Archive for March, 2012

Twenty-second – storytelling

Today’s questions relate to the previous readings, not those of this assignment. As I mentioned previously, I liked them very much. I thought, they discuss something very much relevant to what I initially envisioned to be the main drama of my adventure into the computer screen: to be able to tell stories differently than I was trained in the past years. I expected that web design will force me to go beyond syntax, arrangement of arguments and supporting evidence, summaries and footnotes, and discover how many other visual and non-visual elements can assist me to tell a story. And here we are, I am reading about this very topic.

The articles “Better User Experience With Storytelling – Part One and Part Two” explain that every website can be built along an envisioned story line, just like those of novels and movie scripts. They even imply that every plot is the same plot, which I strongly doubt. Nevertheless, Francisco Inchauste, the author claims that having a plot constructed and having all the elements of the site arranged accordingly, provides the user an emotionally enriched experience, which helps selling the product, keep the web site in use. My understanding is that the storytelling is not the primary goal of the website but a tool to design them, therefore websites, even those that were designed through story telling, not necessarily tell stories. They don’t narrate in the traditional sense of the word. When visiting http://www.apple.com, as the author cites, one is not acquainted with the products through a story. But the information may be structured that they create tension, further anticipation, and then they convince the viewer of something that it will lead to a very limited catharsis-like decision: yes, I will buy (or die). This experience is not so different from those of traditional techniques of marketing, developed before the web-age.

The last question refers to the Google web site, and asks if its success is an example of storytelling being a tool that makes web sites successful. Do search engines fall into the same category as web sites selling products? Can I really tell how a web site was created based on its looks? I was trying to search for these answers on Google, but I could only find a million of web sites offering me help how to build a Google site. Regardless, Inchauste’s argument remains convincing: for me, story telling still seems to be the way to go when designing a web site.

Twenty-first – the HTML5-fever

This assignment has nothing to do with the readings about user experience with story telling, which I enjoyed very much. However, the questions about my way into using HTML5 become very personal since it was only yesterday that we discussed HTML5 in class. Maybe discussion is a word that does not really describe yesterday’s class: most of us were overwhelmed. While HTML5 is not so different from HTML; after all they share one genealogy, in HTML5 there is a revolutionary change in the attitude toward coding. I called it de-democratization because in order to master HTML5 you need much additional knowledge, like Java script, and based on my first impression, it can be mastered only by those who are really experienced. HTML5 seems not to suit beginners.

To me HTML5 compares to HTML like French to Italian. First I learned Italian and I was very happy with it. Italian writes phonetically, and has very clear rules of articulation. French does not. Italian always seemed to me clear, logical, and welcoming. French, in contrast, seemed to be a language that I could not conquer. As if it was the language of the restricted circle of the philosophes and I could not enter this elite circle. HTML seems to be approachable and to have a very clear structure, hence, it promises that through understanding its basic functioning one can progress alone in using it in creative ways. The first encounter with HTML5 promised something very different. It suggested: think very well before you push down the first button on your keyboard. Learn new items, and re-learn how to relate them, forget about being systematic with the tagging, and more. One looses his or her hardly earned sense of confidence by being forced to restructure information and being encouraged to leave behind the bars that earlier created a rhythm in the coding. This is not the psychological milieu a beginner should cope with.

And only on top of that we understand that HTML5 is still a work in progress. Do we see the end? Do we know how will it look once it will be announced to be a matured and settled language? As a beginner, can I foresee the problems it wishes to bridge over that earlier could not be solved or only in a more labor-intensive way? Not really.

Hence, I am very happy with my present (or more precisely: yesterday’s) knowledge of HTML. And I do not see lack of point learning anything, which might not serve me immediately, but at a later point in my life I might understand and use the hardly acquired knowledge. Like on that winter morning in the Paris metro, when I could explain that I did validate my ticket, it was just hard to see the stamp on it.

Twentieth – to be the best….

