A couple of interesting articles: whither Web Design?

These links strike me as topical given the response to the Queensland sex education website: quite a few of us hated the look of the site. But are we looking at it through old media eyes?

  • Everything you think you know about Web Design is wrong: (a summary of an SXSW presentation by Dan Willis which is being quoted all over) There is also a podcast at the SXSW site, which offers this quote: “Just as early filmmakers struggled to break free from the conventions of live theater, after 10+ years Web designers are still trapped in the structures of the past. Forget pages, linear text and other archaic vestiges of design’s print ancestry; the separation of content from presentation has already changed everything.”
  • How the young perceive the design of websites (results of a doctoral thesis): some ways in which young people prefer their content to be chunked and delivered

I must admit I’m largely a fan of pages and linear text in organising a website myself, or at least for a blog or news website. On the other hand, I’m not especially keen on some news websites which essentially just attempt to “put the newspaper online” as if nothing needs to change in terms of layout.


Categories: media, technology

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6 replies

  1. It wasn’t the appearance or aesthetics that I didn’t like about the site – the information was simply inaccessible. You had to click multiple times on fairly mysterious headings, and were forced to answer badly-worded poll questions (some of which weren’t even questions), just to get a start at accessing the information. I tried to find things again to refer back to, and couldn’t find them. I’m pretty darn web-savvy, and have been doing this a long time; if I couldn’t find the information I wanted (or find it again, or it took ages to find it), how many ten or eleven year olds could? I realise many are tech competent nowadays, but many aren’t, too.
    My other BIG problem with the site was that I expect it would be completely, not just mostly, inaccessible to PWD using alternate software. Engaging, interesting, picture-inclusive design is not incompatible with accessibility. It just takes a bit of work – and the knowledge that there’s an issue there in the first place. Sex ed and protective behaviour ed aren’t just for able-bodied kids. New media shouldn’t just be new media for some. If it is, we’re going backwards, not forwards.
    For those who don’t understand what I’m talking about, I’ve uploaded a few screenshots of the site with images turned off. I couldn’t access any of the actual information at all. This doesn’t give you the screenreader experience exactly, but it’s a clue.
    One simple thing they could have done was to have the fancy bells and whistles there, but provide an accessible link to an accessible version also.

  2. Good points with respect to the sex education website – perhaps that wasn’t the best example for me to use for my hook into discussing a new design grammar for websites. Bad design is just bad design.

  3. Well according to that second linked article ‘young people prefer bold type’ for some parts of the story. Anybody who’s glanced through the pages of Dolly or Cosmo could have told them that! And all old media do tricks like that anyway – the habit magazines have of sampling quotes from an article and floating them above the rest of the text, for instance.
    That first linked article, ‘Everything you think you know about web design is wrong’ makes out as if it’s a revolutionary tract for a bold new artistic medium, but it comes off as rather misguided. Yes, the web takes its formatting strategies from text. No, we probably won’t see too many radical changes, since the printed word has been around for millenia, and most simple formatting techniques have been worked out already.
    I like simple formatting (my favourite formatted website ever is McSweeney’s internet tendencies, and some of the simpler blogs).

  4. @ TimT:
    Yes, I wonder how much formatting changes can reasonably be expected – there is a way to arrange text that makes it easy to read that we already know pretty well – what advantages do Willis’ proposed alternatives possess? I can see the point about where a design places various links to web-native features, but other than that I’m not sure I see it.
    The second link is useful for people figuring out some basics of design for their websites, but as you say, it’s perilously close to “stuff that works for teen magazines also works on the internet”.

  5. I only tried a bit of clicking around on the site:
    The art graphic design looks pretty unattractive by anyones standards. I doubt it’s what 12 year olds would say was good art work / colour. But then I’m no expert (and have no wish to be) on graphic design that appeals to 12 year olds.
    The coding is probably for MS IE. It didn’t seem to work properly with Opera – half the content seemed to be missing or something. I couldn’t be bothering firing up IE or Firefox to check if it worked ok in IE.
    A quick squiz at the code on the home page didn’t seem to indicate any meta data or keywords etc but I might not have looked properly.
    I did find this stuff below aboutthe creators: [memo to self – never hire them for webby stuff]

    <!– http://www.acumen-multimedia.com.au –>

    In general I thought it was pretty crappy and condescending to year 7’s. But what would I know – I’d like to see some 12 year old focus group results.

  6. Authored by Acumen Multimedia Pty Ltd
    Copyright 2001 Acumen Multimedia Pty Ltd.
    Tel +61 3 9867 1200, Fax +61 3 9867 2400
    Created February 2002
    haha – the blank in the prior comment was where I inserted the text above as a paste – with comments code and your nice site promptly made them imbizible – as it should!

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