DESIGN ESSAYS INTRODUCTION
Apologies, but no citations. Just unwarranted, unsupported nonsense.
These are boiled down, ablated discussions and explanations of real design problems that I often find myself repeating to programmers, product managers, and web managers. Some of this may sound pretty rough; as with eMail and messaging, when you take out all the redundant human communication channels - facial expressions, tone and pacing, body language - people take things differently.
Reading through these pages in 2022 I want to rewrite all of it. Seven years in marketing made it clear that tone and story matter more than I ever realized. Practice and feedback have made me a better writer and a better person.
When I started this section of the site it was 1996... pre-blog. I was obsessed with customers and how we made things so much more difficult online than it had to be. I was outraged on their behalf and it showed. It's certainly is not my intent to offend anyone.
In This Page
- Three Decades of HTML How did we get here?
- Looking Back: The 2002 Version Recurring issues with web pages...
(Wow, things are so much better now!)
Other Design Pages
- For Online Reading, Usability = Readability
Centuries of reading print, online differences.
- Benefits of Ordering Information The importance of clean layout
- Cost-justifying Usability
How to calculate rough return-on-investment for improved usability - estimating soft costs with user populations
- a Brief History of GUI
This was pretty widely cited in online school papers for some reason... Holy cow, even Jef Raskin corresponded with me over it
- Design Thinking Bibliography
List of books and resources for the curious - design-thinking, persuasion and marketing, business and technology, design and methodology
- Quick Guide to Office Ergonomics
Setting up our chairs and monitors to keep us healthy
A good information/interaction designer is concerned with all of the aspects of the interface, from the server and database used, to the transport layers, to the features and limitations of the delivery platform, to the industrial psychology of the computer/display system, to the cognitive psychology/knowledge base/usage patterns of the end user. Their focus is on improving the user's experience through applied expertise with programming, marketing, sociology, psychology, art and design history, economics, technology, engineering, research methodology, etc., etc. But I digress.
How did we get here?
HTML was developed by a group of engineers and scientists who wanted to share reports and papers over a network. Over time, image tags and miscellaneous formatting was added, but until about four years ago, NONE of the authors were designers.
Design can be about making things look better on the surface. But you cannot separate form from content; good design is about making things clearer to understand and much more useful. That comes from careful use of sound design principals and understanding the context.
The original developers of HTML were extremely smart people, but they didn't think "design" was as important. Once they could publish their papers, they were done ("It works, it must be finished"). As graphic designers started using the web, they brought with them centuries of printing lessons and principles of visual design, for instance:
- Whitespace organizes information better than boxes and lines - including indentation
- Humans reject information as they read it*
- Contrast = better readability
- There are cultural meanings to colors
*Marshall MacLuhan wrote an entire book on this phenomenon. When we look at a list of information, our brains evaluate each piece of data, then rejects the unimportant/uninteresting ones so that we can focus on the important parts of the list. This usually happens at such a low level that most people are not aware they do it. An example is reading a map, an extremely rich interface; if you could not reject information, you would never find the road or city or distance which is important, since your brain can only hold so much information at a time.
[Editor note: In 2002 CSS was starting to mature but browser support was still inconsistent. Here's a look back at how we handled it in the US Banking space - where we could not exclude access to anyone based on slow speeds, old browsers, or disabilities]