Are web designers out of touch with their audience?

I don't like it. If it works, why fix it?? [..] Everyone these days wants to seem to find something "new and better" and ends up screwing up things. Yuck!

~ Anonymous reader of LJworld.com on their recent redesign.

Lawrence Journal World, a relatively small American newspaper from Kansas, recently launched a new design for their website. The disgruntled reader above was not too happy about the radical change in design, which is quite interesting, because their new site may be the most modern online newspaper there is.

I really enjoy this new design, and I'd think most web designers who follow the current trends of our industry would agree (most designers do, that's why it's called a trend).

In many ways, this site is a perfect incarnation of what the ghastly term "Web 2.0" has come to represent: Loads of whitespace, sans-serif fonts, javascript, PNGs, large type, less clutter and so forth (every page even includes 13 individual JavaScript files).

Even under the hood, this site is cutting edge. The newspaper employes a bunch of the best Django programmers, in addition to Jeff Croft, web designer extraordinaire. The redesign looks and feels exactly like what one would expect from such a crowd.

However, many of the comments uttered in their announcement of this new look agree with the reader quoted above. Why the drastic change? There is of course a lot of positive comments as well, but given that these reviews were gathered from a developer blog, I'd expect that many of the people that chimed in are web designers themselves.

Another fairly recent redesign of an online newspaper, is that of the New York Times:

This redesign, however, while modern and employer of many exciting technologies, is not nearly as cutting edge as LJWorld's latest incarnation. I see this more as a "safe" design, using serifs, lots of content without much scrolling, left-aligned menu and so forth.

The New York Times redesign did not create as much stir when it was launched; it was new and different ALL RIGHT, but at the same time more familiar and, as mentioned above, "safe", than that of LJWorld.

So while the LJWorld redesign is what many web designers consider to be the default route to go these days, the New York times redesign seems to have struck more chords amongst its regular users.

This is definitely something we should have in mind when considering wether to use that gradient/reflection/ajax feature or not.