I’m not really sure who officially started it, but it seems that Pinterest made it famous. I’m talking about the current trendy grid/masonry layout that everyone seems to love.
Well, I’m officially declaring it an anti-usability pattern that has fewer advantages than we think. The websites that quickly come to mind that are using this design pattern include:
That’s just a few I came up with off the top of my head. If you do a search for the concept of copying Pinterest, you’ll see lots of round-ups of Pinterest-like clones and even a discussion of how this has affected web design.
Overall, I think this style of layout is not appropriate for a lot of websites. Many of the sites that use this layout are doing it badly and (I believe) it will have an adverse effect on quality of traffic. All the sites mentioned above appear to do nothing to solve any kind of design problem with their grid layout other than squeezing more content above the fold.
I don’t think it’s appropriate for Google+, because Google+ is competing with Twitter, which presents its content in a visually linear manner, rather than the mentally cumbersome grid. No, I don’t expect Google+ to be a Twitter clone, as that would somewhat defeat the purpose of what they are trying to build. But I don’t think it helps to just copy Pinterest and hope it all works out (not that they did that, but it seems like it). Google+ is a usability nightmare, and one of the reasons has to do with the visual overkill that it creates with the grid layout.
SitePoint is, more or less, a web design blog. They too use it, I believe, to their detriment. I believe the linear blog layout is much easier to digest, and encourages better quality reading. Yes, the grid format will get you many more scans and maybe even more clicks. But I think the quality of readership in proportion to traffic goes down when this type of layout is used on a standard blog like theirs.
On Digg and Cut 4, I can deal a little more with the grid format. In those environments, the goal of the website may be to encourage the more superficial browsing like someone might do on something like Pinterest. But personally, I’d still prefer the linear format even for those.
That’s why Twitter and Instagram have been so successful, and will continue to be.
Eventually I expect this trend to die out and designers will realize that, over the long haul, the linear format is much easier to digest, and encourages a higher quality of user.