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Three Styles of Web Design
tedster




msg:591815
 1:40 am on May 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

As HTML and web browsers grow more sophisitcated, the styles and approaches to web page design have increased. And yet, I've become more and more convinced that each developer has essentially one approach - and all these possible approaches fall into one of three categories. It's very difficult for someone accustomed to one of these approaches to switch to another.

Each approach has its own upside and downside. And obviously I have my own preference. But an effective site can be created with any of these approaches. And the best developers adapt from the strengths of each one.

1. CONTENT centered
--- or the mark-up approach ---
This style might also be called HTML's native approach. HTML stands for Hypertext Mark-up Langauge. The idea is to begin with content -- a document -- and then add mark-up that allows the content to be displayed cross-browser, cross-platfrom, cross-device. This is vanilla, and it delivers content unambiguously to the end user.

An uncompromising mark-up approach can result in some very bland web pages, and historically, it has. But with the great browser support now available for CSS, it doesn't need to at all. Very simple mark-up can create a powerful communication, easy to access and easy to understand.

There's no inherent limit on the length of a web page, and the mark-up approach will accommodate any amount of content on one page, long or short -- that's a major advantage over older media which are limited either in time or physical space.

Examples
Amazon
News Sites
Forums

Upside
a. Easy on spiders, browsers, and maintenance resources
b. Message is not likely to be overwhelmed by the setting

Downside
a. Potential for blocky, graceless pages
b. "Visual brand" may be difficult to communicate

2. DESIGN centered
--- or the print approach ---
People who were accustomed to print design were very frustrated by early HTML. They wanted to "print" on the screen in the same way that they could print on paper. They wanted the absolute control that a press gives them.

And so they cleverly bent standard HTML to their will - layout tables, spacer gifs and more. The end result can be quite elegant. It may also be very hard to handle cross-browser, cross-platform and cross-device, as well as making some extreme demands on bandwidth.

Maintenance can also be a real grizzly bear -- and here's the biggest challenge. At its most extreme, when the entire page is forced to fit in one screen with no scrolling, the communication may be sacrificed for sake of appearance. If there's one downfall to much of today's marketing in EVERY medium, it's that advertising often trades clear communication for superfical appearance.

But when this approach succeeds, these print-centric pages are glorious to behold.

Examples
Almost any major corporate website

Upside
a. Visual brand is directly communicated
b. Easy to relate to for those who don't "get" the web

Downside
a. Complex code is hard on spiders, browsers, bandwidth and maintenance
b. Message can be overwhelmed by the setting.

3. APPLICATION centered
--- or the interface approach ---
One of the big advantages of a web page is its interactivity. Where would the travel or finance industries be on the web without giving their visitors some very nifty, interactive resources.

But there are some pitfalls here. A web page is not a software program, in that people will not usually invest a lot of learning time. If general visitors must learn too many idiosyncrasies for a given web page, they're not likely to hang around.

So the IT crew may develop a nifty application, but if they try to create the interface in a way that diverges too far from the standards of other web pages, they'll just confuse the user.

In fact, many times the application-centered web site seems to WANT to impress the user with the complexity of the app they've created, rather than making the information delivery as painless and transparent as possible.

Examples
Airline and hotel reservation sites

Upside
a. Convenient access to dynamic information
b. "WOW" factor.

Downside
a. Complex code may confound spiders, browsers
b. Interfaces tend toward the non-standard, hard to learn

People often come to web development from one of three directions: marketing, design or technical. The three styles I've described tend to represent these three pre-dispositions. It's not easy for someone from one of these disciplines to change their foundation approach. But the cross-fertilization that can and should occur among them is my goal.

I'm a marketer by disposition, and I highly prefer the content-centered, document mark-up approach. It's painful for me to work on site that began from one of the other two foundations.

[edited by: tedster at 10:43 pm (utc) on May 27, 2003]

 

martinibuster




msg:591845
 7:54 pm on May 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

Great post go60guy!

Here's more food for thought regarding the WOW factor,

Internet Magazine [internet-magazine.com]

A third of FTSE 100 corporate websites are hard to find using major search engines, according to new research...