For this class, I was reading about CSS tricks and the comparative experience of designing a site with CSS and CSS3. These readings perfectly complement yesterday’s class: we made our first quasi-website! However, they only remotely connect with this assignment: Say your site never shows up on one of those ‘Best Designed’ lists. Can it be considered successful? Say it doesn’t show up in the top ten of page results for Google searches. Can it be considered successful? How do you determine what makes a site ‘good?’
I always watch the home page of wordpress.com promoting “The best of 473,903 bloggers,784,571 new posts, 1,370,769comments, & 166,770,935 words posted today on WordPress.com.” But I have no idea, what the criteria are, if there are at all. Is there a committee, or one person, or a group whose members vote independently every day about the best of over three quarters of a million posts? Unlike the way wordpress.com makes its choices, the two criteria in the assignment sound much more tangible, however, not in a similar way.
Being on a ‘Best Designed’ list says as much of a site as of those who make the decision of what qualifies best design. Does every judge think about the correlation between look and content? Do some people look for sophistication instead of originality? Is thinking inside the box and yet sticking out from the line the key to become a successful designer? In my opinion, all these can qualify as the ultimate receipt, and yet, I do not consider any of them the secret of winning prizes exactly because design is ultimately a subjective field. Even by reconstructing taste into a long algorithm cannot make the decisions about the best design either logical or consistent in the long run. We see it every day: what works for a news site, does not necessarily work for a site selling bags, and what works in one part of the world does not necessarily resonate with the viewers in another part of the globe. What I see interesting might bore my neighbor and yet could excite my uncle. (Whom I have not seen for two decades. Hence the ‘could.’)
In contrast, topping the Google search list has much more to do with experience and a little luck in coding. Choosing the right meta key words is only part of the job. Adding good keyword bottoms to the header, body, and footer, or to the navigation bar, wherever it is placed, can help the site to jump to the top of the list. As much as it is a question of quantity (number of sections of the site that allows search engines to examine them) it is also a question of quality. In the case of “web-searchability,” as in many other situations, rightly chosen words can make, if not miracles, than, huge differences, for sure.
And all this has a lot to do with how the site, both the content and the visuals are coded. But ineffective coding or a code that takes longer to be completed, and even if the file downloads slower than those in CSS3, does not hinder a site to become one of the best designed or easily found by the search engine.

Nineteenth – the cool case of a logo

This assignment is about branding and logo. The case study is the HTML5 logo and the message it aimed at communicating: HTML5 is not only HTML but also CSS, SVG, and WOFF. In other words, the designers of HTML5 wished to use the name not only as a signifier of one product but as an umbrella name for several different products that developers and designers are likely to use together. As they put it, they wanted to lift HTML5 to represent a web platform. The question is whether I think, this move toward turning HTML5 into an all-encompassing brand was accurate and what would be the reason for the rather negative response to it, as reflected in Louis Lazaris’s article “The HTML5 Logo: What Do You Think?” in Smashing Magazine.

Lazaris argues that while the new logo looks fine to him, the message it is designed to convey is problematic in his eyes. He views it rather offensive to order the other languages into a hierarchy dominated by HTML5. He also adds that not much after the logo was published, “WHATWG Blog published a post entitled “HTML is the new HTML5″, announcing two changes: (1) The HTML specification will be known simply as “HTML” (dropping the “5”); and (2) The spec will be considered a “living standard”, not just a draft, dropping use of the “snapshot” model of development.” By simplifying the HTML brand name and turning it into a standard these steps take the initial mission of the HTML5 logo one step further.

And here I need to add something seemingly irrelevant. The HTML5-story reminds me of many other stories of the Frigidaire-type. The success of the first electronic refrigerator named Frigidaire is often measured by the fact that it is common to call any fridge of any brand frigidaire and not refrigerator. The linguistic turn is interpreted as a testimony to the popularity of the original product and brand. The fridge-story is only one of many other of the kind, and I am wandering if these stories inspired the designers of the HTML5 logo. To be very lame, if the people behind the HTML5 logo thought, what is cool in a fridge can be cool on the screen as well.

I would not be surprised since in a sense, this move reflects how web sites are built around an HTML skeleton. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the flesh and blood that CSS and the other languages bring into the site is equally important. (Every fridge does the same, their looks and technical capacities determine, who would buy them.)

More importantly, however, turning HTML into an umbrella concept contradicts everything I have learned in this course so far. I was repeatedly told that current web design tends toward detaching content and style from each other. That HTML is responsible for the content and organization, while CSS is the language to describe the outlook of the web page, and they should be treated separately even if the end result is the manifestation of their joined effort. Making a platform out of HTML suggests that there is an asymmetric relationship of dependence in between the two tools and thus it points into the opposite direction of thinking about web design. At this stage of my development as a web designer, I refuse to be confused like this. 

By disregarding the intent of the HTML5, I will continue to enjoy sites that present interesting content through novel visual communication.

Eighteenth – associative homage à André Schwarz-Bart – about QR, again

This assignment is an extension of the previous one. We are still discussing QRs and their current usage. Accepting the criticism of the two authors regarding the current usage of the QR codes, the question to answer today departs from the assumption that in the West, QRs are not used at their optimum. I need to answer whether I see the mushrooming of poor applications of the QR codes as a result of its relative novelty and I expect that the market will grow this out, or as a lack of education how to correctly implement them in the cyberspace.

I think, the current usage of QRs is informative of only the current phase of their usage, which nevertheless is closely connected to the current usage of the web. The milliards of bloggers, endless number of forum participants, and other contributors to the web content open to everybody created a space, where professionals and amateurs, talented content creators and narcissistic and self-appointed authors are equally given voices. This diversity is also reflected in the varying practice of QR code implementation. One would hope that time brings some improvement. However, there is a growing number of tools that allow people barely possessing any knowledge of the web and coding to create web content. Consequently, the spread of unsophisticated web content, including wrongly implemented QR codes, spreads the web. Nevertheless, as with fashion and many other things including web design, if a good practice pop ups and catches on, the trend would turn and a better thought out manner of QR code implementation would spread over the net. But it can happen only if the very same undereducated content providers continue to rely on examples and embrace not only bad but also good practices of programming.

