Web Design: The Next Generation
by Paul M. Carhart
How many TV shows have you recently seen advertising their Internet
address? How many talk shows invite you to participate via e-mail?
How many companies are now pumping products, services, customer
support and sales directly into their consumer's living room, bedroom
or home office? A ton of them, that's how many - and many more by
the time this you lay your eyes on this article.
is no denying that the Internet is taking the world by storm and,
just like black and white TV's, top loading VCR's and 8-track cassettes,
the Web is improving, re-inventing itself into a something new and
different. What it might become is up to those of us who are involved
It Came From: The Chicken or the Egg Syndrome
things change, the more things stay the same. It's an age-old adage
that rings hauntingly true on the Internet. As most people know by
now, the Internet and specifically the Web first started out as an
information base for use between professors and universities that
could be dialed into via modem. Sites did not need to be designed
or even pretty. Users were looking for information and when they found
it, they moved on. These people didn't need or want to be entertained,
engaged or otherwise advertised to. The technology for viewing this
information, known commonly now as the Web Browser was as sophisticated
as it needed to be. It could read text files.
Netscape Navigator rose to the forefront of browser technology,
the user was able to view GIF and JPG images on the Web and information
was able to be shared visually, usually as some sort of diagram,
chart or an occasional photograph. Not surprisingly, it hasn't stopped
entrepreneurs, corporations, writers, designers, programmers, engineers,
content providers, PR agencies, salespeople, ad agencies, print
shops and a host of other contributors have added their two cents
to the Web melting pot, creating a lot of diversity, tons of information
and a myriad of very badly designed Web sites. Everybody wants in
on the phenomenon and that fuels the phenomenon. It's a classic
case of Chicken and the Egg Syndrome.
examples of this syndrome is evidenced by the technology itself.
When the Web was mostly text, the primary browsers supported text.
As the technology grew and was able to view other kinds of files,
the Web began to sport icons, graphical page headers and the genesis
of advertising. These vestiges of advertising forced the technology
into other directions such as the ability to read animated GIFs,
sound and other forms of animation. Current Internet dazzlers such
as Shockwave, Flash, Enliven, RealAudio, RealVideo, Java and Java
Script add zing to a site and pizzazz to a page. These technologies
are now often considered in the early developmental and conceptual
stages of design for many high-tech sites.
any form of commercial art, designing for the Web requires a careful
balancing between two completely different "clients." The differences
on the Web may be more drastic than in TV, radio, and print - but
the principle is still the same.
first and most obvious "client" is the person, company, corporation
or consortium who is paying for the site. This is who wants the
site either dreamed up from nothing or re-designed for reasons ranging
from a new corporate image/direction to theming a site to a particular
holiday or season to satisfying the latest trend in a specific industry.
other "client" is the consumer. In print, radio and TV it is the
person who will view the ad and ultimately be persuaded, cajoled
or otherwise hypnotized into some sort of action, usually spending
some of their hard-earned dough. There are billions of dollars spent
every year in determining who is watching, reading or listening
to what in order for ad agencies to target the correct people on
the correct show or magazine with their creative ingenuity.
is much the same on the Web. However, the many forms of advertising
on commericial sites aside, targeting the consumer is a little tougher.
Web surfers are diverse, from all walks of life and searching for
only they know what. In order to get these people back to your site
over and over again, the Web site in question needs to be designed
in such a way as to please the consumer as well as the client.
whiz-bang technology of the week may be "cool" and may thrill a user
the first time they come through, rarely will it bring people back
a second time much less on a weekly basis. So what brings them back?