It found that 32 per cent of FTSE 100 corporate sites did not appear in the top 30 results, using straightforward searches.

FTSE 100 is the UK equivalent of the Fortune 100.

It's mind blowing to realize that search engines cannot adequately index nearly a third of the web sites belonging to the wealthiest companies in the UK.

jayjay




msg:591846
 12:17 am on May 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

Another way to look at this topic would be assumptions about how users interact with website layout and navigation. These might be:

1. a website = non-linear layout, hypertext navigation

2a. a website = linear book layout and navigation (like the codex, flipping pages)

2b. a website = linear movie layout/navigation (like TV, press play)

2c. a website = non-linear interactive media layout/navigation (like CD-ROMs)

3. a website = event-driven layout/navigation (like GUI applications)

There are a lot of hold-over assumptions from other media / mechanisms brought to websites. Like people who want their website to be like "a brochure with no printing costs", etc.

Website features do build on the ideas behind the features of other media. For example, the ideas that inspired reading from top to bottom of a page in books carried over to the web, but a website isn't the same as a book and doesn't follow all the same rules all of the time.

As both a media and as an application mechanism, the web is different. What is also disorienting from the perspective of previous media and mechanisms is that web content is not simply "text", but also presentation (navigation, layout) and application (interaction interface, functionality). This often leaves both graphic artists and software engineers, each in their own way, underestimating the importance of the web content.

Compared with "book content", web content can be like: the words on the page, the codex navigation, the page layout, page numbering, how pages are turned, how pages are found, and how the book sits on the shelf, all put together!

tedster




msg:591847
 12:41 am on May 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

Sometimes I try to look a decade or so into the future of the web - and I wonder which of the tenets we're discussing will still hold true, and which ones result from today's limitations in technology.

I remember articles when broadband first started to make inroads - they were claiming that on the future web "everyone could own their own TV station." Wow. Even if that turns out to be true, is it a good idea? I get several hundred TV channels right now, and it's not all that, you know?

But imagine nearly universal broadband access, plus search technology that can:
a. Read and search vector based text in multi-media files
b. Read and search audio files (it's being developed!)

Then what elements of our conversation here would still hold true?

I'm not sure that the much vaunted convergence of media will mean there's no difference between interactive "broadcast-on-demand" and what we've learned so far about what the web can do.

Go60Guy brought up a good point - the difference between entertainment and commerce. But so much of our entertainment has roots in commerce, going back at least to the medicine shows of the old West. The secret always is delivering your message, your content, in the most effective manner. That might be a product placement in a dramatic production or it might be an overt "pitch".

The essential skill that the web is teaching me is to be clear, conscious and effective about what I want to say - and who I want to say it to. Heck, that's life itself, isn't it?

Go60Guy




msg:591848
 12:51 am on May 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

Folks - When Tedster posts, drop everything you're doing and read it. I mean it!

lisaevenson




msg:591849
 2:15 pm on May 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

This is GREAT - wonderful observation! I couldn't agree with you more. Although this is a general outline, I do see the design-oriented sites finally moving into content and database-driven capability as well. At least, we do this and a handful of other designers do as well. In this light, the spiders had better get with it, as they are clearly not indexing a wealth of information out there.

Lisa

henry0




msg:591850
 4:05 pm on May 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

I totally agree and slightly disagree! Most posters are utilizing the “ I “ mode.
When hired by a new client “I” try (mostly small to really small business) to apply
the architecture principals and get info and contents from meetings and small focus group

Our job is to deliver what a client would like to see and make its vision compatible with the intended audience
We are receivers with suggestion capability but are not 100% in charge of the final look.

We receive input and deliver upon specifications with our own signature but should not be the final decider style wise
This is where lies my slight disagreement, it’s a “WE” job not a “ I “ job
Therefore style does not/should not appear out of our own hat but from a wider “Melting Hat”
Cheers

lisaevenson




msg:591851
 5:13 pm on May 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

But this is what portfolios are for :) .. Here is our style. Although we can see outside the box and work toward your goal and intentions, most design firms have a unique style they reflect throughout each piece. Specialization. I do see a big split in the entire web design field. The sad thing is, most clients see one web design firm as an all-encompassing vehicle.

