Modern for Wikipedia

We all know—or should, anyway—that a good UI (user interface) design will likely make a significant difference on whether someone uses a site more often or not. Here’s a free tool that drives the point home, in a little package you’ll likely find useful.

Wikipedia is, of course, one heck of a killer info site. It won’t win any Web design awards anytime soon, though. Heck yeah it’s functional, but to keep its technical overhead as small as it can while trying to be compatible with the widest range of possible devices out there, it has to compromise and go with probably the most generic “design” and layout it can implement to organize and present all that info it often packs into a page. A tough gig, designing that one. 

Modern is a free Chrome extension (also available for Firefox and Edge) that gives Wikipedia a more visually useful UI, and instantly. Install the extension (mindlessly easy), and the next time you drop by Wikipedia, it’s got a new and improved look (narrower more readable columns, better organized layout and navigation, etc.). What I find most interesting about it, though, is how subtle it is. It’s a comfortable, visually natural shift.

I find the slight changes in the way navigational elements are implemented particularly noteworthy—they increase feature discoverability, I think. While we have a natural tendency to automatically filter out visual noise to cope with a seemingly chaotic and overloaded layout, this improved and cleaner look Modern delivers I feel actually helps us notice more. The reality, however, is that the Modern-enhanced Wikipedia page has the same exact elements and details we see with the standard layout—it’s just visually presented better. Again, it’s subtle, but it’s fascinating to compare and contrast.

Note that I actually don’t use Modern myself, being experienced and already quite used to Wikipedia’s standard design. I don’t need yet another non-vital-for-me extension eating up and bogging down browser resources. But you may possibly find it a gamechanger, so here we are. At the very least, I think it’s a brilliant example for us to study of the subtle yet powerful benefits a good UI design can deliver.

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