Magazines have always twinned the visual appearance of an article with the content – evocative visuals help to reinforce the message from the text.
Websites have evolved from fairly static entities to dynamic content management systems, often driven by blogs. But there’s still a void between online and offline publishing – often the content is there, but the visuals are lacking (or don’t add to the article). An article over at ATA (A List Apart: Articles: Art Direction and Design) looks at specifically the difference between design & direction.
Perhaps the most valid point is from the New York Times–
“Excessive art direction [is] economically untenable”.
Still, there’s a growing number of web designers looking to combine direction, design & content (such as heartdirected.com) – the question is the trade-off.