How can these differences Tedster so eloquently defined be communicated to clients or prospects?

We are confronted with the hosting companies who all want to look like Pixel Brick. There is the issue of intellectual property, and I won't even go into that soap box.

Lisa

nonprof webguy




msg:591852
 8:20 pm on May 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

Great discussion. I think that for many people, the most difficult concept to grasp about "web design" is that a web site is never completed, but evolves over time. I'm not sure if this is difficult to grasp because of biases we've learned from older media or because planning a site that can easily evolve and be changed is harder, more time-consuming, and more expensive than planning a site that is a static, finished product. It might also be because clients conceive their web sites in a static manner.

No matter the person's approach (and I think Tedster's hit the trifecta) I find that individuals tend to think about building a web site in the same way as when they build physical products: You draft it, then revise it, and publish it and, voila, it's "done."

For content people, it's like a printed brochure or a book.

For design people, it's also like a printed brochure, but it might also be like a graphic identity package -- a comprehensive set of design rules or templates.

For application developers, it's like a numbered release of a software application. They naturally expect changes to be made in future versions, but with web sites, the other people involved don't always think that way, and the future versions are not planned or budgeted for.

With a lot of things in this world -- software, houses, web sites -- conceiving the building process as something that creates a finished product seems inadequate.

Take houses or buildings. Have you ever noticed how so many modern buildings look beautiful when first built, but then become ugly over time as they stain with weather and pollution, pieces of their facade fall off, or spaces in and around them become fenced off or avoided? To my way of thinking this happens because the architects failed to think adequately of the building as something that gets used over time, that will change how it is used, and that is subject to decay and wear.

I feel a lot of web sites have the same problem, and because they are designed and built according to a "static" conception of the site as a product, changing their content, appearance, or function, becomes a much bigger job that it would be if the site had been designed from the beginning as something that will evolve.

When I interact with people who have a writing or design orientation, I often find they do not think beyond the initial publication of content or a "finished" design. For example, I recently worked with a person who was starting an on-line newsletter, and she was very focused on getting out the first issue ASAP, yet had given no thought to what the second and following issues would be about, where the content would come from, what the publication schedule would be, how they would grow their subscriber list, how they might syndicate their newsletter, and so on.

Perhaps designing web sites that can evolve would be a fourth "style" of web design through which all three of the personalities Tedster described could find common ground?

Rhetorich




msg:591853
 2:36 am on May 31, 2003 (gmt 0)

RE: martinibuster's post that "32 per cent of FTSE 100 corporate sites did not appear in the top 30 [search engine] results, using straightforward searches. ... FTSE 100 is the UK equivalent of the Fortune 100."

How many of those companies managed to register their company name as their URL, thus obviating seeking high search engine rankings (e.g. BigCompanyYouAllKnow.co.uk)?

If, for example, I want to find Kleenex Facial Tissues in the US, www.kleenex.com works -- in the UK, so does www.kleenex.co.uk. Searching for "facial tissues" finds them (the UK site, anyway) at the very top of 127,000 results, while searching for simply "tissues" finds them buried somewhere in 1,720,000 results.

I get search engine positioning service companies e-mailing me every day that a search for "X,Y,Z" didn't find one of my sites -- but I know that nobody would use *those particular search terms* to find that site :)

[I'll admit to cynicism here...] I wonder if the "straightforward searches" attempted by Web Site Promotion Services, who have a vested interest in acquiring new website business, were *really* straightforward. Maybe so -- I don't know.

Just my $0.02 worth :)

rossH




msg:591854
 5:52 pm on Jun 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

nonprof webguy

what an excellent observation about buildings not being designed for wearing down .. this is not a concept I've ever encountered

hmmm - your post was about not calling it finished, building for use and change and wear and tear and patches and life passages to come

we know these things as we put a project together, but I must work it more concretely into the mutual client understanding up front

(I'm a forprof webguy, and they need to know the invoices will be coming forever :))

thanks

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