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What is Timeless Web Design?

Let’s say you took on a client, and they wanted something very specific from you. They wanted a website that without any changes at all, would still look good in 10 years.

Turns out, when you pose this question to a bunch of web designers and developers, the responses are hugely variant!

The Bring It On Crowd

There are certain folks who see this as an intreguing challenge and would relish the opportunity.


With glee.

— Jeremy Keith (@adactio) July 27, 2017

Accept the challenge 👌

— Dick (@michaeldick) July 27, 2017

Totally deliver 👍

— Kevin Nagurski (@knagurski) July 27, 2017

The “Keep It Simple” Crowd

This is mostly where my own mind went:

focus on minimalist design and great typography.

— Zach Leatherman (@zachleat) July 27, 2017

I would avoid extremes: no extremely vivid colors; a classic font set; clean but not overly minimal; moderate border radiuses

— keith•j•grant (@keithjgrant) July 27, 2017

Focus on the typography.

— Daniel Sellers (@daniel_sellers) July 27, 2017

Keep it clean and minimal with excellent typography.

— ⌘ Sean Bunton (@seanbunton) July 27, 2017

Plus of course some nods to Motherfucking website and Better Motherfucking Website.

The “Nope” Crowd

An awful lot of folks would straight up just say no. Half?


— Cennydd (@Cennydd) July 27, 2017

To be fair, we didn’t exactly set the stage with a lot of detail here. I bet some folks imagined these clients as dummies that don’t know what they are asking.

Decline the business, because that’s not a reasonable expectation.

— Len Damico (@lendamico) July 27, 2017


— Jez McKean (@jezmck) July 27, 2017

I wonder if the client presented themselves well, clearly knew what they were asking, and were happy to pay for it, if many of these designers would have responded differently.


— Woman Code Warrior (@amberweinberg) July 28, 2017

Still, curious that so many designers didn’t see any the challenge here, just the absurdity.

The “Let’s Get Technical” Crowd

I’m partially in this group! What things can and should we reach for in this project, and what should we avoid?

A) system fonts
B) semantic HTML
C) let the browser’s shifting sands on how to render the page update the site for you
D) git drnk

— Sean T. McBeth (@Sean_McBeth) July 28, 2017

mobile-first, svg graphics, time spent on ux analysis (card sort analysis etc), decoupled modular micro-service front+back end

— Adam Mackintosh (@agm1984) July 27, 2017

Honestly an SPA, no external dependents, and build an archive and entry mechanism to handle content. Wildcard redirect and buy 10 yr hosting

— Jeff (@etisdew) July 28, 2017

If you’re looking for an actual answer besides no, maybe html only, inline styles, nothing dynamic, no external calls.

— David v2.9.5 (@davidlaietta) July 28, 2017

“No external calls” seems particularly smart here.

Based on experience and observation in my time in the industry, I’d say it’s somewhere around 75% of websites are completely gone after 10 years, let alone particular URL’s on those websites being exactly the same (reliable external resources).

The “It’s About The Content” Crowd

Simple, driven by content

— Eric Shuff (@ericshuff) July 27, 2017

Focus on making it easy to publish and manage great content. Because great content can easily outlive 10 years.

— Deepti Boddapati (@DeeptiBoddapati) July 27, 2017

Very basic, content focus without all the pretty things.

— Bethany (@fleshskeleton) July 27, 2017

Minimal. Large text elements with a few images mixed in with the content and little color.

— Veronica Domeier (@hellodomeier) July 27, 2017

The “See Existing Examples” Crowd

Adopt the Craigslist design philosophy.

— Chris Cashdollar (@ccashdollar) July 27, 2017

Borrow from @daringfireball

— Joe Casabona (@jcasabona) July 27, 2017

Hand them the Google homepage.

— Darth Seh (@seh) July 27, 2017

https://t.co/wu3bjk5zoA that would work I guess

— Pascal (@murindwaz) July 27, 2017

Plus things like Wikipedia and Space Jam. Also see Brutalist Websites.

Interesting Takes

Our very own Robin Rendle had an interesting take. Due to population growth, growing networks, and mobile device ubiquity, they site may not want to be in English, especially if it has a global audience. Or at least, be in multiple major world languages.

Leave it to Sarah to come in for the side tackle:

shape the culture that uses the app/site to hate change

— Overactive Algorithm (@sarah_edo) July 28, 2017

And Christopher to give us some options to keep them on their toes:

A) say, “Is this one of those tricky Google job interview questions?”
B) say, “GeoCities lasted 10,000 years, so this will be easy.”
C) 👀

— Christopher Schmitt (@teleject) July 28, 2017

Why do any design at all?

text file on the server root

— Eric Bailey (@ericwbailey) July 27, 2017

Although I might argue in that case, you might as well make it an `.html` file instead of `.txt` so you can at least hyperlink things.

My Take

Clearly “it depends” on what this website is supposed to accomplish.

I can tell you what I picture though when I think about it.

I picture a business card style website. I picture black-and-white. I picture a clean and simple logo.

I picture really (really) good typography. Typography is way older than the web and will be around long after. Pick typefaces that have already stood the test of time.

I picture some, but minimal copy. Even words go stale.

I picture the bare minimum call to action. Probably just a displayed email address. I’d bet on email over phones.

Technically, I think you can count on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I don’t think anything you can do now with those languages will be deprecated in 10 years.

Layout-wise, I’d look at doing as much as you can with viewport units. Screens will absolutely change in size and density in 10 years. Anything you can make SVG, make SVG. That will reduce worry about new screens. Responsive design is an obvious choice.

Anything that even passably smells like a trend, avoid.

Inputs will also definitely change. We’re already starting to assume a touch screen. Presumably, you won’t have to do anything overly interactive, but if you do, I wouldn’t bet on a keyboard and mouse.

I’d also spend time on the hosting aspects. Register the domain name for the full 10 years. See if you can pre-buy hosting that long. Pick a company you’re reasonably sure will last that long. Use a credit card that you’re reasonable sure will last that long. Make sure anything that needs to renew renews automatically, like SSL certificates.

More thoughts, as always, welcome in the comments.

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