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Good looks, but no substance?


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#1 Adrian

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Posted 27 June 2005 - 04:44 AM

There have been some comments about this years "CSS Reboot" from 1st May that I think are interesting, and worth discussion in some more depth.

First off, Jeffrey Zeldman is critical of the submissions in a general sense for 2 reasons, "There is more talent than originality out there." and "There was little content and even less user science."

Interesting and quite scathing in a sense, to me he's saying people generally are still designing based purely on what looks pretty, rather than what works. It's the 'graphic design' mentality.

Zeldman's suggestion is that education is at fault, are the educational establishments teaching web design not teaching the students to consider the structure and content of a web site? Are they just teaching them how to write HTML, or make FLASH animations, or pretty images in Photoshop and leaving them to work out the issues of usability and the like on their own?

Keith Robinson has followed up with his comments on the subject. Placing the fault back at the designers door, though with some help from education.
He suggests, perhaps much like Jakob Neilson's recent thoughts, that a lot of web designers don't care about content and usability. They do jsut want to make something that is eye catching and pretty to look at. To get that initial wow factor, but not really be interested in following it up with the substance to support it.

#2 DCrx

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Posted 27 June 2005 - 08:07 AM

Veen's comments judging a competition also follow this theme. And you are right, it is an interesting topic, since the relatively low barriers to competition inherent in a digital economy practically demand more originality, not less.

Unfortunately people can intellectually grasp the idea that the competition is a click away -- they just have trouble understanding the implications. Design as something more than "styling" is a new idea. So most people settle for looks.

And how we construct web sites has not helped. The content driven web site is largely a myth. (Question: how many web designers "wait" for the content, or even purpose of the site before starting to code?) My pet theory is this is a remnant of the dotcom bubble thinking. It you are "on" a medium which changes everything by its mere existence, then anything you happen to do on it must, by default, be innovative.

Content fills a content hole in most web site designs -- it doesn't drive the design. Not to mention the decision process of clients is way too often akin to choosing an attractive bucket.

Finally, an educated customer is the best force for change. Client demand for more than "****** now" websites has to be a driver. Consumer education is not out of the question. Branding isn't a logo or a look -- the mark is only to recall a great experience produced by business systems. As I've mentioned countless times, "themes" don't stop at the look, but the feel, the aftersales support and so on. If you're going to make a big flash header based on the theme "balance," make the business approach focussed around balance.

#3 tam

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Posted 27 June 2005 - 11:14 AM

Clients are definately a problem in getting things done :lol: The majority of people that I work with don't write the content until after the site is finished. Sometimes I end up chasing them for text or I'm asked if I can write it for them. I'm happy to help with suggestions on what to cover or rewording things but I can't write for them if I know very little about their company/business. They don't want wait though, they need the site yesterday and if I work on the site whilst they're thinking about content as far as they're concerned it gets done double speed.

When I'm doing a site for myself I often work the opposite way around, I've grouped lists of things to cover, notes on what visitors will want, ideas on features/elements that need including etc. long before I've put a design for the looks together.

Clients get excited by images/layout more so than the visitors I think.

I know some of the responsibility is down to designers getting the customer to think about things but getting them to take time over it is hard work. It's annoying when your having to chase the client just so you can get the information you need to build a good site. Most seem to assume they can say they want it this colour, look abit like this site and get them loads of customers and then leave the designer to do it whilst they get on with something else. We might know about building a website but they know about their business and their imput is quite an important part :roll:

Tam ;)

#4 DCrx

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Posted 27 June 2005 - 12:47 PM

Most seem to assume they can say they want it this colour, look abit like this site and get them loads of customers and then leave the designer to do it whilst they get on with something else.


Even so, any designer can offer guidelines, a checklist, or even a minute talk about content. There is some small amount of evidence the current state of affairs is out of hand.

Step One: Redefine what "design" really means. Fast Company has a nice introductory which argues design thinking is management thinking.

Step Two: Talk in terms of a Content Strategy. And yes, there is a perfectly good separate topic area for this (maybe that's part of the problem). Designers can view content strategy as an occasional upsell, or whatever they need to get thinking along these lines.

Step Three: Remove the convenient excuses. When the client supplies the content and the site tanks, it's tempting (and comfortable) to place this at the feet of the client. And sure the client is ultimately responsible. But "the web doesn't work for us" attitude this fosters isn't conducive to growing the web designer's bottom line. Neither is the "give the client what they ask for -- good and hard" philosophy some practice.

#5 AbleReach

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Posted 27 June 2005 - 02:27 PM

Redefine what "design" really means. Fast Company has a nice introductory which argues design thinking is management thinking.

I LIKE this.

Elizabeth

#6 Adrian

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 07:51 AM

That post from Veen is excellent, I think I remember reading some of it before. And yeah, that reinforces what Zeldman is on about.

I think a lot of designers still see a web site as an art project, not a business concept.

