Google's Preliminary Design for knol: Subtly Sophisticated

Last week, Google announced on its corporate blog that the search giant was building knol, a rival to Wikipedia. While most coverage talked about the differences and similarities of the content with those of Wikipedia, as well as Google’s editing policies, and the presence of ads on knol’s pages, one element lacking in much of the analyses: the preliminary design for knol. See this screenshot:

One thing that struck me was how subtly sophisticated the site’s design is. Sure, the sample page itself is pretty basic and clean, as simple as say, the Harvard Health Letter from Harvard Medical School. So, yeah, in that sense, it’s Google-esque. But the fonts in the entry body are quite old-school, black-and-white, and quite authoritative-looking. And how about the heading “Insomnia” in capital letters, with serifs in the font? It brings to mind the style of a front-page, right-column New York Times headline — as it would appear in print. And the font chosen for the text itself looks more like what would be used on a print page rather than on a Web page — it’s lacking the rounded, sans-serif edges that tend to characterize a lot of easy-to-read Web-page text.

These design decisions are quite intriguing, given that Google says it intends to not edit the entries on knol. They seem to harken back to the printed page — and, if I’m not reading too much into it, the culture of editing. But Google won’t play any sort of editorial role.

So why the authoritative-looking fonts? To infuse more of a sense of authority to the contributors?

Will the text, edited by the public than by a single editor or editorial staff overseen by Google, seem more “authoritative” than it really is? Will the old-school, print-style font in any way influence the way that contributors write their entries?

It will be curious to see how the community of knol readers — if the site takes off, of course — might react to or be affected by the site’s sophisticated design elements.

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