Seventeenth – how to go mobile?

Today’s assignment asks, how to determine whether a new site in the building needs or needs not to be mobile-friendly. Whether one should build a custom app or make the page scalable or have separate mobile and non-mobile CSS style sheets?

Today’s questions link the readings from before Spring Brake and those that were assigned for today. The readings before the Brake suggested that from the programmer’s point of view, IPhone Apps are unjustifiably more spread than websites designed to work on IPhones and computer screens equally. The flexibility of CSS design allows the programmer almost equal freedom on the small and the big screen (not in the traditional, but the electronic media-sense.) However, we all know that the programmer’s perspective is not the only one to be considered in this business. And as to many other aspects of our lives, business is a key word in the world of Apps. To design an App also means to enter the market of Apps. Revenue after Apps is much easier acquirable, since to buy an App is a much smoother action than providing credit card data on a web site. Thus clients will more naturally incline toward buying Apps, let it be subscriptions for a paper or a game.

This brings us to today’s readings: Jeff Korhan’s “How QR codes can grow your business,” in Social Media Examiner and Kristina Shands’sA case against QR codes,” in Authentic Communications. The assignment today does not imply that costumer involvement needs to be considered in the design process of the new site. So I interpret, the questions to be asked, should be addressed to myself, the imagined designer and programmer. Two basic questions come to mind: who is my targeted audience, are they a mobile device user community? And what is the site trying to accomplish? Am I to sell or buy something? To mobilize civic action, or to organize a gallery auction? Create a group of travelers or find a tutor of Swahili? And here the question of the QR code quicks in. One article argues in favor QR, while it also draws attention to its misuses. The other argues against its misuse. At the core of the QR usage stands the question of its usage through a mobile device assuming that it is always at hand, unlike a computer, a larger tablet, or else. How can a QR be used in a mobile device so that it allows to do something that without it would be slower, harder, or more expensive.

Going back to the assignment, and in connection to what Korhan argued about the ways to include the QR in the design of the whole page, using separate CSS style sheets for different platforms in order to present the same content or to connect different contents seems to be the most creative way to keep the different appearances of the site in synchrony. A change in the content can be communicated separately, as well as the differences of the communicated contents on the different platforms. In my new site, considering the number of children equipped with an Iphone and Kindle, I will use separate CSS designs for mobile platforms.

Sixteenth – Navigare necesse est

This week’s reading was a very complex article that nevertheless ends on a positive and encouraging note. Nevertheless, because in the first part I almost needed a dictionary. Craig Hockenberry’s “Apps vs. The Web” in A List Apart discusses the technical backbone of programming and designing for the Iphone. It is full of terms that I have read the first time: XMLHttpRequest, Cocoa Touch, and NSURLConnection objects, and not mentioning Sparrow framework. But overcoming the lack of knowledge, the article still has a lot to say, even to me. And I am mentioning this not because it has anything to do directly with the questions of this assignment. In the second and also final part, he gives a road map of how to turn a website compliant to the Iphone (instead of thinking in App-terms from the beginning.) And he does it without using words that I do not know. Thus the positive end is that he suggests that even with modest capacities one can turn a website approachable through the screen of an Iphone. And this leads me to the current assignment:

Are menus arguably the most important factor in web design? How important is labeling in creating a clear page hierarchy? How about identifying the menu as links but in a way that doesn’t distract from the rest of the content? When would you make a case for vertical navigation over horizontal navigation?

These are four questions, and each can be answered with few words: Not necessarily, very important, great idea, rarely, I guess.

But longer answers are much better. Especially that through them I can explain the connection that I see between the article and the questions (even if there was no premeditated agenda connecting them.)

To the first two questions I would say that creating easy navigation is what is really important, and it is less interesting how this navigation is created. Either with a good menu or with a strong navigation bar. (For the designer, of course this is a great challenge.) Labeling and hierarchy complements this, since they help the viewer to map the site, and thus navigate easily.

Here I have to mention that in web-related context we use has many words borrowed from seafaring. For example we navigate a site and surf the web. If there are no more expressions like this, I will have to modify this note.

And going back to the questions. The third connects back to the article. To create a menu, which functions as a collection of links, can also help bridging over the gap between viewing the same web site on a computer screen and on an Iphone. No space needed for a separate navigation bar, hence more space remains for content proper. And I would certainly not use a long and wide vertical navigation bar on a small screen. But this answer is very hypothetical, since the navigation bar is part of the design of a site including the navigation bar and its spacing should be dependent on the overall idea of the outlook of the whole site.