I get a couple of techie weekly papers here at work, there's been quite a lot of comment recently on how IT depts have to evolve into working on improving business process, not just implimenting new, cool tech.

The end has to justify the means.

I think there is a certain amount of client education required. It seems kind of like the company director owning a flashy BMW. The web site becomes more of a status symbol than a business tool. The first thing they want to do is impress a visitor, not encourage them to actually buy something.

As I think it was Keith Robinson said thoguh, a lot of the Reboot 2005 designs were personal sites. Designers own sites, meeting their own specs. In that case, they are falling into the same mistakes the clients often make. Which, being harsh, could be described as the blind leading the blind....

#7 brookgroup

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 08:21 AM

As a content developer, I used to run into this problem all of the time. It seemed like content, although the most important aspect of the site, was left to the last minute and hurriedly thrown together by clients. I recognize the benefit of "pretty" sites, but people are there for information and if they don't get it, they won't stick around. My current company has found a remedy by using the RAD system, which encourages the client to enter content even before the design process begins. We find that by envisioning content placement and length at the initial development stage, the substance of the Web site becomes a primary concern. The design falls together based on the content specifications and next thing you know, you have a beautiful site AND substance.

Kari White
kari@brookgroup.com
http://www.usabilityandbranding.com

#8 Scratch

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 08:38 AM

Loved the Fast Company article too, thanks Dcrx.

For the last year or so I've been describing Design as the discipline of creating solutions to problems.

That encompasses anything in which something is created to solve a problem: engineering, media, management, training and counselling, politics, social action, search engine optimisation, web development ... etc.

I also now call myself as a designer, rather than an interaction designer, information architect, consultant... It's a tricky title to carry, because it can be perceived as so light, but if you own it properly, and aren't afraid to tell someone else what Design is and why it's so important, the education that Adrian mentioned will continue to take place.

In his book "A Whole New Mind", which I'm reading now, Daniel Pink says that Design is one of the great disciplines of this era in Western society. Design is one of the solutions available to Western workers in the wake of offshoring of blue-collar and later knowledge-economy jobs to Asia. This resonates with my perceptions. I recommend the book.

#9 DCrx

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 09:13 AM

This is part of the "new thing" Tom Peters, Michael Schrage and even BusinessWeek (Catalyst awards) are jazzed about. I go into many of these resources on my site. One of the more venerable is the Corporate Design Foundation, dating back to 1985.

Going beyond these, Stanford is starting up a "D"-School as the future of the (B)usiness-school, while Havard is touting the Masters of Art degree as the new MBA. All these steps are related to this thread -- more substance than image. I think it can be argued much of the wrongheaded thinking of the past couple decades was substitution of image for substance in a range of fields.

#10 thirstymoose_2000

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Posted 29 June 2005 - 11:31 PM

I think a lot of designers still see a web site as an art project, not a business concept.

BINGO!!! Bang on.

Not just an art project ... some see it as a technology as well (have to put an equal dig in for the programmers/coders amoung us). ;)

This goes back to the early days of the web when everyone belonged to the HTML Writers Guild and talked about the great code they wrote --- not the solutions they were providing (as today you see all these validation buttons at the bottom of clients' web pages).

I also wouldn't consider this a 'graphic design problem'. As someone who was trained in design, I was always taught that in commercial design it was about communicating a message --- not just art. Functionality and form are always taught and require balance.

You go back to ad legends like David Olgilvy and they talk about design helping the context of the ad, not competing with it.

This is not a new concept.

But you're right, part of the problem is with the education system. I was always frustrated with the people running the program I taught. The talked to students about software and technology --- not enough on how to apply it. The system is turning -out tech heads who don't know where/how they fit into a corporate communications plan, or a marketing program ...

#11 AbleReach

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Posted 30 June 2005 - 12:29 AM

And how we construct web sites has not helped. The content driven web site is largely a myth. (Question: how many web designers "wait" for the content, or even purpose of the site before starting to code?)

Hey, you mean it's not just me? Sometimes they start writing after I've pumped in draft suggestions of what content could look like. Give 'em something to crit, and then they're moving.

My pet theory is this is a remnant of the dotcom bubble thinking. It you are "on" a medium which changes everything  by its mere existence, then anything you happen to do on it must, by default, be innovative.

Or, the site owner is a little lost.
Small businesses try to do it all.
Larger businesses try to balance between IT and sales and management.
Where are the standards, the sense of direction? Do they come from the standards of individual graphics creatives, web marketers or back-end developers?

Standards are obviously still developing, as illustrated by the dichotomy between Nielsen's useability standards versus Flash-based Webbys.

I think we're all in the standards developing process together. The web is still a new medium. I'll bet print magazine ads masquerading as content are seen as such, much, much more often than paid SE results are differentiated from organic. The same may not be true in a generation.

(& BTW, Jeffrey Veen has one of the coolest favicons ever.)


Elizabeth



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