A Lengthy Message About A Brief Message

Welcome back from the summer holidays, everyone. If you’re ready to dive into fall, then I have just the thing for you: a brand new Web site that I’ve been cooking up for several months now with my good friend Liz Danzico. The site is called A Brief Message. As of 11:45p tonight, it’s live, so you can go and visit it right now and read the inaugural article from the incomparable Steven Heller.

If we did our jobs right, you’ll get the gist of A Brief Message in about thirty seconds, tops. You can also read the introduction from Liz, who is the site’s editor-in-chief, for more insight. (She also has a great write-up on her site.)

I’ve been toiling away all weekend to get this launched — and the whole concept of the site is brevity — so I don’t want to go into too much detail here. But I will add a few comments that, hopefully, will round out the ideas driving this new entry into the arena of sites about design.

Digestible Design Discourse

First, there’s value in long form design writing and there’s a place for it, for sure — but A Brief Message is not it. We don’t mean to take away from the traditional approach to design criticism by any means, in spite of what our cheeky About page says. We’re huge fans of the kind of critical analysis being done at Design Observer, AIGA Voice, Speak Up and many other design sites, not to mention the many great design journals published offline. But we also believe that we can expose more ideas to more people by making design insight as digestible as possible.

That’s why each entry weighs in at no more than two-hundred words, and why we’re going to be inviting a wide swath of design thinkers to pen Brief Messages. The way I described it to a friend is that I’d like someone to read an article at A Brief Message and think to herself, “Wow, I just read something really smart written by someone really smart, and I still have time left over to watch Miss Teen South Carolina parodies on You Tube.”

Design Idea

There’s also another, more formal idea at work on A Brief Message: the notion that online publications don’t necessarily need to be decorated databases. They can be art directed, too.

Right: Full brief. The inaugural article at A Brief Message, written by Steven Heller and illustrated by Jennifer Daniel and Erin Sparling. Be sure to open your browser window as wide as you can to see the whole thing.
A Brief Message

We have the tools — capable publishing systems and Cascading Style Sheets — necessary to design online in such a way that the page responds to the content. We just don’t have the experience or precedent.

It’s a nontrivial amount of work to design something unique for every article, but that’s what we’re aiming to do here — and hopefully with brilliant, evocative illustrations every time, too. We’ll publish roughly once a week, and possibly with greater frequency in these first few weeks, so the burden shouldn’t be too unmanageable.

In a way, this is a kind of wager that this kind of design can be done online. I’ll concede right out of the gate, though, that while it will aim to be pretty, it may be frequently ugly. If you peek under the hood from time to time, I’m sure you’ll find some semantically improper or just plain goofy code, and cross-browser consistency will not always be exemplary. It’s going to be a learning process, so your forbearance will be greatly appreciated.

More to Come

For now, that’s as much as I have to say. I’ll be adding more commentary here as the site continues to roll out. But as I said, it’s been a long weekend in bunker mode trying to get this launched. Hopefully you’ll find it’s worth it, though. There’s just the one official Brief Message up there right now, but we’ll be publishing more very soon. Let us know what you think.

  1. It’s a great concept and the changing illustrations for each ‘issue’ is a nice touch.

    I must ask though, why have comments? With such a brief length, won’t they detract from the content?

    I like to comment as much as the next person, but I think the message will end up lost in a sea of responses.

  2. As usual, great job on the design. I’m really looking forward to this website; Steven Heller is a great start.

    I love the Subtraction-esque comments, by the way.

  3. The design looks great. As previously mentioned, very Subtraction-esque, without looking like a clone.

    As for the question about comments, I think they are perfectly valid on the website. 200 words are a very short space to bring your point across, so many people may use the 200 words to fuel a discussion, and leaving the rest to the community. Take the inaugral post. It takes no real stance, but leaves you asking yourself how “dead” print is in your life.

  4. Great job, Khoi and Liz. I really hopes this helps to push the idea that even though web design is largely about designing systems, rather than pages, those systems can still be flexible enough to allow for elegant, content-aware and content-appropriate design — rather than the over-templated spitting-out of content we still on almost every web site in the world today.

  5. I really like it. The ethos, the design, the actual content… it’s also nice to hear each article will be illustrated – that really does add interest to a regularly-published-to site. Nice one, guys!

  6. I’m very intrigued by the art direction aspect of this site, and the fact that the articles’ brevity is much more likely to play nice with the idea than even the length of a typical blog post. Kudos, kids!

  7. It looks fantastic and I love the direction you guys are taking this.

    so your forbearance will be greatly appreciated.

    I wonder how likely you are to receive this 🙂

  8. Beautiful design, nicely done.

    This is just a personal quirk of mine, so take my unrequested advice for what it’s worth, but when I do any sort of image replacement for items such as the anchor within the h1, I like to use the following css:

    outline: none;
    -moz-outline: 0;

    I feel like the outline extending out to the far left of the viewport when I click the link destroys the illusion.

    Again, it’s just a teeny nitpick on an otherwise gorgeous design, so take it FWIW. 🙂

  9. Great idea and would love to grab a RSS feed from the site.

    Personally, I would suggest not providing an RSS feed for this site. With the site’s art-directed design being a large part of the message you’re trying to get across, I would rather force people to view it in all its glory.

    Or at least, if you have feed, make it just one-sentence summaries, or something.

  10. Jeff and Jason: That’s an interesting approach. I think though, that as much as I really think the layouts of the Web pages are integral to the success of the site, it’s still most important to get the ideas out there. RSS will reach a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise come back regularly, regardless of how beautiful the layouts are.

    And by the way, there’s an RSS feed (Atom, actually) in the footer of the page, or you can click on this direct link.

  11. > I really think the layouts of the Web pages are integral to the success of the site

    It certainly makes the experience of consuming the content more interesting but I don’t think the design will make or break the quality of the content or the success of the message.

  12. I love the concept of your new creation, Khoi.

    About the question of comments: I saw that not only the article is limited to 200 words, but also the comments. That’s a nice touch. If you have something worthwhile to say, you ought to be able to fit in a couple of sentences.

    Unfortunately it seems like we all have to work on this, as it becomes increasingly important in the blogging world.

  13. It’s certainly pretty but it seems more like a glorified blog to me. If the larger goal is to approach an online publication as something that can be art directed, shouldn’t the title and description of the site better reflect this? But design opinions expressed in short in form? Been there, seen that. It’s called blogging.

  14. Joshua: A Brief Message is a blog in the same way Design Observer is a blog; yet both are still publications. Just because articles will be shorter does not mean that they won’t have as big of an impact or message.

    The fact that each article will be unique, art directed by Khoi and written by someone respected in the design community makes A Brief Message something to be really, really excited about.

  15. You should limit the comments to 200 words, no?

    Has potential but If I see another article by Steve Heller I think I’m gonna get sick. Surely there must be other people writing on design? Anyone at all. Its getting a bit of a joke at this stage.

    I guess the next step is a design writing Twitter? I’ll get cracking on that right away 😉 10 words max limit.

  16. Thanks to everyone for the kind words. It’s been exciting to watch the feedback both here and over on the A Brief Message site.

    As for authors, we have contributors lined up from all kinds of design backgrounds. While we carefully selected the launch piece, we’re planning for each Brief Message to be distinct. We’ll see how it goes!

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.