The answer, more often than not, is content. There needs to be something
there that the user needs or wants. It could be news, TV listings,
press releases, or comic strips. It really doesn't matter what it
is, as long as it is something of interest to your viewer. Often the
content is left until last. We spend most of the budget on designing
"cool" sites with innovative technology flashing around and we use
whatever is left for content. As soon as we realize that content is
the reason people surf where they surf, the sooner the "mystery" of
a great web site will be resolved. Content needs to be king. The zippy
technology is merely a means of delivering it. The cornerstone for
all advertising is that there has to be a message that is being communicated,
a story to be told. Without it, there is very little point to the
whole venture. It winds up as merely moving images, flashing lights
and pretty pictures. On the Web, content should rule the realm.
content would be king, then navigation should be queen. Users will
not only need to be able to get around a site effortlessly but will
also need to know where they are, where they came from and where
they are going. In the past it has been simple and sometimes redundant.
Sites would start with a "home page" and then split off to an unspecified
number of "sub pages." However, on the Web, a link can go anywhere
and it isn't very long before a user doesn't know where he's been
or what he's missed. Pretty soon hešs being asked for his Adult
Verification number. Sites have been designed very much like a virtual
Disneyland, spinning the user into areas of interest from a variety
of places.This approach has been met with mixed feelings by both
customer and client and everyone is left asking the question: "Is
there anything more?" The answer? Only if we come up with it.
more innovative approach might be to design a site as an experience
that is meant to be viewed in a specific order. Instead of your
virtual Disneyland, you design a virtual Disneyland attraction where
the message is communicated through the succession of events that
are pre-determined by the designers to communicate the desired message.
This keeps navigation queen, allowing for less "lost" users at your
site who click out after the first page. A site can be laid out
in an exploratory manner so the user can find his own way through
the site by using the signposts left by the designers along the
way. Queen Navigation should be able help you find King Content
without a lot of trouble. Give the user destinations but the user
should be able to take many different routes to get there.
imagine the emperor and his queen without their clothes. This is
how important the visual design of the site is. Just as it might
be impossible to separate some queens from their clothes, navigation
and design should be integrated almost seamlessly. Again, there
is little new here. As browser technology gets more and more advanced,
it is now possible to create Web sites that are just as dynamic
as any print ad or TV commercial for that matter. Although the Web
is a different medium than any other, traditional standards of design
still apply. More often than not, Web designers began in print and
have traditional artistic backgrounds. Designers rooted in the basics
of communication design are able to take a message and communicate
it in a visual way. A picture really is worth a thousand words.
If you want to give someone three thousand words, arrange three
pictures and apply classic rules of typography on your site to tell
the same story. It will be much more engaging.
web is an interactive medium, unlike print and TV. Using proven
advertising techniques to engage your audience is a sure way to
be certain your targets are engaged. In advertising, there are three
key things to be mindful of. Make use of them as you look over your
ad or site design.
classic tried and true design and advertising techniques will start
you out on the right track for designing a solid, effective site that
accomplishes your goals.
it make "Human Contact?" Is there some element present
that your target audience will identify with and respond to? If
your audience can't relate, they will not appreciate what it might
be that you are offering them and it is unlikely that they will
it break the "Boredom Barrier." If your site just sits
there with square pictures and block type, don't expect people
to come back. You might have all the information and content in
the world at your site, but if there is nothing to do or the site
is actually plain, don't expect a return visit. Make it fun. A
little humor will work wonders.
it address the "What's in it for me?" factor. This is where
content comes in. If you don't have anything to offer an audience,
why would they come to your site over and over again? It could
be a game. It could be a cartoon. It could be a newsletter. It
could be a comic strip. You might give away something, a product
or information, for free. Whatever it is, it has to be something
your audience wants and is willing to go specifically to your
site to get. There are plenty of other sites to surf to and your
competitors will soon be online if they already aren't.
About That Technology?
is no doubt about it. Technology is what makes the Internet so "cool."
The idea that everyone can be a publisher is actually a little scary,
but true. Internet technology changes and improves itself so quickly
that it is hard to keep up, try as we might. What may have been an
unstable technology a week ago might be state-of-the-industry today.
