Two Political Web Sites (Jacobin and Young Americans)

Peter Frase introduces “Saint Monday,” his new blog at Jacobin magazine, with some kind words for the site’s designers:

As you can see, things have been prettied up quite a bit around here, as Remeike Forbes and Daniel Patterson have stepped up their game once again with a great site redesign.

For me the design is an example of an implementation that manages to impress on first glance, but actually does the client no favors. Of course, in such situations, it’s not always clear whom to hold responsible for confused effects.

If you poke around, you may also find that the site is difficult to use and navigate – it’s not clear when we are “at” one of its blogs, or to what part of the magazine a given article is supposed to belong. More to the aesthetic-ideological point, though a testimonial blurb reminds us that Jacobin means to be “radical left,” the site’s “prettied up” user icons, fonts, and half-tones, flattened Toussaint-Louverture graphic, and self-conscious article excerpts (“my blog, my very own blog”) and cute grace notes (“Bookmarx”) convey an overall impression that’s about as radical and polemical, as revolutionary and Jacobin, as a restaurant menu. It’s “radical leftism” as de-constructed period piece or bourgeois diversion, hardly as, say, a life-and-death confrontation with power.

Compare Jacobin to the also new, mobile-friendly, highly pictorial and interactive Young Americans sub-site at barackobama.com:

It is not a fair “straight-up” comparison, of course. For one thing, I would not be surprised to learn that Young Americans, even as a mere sub-installation by salaried staff, would cost out to 50 times as expensive as Jacobin. The two sites also have very different, if partly overlapping, purposes. Also, both design teams are dependent on their clients for content and direction, for good or ill.

Still, the visual statement at Young Americans is not just more technically sophisticated, it’s about 50 times more substantial. It is something that has to be dealt with and can be interacted with effectively – unlike, for instance, today’s radical left.


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