What iPad Means For Web Design

The iPad is out. Jobs and co. did their usual great job of building the pre-launch excitement and then delivering what looks to be a revolutionary product.

Whether or not you’re a buyer, the iPad is going to have some very big ramifications for some product categories, industries, and the web.

One industry that is going to be immediately impacted is “web design”.

Unlike its cousin the iPhone, The iPad is largely a media consumer. It has no camera and it was more than chance that Steve did the demo sitting in an arm chair. That’s because the product is designed to tap into the casual media consumption that the iPhone fosters with it’s form factor.

Speaking of the iPhone, I read more of the New York Times and more Facebook on my iPhone than I ever did on my laptop. This is a huge behavior shift for me (and I know others) that I attribute mostly to one thing: a vertical screen I can use while lying down.

Web pages are not really pages

This is where web designers come in. Ever since the first web “pages” were published in 1994, designers have been trying to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole as they applied print design maxims to a medium viewed through computer monitors with horizontal aspect ratios.

This resulted in beautiful web pages that very few people ever saw the bottom half of. If you are in the business you know that designing for “above the fold” is a web design principle that was developed in response to just that.

Basically designing for “above the fold” means that a web page is broken down into two major parts: the part that is visible when the page is first loaded by the browser and the part that is not. The two are separated by the “fold” which is a newspaper design term borrowed and used in web design to describe the bottom edge of the browser viewport.

Page elements that are “below the fold” risk never being seen as they require the user to scroll the viewport – which. as web analytics has shown us, doesn’t always happen.

This has caused print designers to unlearn the art of designing for the unobscured printed page and start making hard design choices for the web and it’s horizontal aspect ratios.

The IPad changes all of this as it introduces the web’s first truly vertical screen orientation. Yes, the iPhone had a vertical orientation too but t was too small to read without zooming unless you used a native app.

Return of the Broadsheet

The iPad marks the return to “broadsheet” and magazine formats. It rocks the “above the fold” web design paradigm to it’s core as the user can now scan the entire page without having to scroll – much like a magazine.

If this device is as successful as I think it will be, I believe that we could see a lot of web page consumption in vertical mode – ushering in a renaissance for web design and web information architecture.

Because web pages will no longer only be viewed one half at a time, designers can finally design pages that are meant to be scanned and read all at once.

It only took 15 years, but it looks like the web page is finally going to act like a “page”.

Posted at 6pm on 1/27/10 | | Tags: , , | Filed Under: Internet Marketing, Macintosh, Web Development