Conversely, a cutting edge technology that isn't re-invented as the
rest of the Web changes might become yesterday's news.
is important but it is not the most important element in developing
a site. Note that it is listed about fourth in this article under
content and navigation/design.
of the problems with relying on the latest in technology is that
new Web technology can come from so many places. It really is hard
to keep up. Browser technology changes very frequently as the two
primary browser company (Netscape and Microsoft) battle it out for
dominance. These two companies virtually decide what types of files
that you will be able to see on the Web and how you are going to
your browser doesn't see a certain type of file, never fear, there
is probably some third party out there somewhere who has developed
an alternative form of sound or animation delivery that is going
to "innovate the industry" and create the "new standards" in a medium
that just now really beginning to establish standards. All you'll
need is their plug-in (a driver-like file that is installed into
your browser) and you'll be able to view more things. Of course,
you have to wait to download the plug-in and then wait for the these
files to load. It's a pain, but a small price to pay to have the
plug-ins are sometimes viewed with disdain for their loading time
and the fact that not everyone has the right one at the right time,
some third parties have also developed technology of the "no plug-ins
required" variety. We've all seen them. These technologies usually
rely on server-sided software. That is, software that is installed
on the server wherever your site is hosted will take care of the
extra duties that are being performed in order to bring the latest
and greatest technology to your browser. This server software is
usually expensive but many companies are willing to shell out the
cash to provide a smoother experience for their audience. Regardless,
someone pays the price somewhere.
let's not forget about hardware technology. Processor speed plays
a part as does the speed of the connection. Every time you turn
around Intel has a new number attached to it's Pentium processors.
There are cable modems, ISDN, T3, T1 and phone modems get faster
too. Despite the 56kbps modems flooding the market now, 70% of the
Web surfers are still dialing up on 14.4 or 28.8kbps modems*. That
is 70% of your audience that you cannot ignore when designing your
course, some of these technologies don't last. If your site relies
too heavily on technology, it may look dated in a few months. An
example: The animated Disney film "Sleeping Beauty" was created
using the latest technology of the age, yet remains a classic to
this day. It doesn't seem dated at all, in fact it could have been
made last year. On the other hand, television shows like the original
Star Trek look cheesy. Why? I'll tell you. Star Trek was created
using the latest in technology but it was ABOUT technology which
dates it. Many of the sophisticated devices used on that show (which
takes place in the 23rd century) have already been invented as we
move into the 21st century. The moral of the story? Don't rely too
heavily on a technology. Instead, come up with new and innovative
ways to implement existing technologies in a way that might not
have been widely used before. It's really about being creative,
not about being a rocket scientist.
It's Going: Third Generation Web Sites
not make predications but rather look at how sites are now beginning
to be developed. Instead of the text-based or icon-riddled pages of
the past, sites are now being designed to deliver the message first.
Production really doesn't need to be considered until it has been
decided what it is that is going to be said. The design can then reflect
this message and can be delivered by whatever means deemed necessary
by the designers.
pages are no longer scrolling down to find icons on the bottom of
them. Instead, sites are utilizing unique navigational tool bars
that do not require the user to scroll the page at all. Clear passages
are marked to tell you where you are, where you have been and where
you might be going on these sites. Graphics are processed to be
at optimal color depth to preserve the look and feel while still
loading quickly. Secondary pages are designed to compliment the
front page or cover of the site and quickly loading splash pages
are devised to entice the audience when they least expect it. Information-based
pages are still thoughtfully designed and organized to provide the
information in an orderly way that can deliver only the content
that the user wants rather than having the user sift through all
kinds of sites are what Web author David Siegel calls "Third Generation"
sites in the recent second edition of his best-selling book, "Creating
Killer Web Sites." These sites rely heavily on design and innovative
thinking and use technology as a means of delivering the content
much as warhead uses a missile for delivery. They are well designed,
correctly targeted, have the technology and the content. Without
any of these factors, the mission is a failure. However, if your
site utilizes these tried and true principals of design, advertising
and marketing saavy your site is sure to be an unbridled success.
* Creating Killer Web Sites - second edition by David