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Web Design in Final Projects

One of the most interesting experiences in this class has been watching people create final projects after listening to commentary all semester. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but I was fascinated to see people encounter web design after making design commentary all semester long.

For all the criticism that we provided on interface design and the frustrations we had with the various site designs, I was surprised that I didn't see more attention paid to form. Or perhaps I'm simply not seeing innovation where there is some. I absolutely loved the projects, but I was stunned to see how many people imposed arbitrary restrictions on how people viewed their projects, whether it was in using pixel dimensions in their web design or making comments about what resolution users should use to view the projects.

Good Innovation

Deciding what is good innovation and what is bad innovation on the web is always a challenge. After all, if web designers ignore accessibility (the ability of search engines to interpret pages, users to bookmark them, different web browsers to interpret them the same way, etc.), some very cool effects can be achieved (see many of the projects this semester). In contrast to these projects, however, I would like present a web design company that innovates in form while retaining a fair amount of convention.

Enter 2Advanced Studios. Beloved and hated all over the net (but known everywhere), 2Advanced are undisputed magicians of Flash (if you want to know more about flash). They have produced some of the most dynamic and interactive sites on the net, integrating animation, audio, and video (hypermedia anyone?) at an unprecedented level. So why are they hated?

Broken Forms

One of the most interesting things I found about many of the projects we looked at (the projects that seemed to have frustrating elements to them), was the seeming need to innovate broken forms. Much like House of Leaves or Only Revolutions, many of the projects we looked at seemed to take a traditional mode of expression (a web site/a book), and break it.

In the case of Danielewski's works, I find the break to be intriguing and exciting. Somewhat scary -- I'm not sure how I'm supposed to read them if there's even a how to be found -- but overall engaging and stimulating in a manner that makes me want to read them rather than avoid them. In many of our projects, however, I decidedly felt alienated and repulsed. Of course, one could attribute this to the fact that website design is a profession for me, and dealing with websites that break from convention is both threatening and frustrating for me as a professional -- not a very interesting interpretation. Instead, I think there's a reason why some innovators produce forms that are engaging and others repulsive.

(I start by breaking my own introduction)

One of the hardest topics of discussion for me to participate in this term was web design (or interface design, or project design, or anything of the type). I'm sure this stems from the fact that I spend much of my life (outside dance and academia) designing web sites. Trying to discuss web design in class was like trying to hold a meaningful conversation about a senior seminar in maths with a bunch of freshman in Calculus I. That's not to say there weren't some interesting observations about web design especially -- there were, though not in any way that I expected.

As a web designer, the focus of my job is to produce a product. That product is a digital presence that sells my client on the internet (whether that sale be one of image, presence, brand, product, etc). When I look at web design, therefore, it's a question of functionality, aesthetic pleasure, and accessibility. And, like most developed arts, web design has a set of defined aesthetics that seem to work (why or how they work is a discussion that I may get into at some point, but not here). Some people may well argue that web design is an art form in its infancy, which I agree and support, but to argue that there are no rules or conventions is an experiment in wishful thinking. A search in Google should resolve any doubts on the matter -- a search for "web design" tops out at around 1.1 billion hits. Not all of these sites may be particularly relevant (or even helpful) in defining or producing conventions of web design, but with 1.1 billion hits there is at least enough material out there to define trends and have a discussion about what works and what doesn't.

Websites and file nomenclature

Silversprung's entry "Advice" brings up a good point. Websites and hypertexts that involve hundreds or even dozens of files can get cumbersome to administer if one does not have organized system of directories or filenames to help one keep track.

Keep the nomenclature so the web author can keep track of things. Readers/endusers will experience the site in terms of its linking, not in terms of filenames or directories, so these don't need to correspond. I suppose it would be convenient if they did, but I've never been so fortunate.

Perhaps this is counterintuitive, but I find that a fairly arbitrary system of classification affords the most flexibility in later editing. Here's why:

Planet Jemma and the teenage girl problem

So I just spent some time fiddling around with PlanetJemma. The whole time I had this feeling like I shouldn't be there. Like I had stumbled into a chatroom for teenage girls and what was I doing playing around with the sparkly cursor and bloopy type about boys and some missing girl named Abby and how cool science is? I thought this was maybe just my pretentious version of the "if it's something a teenage girl would like, or could do, it's bad" syndrome we talked about earlier in the semester in relation to some A-list bloggers refusal to view Livejournal as a real blog.

But then I did a little research to see who had created this PlanetJemma and for what purpose. Turns out it's funded by the British Council because "Girls in Britain do well in science exams. Then as they get older, drop the subject like a hot Bunsen burner." Check out this site for more info. So it wasn't my personal shortcomings (or narrow perspective) that caused me to dislike and feel uncomfortable in the site, it's designed specifically to target teenage girls, explaining all the fuchsias.

Web Design Programs

In terms of Web design programs, a relatively inexperienced user approaching a semester project with time constraints might well try a couple of programs, but should probably settle down to a single program quickly.

Dreamweaver's better than Frontpage. Either will design a website. Links themselves, either offsite or onsite, are about equally easy in any software. Multimedia and graphics may cause a bit more problems.

One has the following options:

1) Download a freeware editor at some place like Tucows. Search for something like "WYSIWYG HTML editor" (the WYSIWYG just means you don't have to look at the code, or not muct).