Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Web Design 2.0: Step Up, Then Get Out of the Way

Technology, at its best, is transparent â€" it s the invisible lubricant between what I want to do, and having done it. A ball-point pen, for example, is successful because it requires very little from me to make it work. I can put ink to paper without needing to think about all the messy and mechanical things a writer had to deal with in the past. The same idea holds true for Web 2.0 technologies. We re seeing a decentralization of media creation and distribution as blogs grow to challenge traditional publications. Wikis and open source are driving the co-operative creation of everything from content to code. This in turn is leading to an environment in which applications are becoming as rich on the Web as on the PC, with the advantage of being faster to market, adaptive and componentized, so they can be snapped together to create any number of new user experiences. Why not pair a satellite mapping service with an ad-supported local business directory? What about being able to update your code base in a matter of minutes, rather than hours? In a way, the original promise of the Web - what you want, how you want it, easily - is coming true. Unfortunately these great strides aren t always being matched by great design. The leveling aspect of free Web applications is also creating a lowest common denominator in terms of user interface. If 2.0 marks the Web’s adolescence (with emphasis on personal independence, what friends think, and defiance to the establishment), then Web design could be in for a rough ride. And it s the responsibility of the design community to provide some proper adult supervision through this phase. So what does that mean, practically? It means embracing new technologies like AJAX for a dynamic page; tagging searches with multi-directional folksonomies rather than ranked taxonomies, for more flexible, intuitive results; and providing multiple points of entry versus hierarchical navigation schemes for friction-free flow. How this translates into design on the pixel level will vary, but as professionals, I think we have a mandate and a responsibility to our clients to be best-in-class in any design arena, and it s incumbent on us to be fluent in all aspects of the web as it continues to evolve. I don t presume to tell you how to design sites here, but I do want to suggest this guiding principle: understand how these new technologies are shifting the way people use the Web, and shift your approach to interface design accordingly. Provide the appropriate technology in the most user-directed, functional way, and get out of the way. Because at the end of the day, the utility of a design isn t measured in how many technology stripes you can point to on your sleeve. It s measured by how often people use your site, and how good the experience is. The goal, for any of us, should be to provide an experience that asks as little as possible from an end-user. It must be seamless, much as the smooth motion of that ball-point pen. Jamie Monberg is the new director of interactive for Hornall Anderson Design Works, a brand-focused, graphic and interactive design firm in Seattle. Get in touch at or by visiting .

No comments: