As one of my research projects (soon to be revealed), I’ve been considering how best to decide on a design aesthetic. Here are the interesting points to consider when designing an object in relation to research:
A good comparison to this is Tony Dunne’s Hertzian Tales projects. At least one academic how knows his work pointed out how the crazier elements are wrapped in an IKEA aesthetic (e.g. the table for the dreaming navigation), thus making it easy to tell what it designed and what it merely placeholder design.
With this in mind, I believe that Bootstrap (formerly Twitter Bootstrap) is a good means of achieving this balance.
Why Bootstrap? As a fully fledged framework, it’s well resolved to be nice enough to use. I used to use 960gs for a similar reason, but found that it was too bare bones at times to be useful (and thus a pain to deploy!)
The popularity of the framework is highlighted by a tumblr dedicated to sites using it. While there have been a number of posts feeling that it has become overused (and noting alternatives), others still believe it is useful (and that the sameness is merely from people not configuring the CSS, or using themes that do it for them).
However, the interesting thing is that for a site intended to not be judged on its aesthetic, that samey-ness can actually be very useful, as it says “hey, I’m using a common but platform agnostic way of showing my work.”