Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Death by Design

Let's start with a disclaimer, which is typically a bad idea. I do not have much artistic talent, at least in the area of graphics or visual media. I am often amazed by people who do, and a few of those people are my friends.

Check out the Netdiver Best of the Year 2005 awards for web site design. It's a great example of why you don't want designers making too many decisions about web site design. The sites on the list are graphically rich, and there are some innovative elements, but more importantly, they are hard to use, hard to understand, slow to load, and dogged by other difficulties.

In general, the sites scream out, "Look what I made the web do!", rather than trying to get across a more useful message. Maybe I am too much of a left-brain thinker, but those sites don't work for me at all.

If I was looking for a designer, I'd want the sites I visit to describe the services they provide. Most of the sites on the list do don't do that well, if at all.

I'd want the site to include a portfolio. Most of the sites do that, but the portfolios only show the work. They do not describe what the client was hoping to achieve, whether those goals were met, etc.

Take a look, and decide for yourself.


Ken said...

I Agree!

Tom said...

John, you might like to look at the idea that the www is a communication medium. Traditionally it has been text based, for people who claimed to communicate textually - while themselves poring over the graphic results of CAD/CAM (diagrams and blueprints).

When I suggested you 'look at' the idea, I am using graphic language. To quote an old cliché, "One picture is worth a thousand words".

I do agree with you that some people using graphics on the web fall on their faces. Just so long as they pick themselves up, dust themselves off and try again, that's fine by me. Plenty of people using text on the web also fall flat on their faces. Just so long... etc.

I would suggest that, on the contrary, not enough people use graphics on the web. Just imagine how helpful a few diagrams would be in your, verbally excellent, Second Site help pages.

Graphics can show relationships far more economically that text. Graphics can give overview.
Text can reveal detail. Text can explain logical consequences.

It's a pity we engineers (software or hardware) have left the graphics side of the www to the artists. We should all show ourselves as visually literate as we are verbally and numerically literate. Communication is not a single lane hiqhway. It needs room for illustrations as well as words and numbers.

Perhaps I should have included a diagram...

John said...

Tom, I do consider the web a communication medium. The sites I reviewed based on the Netdiver awards didn't communicate well.

Some pictures are worth a thousand words, and I certainly don't want a web that is all text! My problem is not with graphics or diagrams, it's with designers who "fall on their faces" as you put it.

Regarding the Second Site help pages, I agree that they could be improved by the addition of some diagrams. There are a few helpful diagrams, including the diagrams on the Chart Membership page. There's at least one embarrassingly bad example on the Overview page. That diagram is ugly and doesn't communicate the process the way I intended. I've never gone back to fix it, but I should.

A great site to visit that is peripherally related to this topic is Edward Tufte's Ask E. T. Forum. check it out.

amigo said...


Yes -- starting off with a disclaimer is a bad idea.

Let's not place any limits on areas where you lack artistic talents.

You have pointed out that there are innovative elements in these sites. Perhaps this is why, despite a poor implementation in other respects, these sites were chosen. You did not mention the selection criteria. Was it mentioned?

Audio does have some compelling possibilities that have barely been exploited thus far (though I'm not particularly fond of having websites scream at me, either).

I'm not sure that you're too much of a thinker with either the left side of your brain or the right side.

What would life be like if everything were based only upon being useful?>

You ought to look at these things a bit less practically and a bit more holistically. "Look at the thing as a whole," to paraphrase character Pat Healy in one of the most significant, insightful movies of our time, "There's Something About Mary."

"Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Where's your content, man? You've got a blog now. You've got a responsibility to feed it. Those poor bastards that you've just lambasted (well, not just -- it was nearly three weeks ago) could look at your site and say, "Where's the utility in a blog with so little content?" and "My god! He used a template!"

Do you know who this is?

How's the family? Please give them my regards. (I won't get more specific in a public forum.)

Were you thinking of me when you put that quote at the top of

I'm in Massachusetts for a while.

No cheating. Figure out who I am -- if you haven't already -- without peaking.

I (almost) never post opinion comments to someone's blog. My view of it, generally, is that doing so is the equivalent of being a caller on talk radio.

But there are always exceptions.

John said...


My first guess at your identity turned out to be right. "Amigo" was a big clue, as was the "back in Massachusetts" comment, but I admit I wasn't 100% certain until I visited your blog and saw "I will be setting this up soon" among the other friendly content.

A long comment deserves a long reply. I'll try to respond in roughly the same sequence. I don't think you'll be disappointed that I won't reply to every point.

"Let's not place any limits on areas where you lack artistic talents." Have you considered a Dale Carnegie course?

I don't recall seeing selection criteria for the awards. I judged the sites based on what they appeared to be trying to do rather than on the award criteria.

I've been tested by professionals and I am a left-brain thinker, though more balanced than I expected. Whether I am a high-function left-brain thinker is for someone else to judge. At this point, it's not going to change in the positive direction so I'll have to live with it.

What would life be like if everything were based only upon being useful? I think it would be great, but I favor a broad definition of useful. Lying on one's back in the Grand Canyon at night and staring at the stars is incredibly useful. Art for art's sake is useful. Putting on airs is useful, just not in the way that the exhibitor expects! (Ref: Miss Piggy, or the award sites.)

I tried to look at the sites "as a whole" but what I found were holes!

Regarding my glass house, I admit guilt at not being prolific in terms of number of posts. I've written a few long posts rather than a lot of short posts. "Death by Design" is the shortest, and is an example of something I won't do often. I don't think the Internet needs yet another person who writes blog entries that direct people somewhere else.

I used a template because that was the right thing for me to do. My pretensions are in other areas.

The "Do you know who this is" has been answered. I ignored the "No cheating" part; you have always liked mysteries, Ellery, but in this case I don't agree to your rules.

It is good to hear from you. Contact me off-blog!