Liveblogging a session at Iceweb 2006 (; )

A bit of a grand title, but really, when we think about it, aren’t design and creativity about making things that people enjoy and use rather than something that just looks good?

I want to start off by talking about movies, about visual people. I was surprised yesterday when I asked how many visual designers were in the audience, and there were like three? Visual designers like me tend to think differently than people who write scripts. We’re always thinking about the visual end result. It’s also our tools – Photoshop, Illustrator – that are visual tools. Sometimes it’s very hard for us small-minded, small-brained people to conceptualize, to a larger extent. So all the tools we use are visual.

When it comes to designing for the Web, we’ve got other concerns that we need to take into account. (Shows a slide with three faces in their own 35mm slide frames.) “This very pleasant-looking bunch of ladies. And Joe” really come to symbolize the type of additional or external influences that we have to take into account when we’re designing something. For example, there are accessibility concerns (slide shows me) – what technologies do people use to read our sites? We aren’t just talking about assistive technologies like screen readers; we’re really talking about usability in the widest sense. What happens if I want to read my content on a mobile phone? After a long day, what if I want to increase the font size? And that’s an accessibility as well as a usability concern. We’ve got to be thinking of accessibility in the widest sense rather than the sense of “Can somebody access this with a screen reader or screen magnifier?”

When it comes to usability (slide shows Kelly Goto), (it’s a question of goals). Quite often you’d think these would be in conflict with visual designers. Usability and accessibility can sometimes be seen as a limitation on design.

Then we come to validation (slide shows Molly), which can be a strong word, really. In art school, I specifically took a course that didn’t tell me what to do for three years. These type of terms don’t generally fit within the creative thought of a designer. At first instance, we look at these as being limitations on creativity rather than falling into the scope of what it means to be a designer on the Web today.

Let’s look at some other stakeholders or influences. The first thing has got to be brand. Quite often we can’t make things up from scratch. We’ve got to be working with the established brand guidelines. Marketing departments. Business goals: There’s an enormous different range of them, advertising being a prime example, or sponsorship. Where do the ads fit? How does that affect the visual design we’re trying to make? Owners’ goals. Web sites that are structured exactly as the company is make no sense to outsiders.

These could all be considered limitations, but are really part of the idea of designing something for the modern Web. When I talk about putting these all together into “modern design,” I like to look at something that sums up the combination of all of these – movie Web sites.

But what would we expect to be sites that conform to this idea of brand/marketing/business etc.? (Shows Amazon.) Does anybody here like it as a design? Anybody here really think it sucks? (Several hands.) From a visual design (standpoint), it’s horrible. I find it very cluttered. I know something about Amazon’s methods, so I know they’ve tested every little thing. I’d like to do something cool with Amazon, and I know a lot of designers who do. What would be the perfect tool to avoid having to deal with browsers and complications? Flash. There’s nothing wrong with Flash; there’s only something wrong with what people do with it.

Using Flash may or may not accomplish these goals, but as a designer this is what I want to do. So the first thing you do is make two versions. (Shows fake Amazon splash screen with Flash and HTML options.) There’s lots of banking geezers here today, right? If you went on your banking site and it asked you which version you’d like to use, Flash or HTML, which version are you gonna use? HTML. Users will primarily choose the thing that they think is easiest. Often we’ll find that the HTML version is far less well thought out than the Flash version is.

First of all, we’re making assumptions that users know what the bloody hell Flash is. I wouldn’t know certain internal banking software; we assume people know what Flash (and HTML) is. I’m also making the assumption that people know something technical about their computer: “Best viewed at 1,024 × 800.” So it’s not a great idea to be making certain assumptions.

(Shows mockup of eBay slide with browser and plugin requirements.) For the men in the audience, I’ll explain: A washing machine is the white box in the kitchen that you don’t use very often. But for the ladies in the audience, do you know what model number your washing machine is? I have no idea what model number my telly is, and I watch it a lot. We shouldn’t make assumptions that people know exactly what it is that we know we’re talking about.

Anybody use Flickr? What would happen if we had a versionchoosr where the user could choose between Ajax or just plain ol’ JavaScript? Again, we’re making assumptions. But people couldn’t even be bothered to choose. Don’t they just want to get stuff done?

Anybody familiar with this site (Zen Garden)? Anybody fairly competent with their CSS knowledge, of CSS1 vs. CSS3? What if we came onto the Zen Garden (with CSS-level choosers)? We’re not designing for ourselves here; we’re designing for things that people want to use.

Let’s move on to some movies. (Shows King Kong animated site with trailer and sound.) What’s the purpose of that site? (Audience: Sell the DVD.) “Sell the DVD” now, but when that film was in release, it was there to build hype and build interest and put bums in seats in cinemas. So the site has slightly altered its focus since the DVD came out. So I would expect this site to be absolutely amazing, what with all the production money put into it.

What it does for me, as a lot of these sites do, is it really sums up what I was talking about before – brand guidelines, brand “experience,” business. Out of all of this visual material that’s going on on the screen, how does one get into the site? My eyes is immediately drawn to the movie clip that keeps continuously playing. (“Enter site” is at least nearby.) They’ve also made some other miserable mistakes, like sponsorship ads. This is a worldwide site; it’s not versioned. Does anybody know what Papa John’s is? It’s pizza. What is that doing there, and why is that being placed over the New York skyline? Why is it so much bigger than really interesting information, like if I buy the DVD there are some really interesting Easter eggs in there? I don’t understand why, as a fan of the movie, they’ve laid out the site like this.

(Scribe stepped out at 2006.04.28 13:00 to practise his Icelandic.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.04.28 08:32. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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