own server. It would be a sea change for moderately advanced users like myself to be able to integrate right into Vox — or any social network — and enjoy full or nearly-full ‘citizenship’ without having to pass through its gates first.
Granted, the market for such technically daunting features is a much smaller one than the market that Vox clearly has its sights set on: the vast public who have no desire to get their hands dirty with code or advanced customization, but who do have a growing interest in participating in networked communities. Which is a shame; part of what made Movable Type such a revelation five years ago was its exceedingly pliant user experience: relative to its ease of use, it was unparalleled in its willingness to conform to the imaginations of the first generation of bloggers. Vox is an aesthetic triumph — and it may yet be a commercial and popular success — but it’s unlikely to be the cause of a similar sea change in what creative hands can accomplish on the World Wide Web.+