Virtually everyone loves Wikipedia for what it has to offer. It is a gigantic resource that can be used by students, academics, and even doctors to help provide valuable information on perhaps the widest range of topics ever compiled. It is filled with millions of articles, images, and pieces of information in over 280 different languages. It’s also home to around 75,000 dedicated editors who are all a part of a wide ranging community that tries to keep Wikipedia as reliable and helpful as possible. With all these plaudits and accolades, you might think that Wikipedia is free from criticism. Of course, one of the major criticisms against Wikipedia is its design.
Since it was created in 2001, Wikipedia has largely stuck with the familiar white and black color scheme and utilitarian formatting. If you have ever used Wikipedia for anything, then you are probably familiar with the design. There’s nothing really flashy about it, and it’s certainly not winning any graphic design contests, but the design is functional. Over the years, it’s received minor facelifts, but nothing that has been particularly noteworthy.
Wikipedia has also received a number of different proposals for redesign over the years. As one of the most popular websites on the internet, Wikipedia has stayed surprisingly true to its design form. For anyone looking for no-nonsense information, Wikipedia is ideal. But, for creative types, the website can be almost unreadable. Blocks of text aren’t spaced out well, there is too much white space, and the typography in general is out of date. But, again, this is a website with some of the highest traffic rates on the web. Another top-ten website, Yahoo, has seen innumerable changes since it was first unveiled in the 90’s. In fact, the original Yahoo website is almost unrecognizable by comparison.
So, what’s the deal with Wikipedia? For starters, many people at Wikipedia sort of work off the philosophy of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For the most part, this rings true. Although Wikipedia can, at times, be difficult to read, it still gets the job done quite well (especially considering it’s got over 30 million pages to deal with). Another reason that Wikipedia has yet to update or streamline its look is because most redesign proposals don’t take into account the complex infrastructure of the Wikipedia community and Wikipedia editing in general. Most redesigns focus purely on the aesthetic aspects of the site on not the functional ones.
There is even an official discussion page on Wikipedia titled “Unsolicited redesigns.” This is a place to lay out the rules for redesigns and talk about why they may or may not be feasible. One of the newest redesign proposals comes from a Swedish design studio called “1910.” The design looks very similar to the current Wikipedia, but it utilizes white space more, separates blocks of text, enlarges images, and effectively makes the website more readable as a whole.
Of course, if we’re just talking about aesthetics, most redesign proposals look nicer than the current Wikipedia design. For the most part, however, redesign proposals are largely put on the back burner. It does not look like Wikipedia is going to make a large-scale redesign any time soon, so you might as well get used to the utilitarian functionality of the site.
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Charloette Russell is a graphic designer with an expertise in website layout. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and still resides in Ann Arbor. Some of her most notable clients include General Motors, Kellogs, and Toyota. Through her education and experience, she has changed the way people see web pages of various companies.