Reading the article “Understanding Web Design” on the A List Apart website, I could not help but draw comparisons to the history field. Web designs being done by those who don’t understand the “architecture” of websites is apparently like historians trying to use statistical analysis, pyschoanalysis, or literary criticism as their methodology–you’ll get somewhere, and you might even win an award or two, but ten years into the future the venerated discipline elders will treat you like the weird uncle who everyone hopes isn’t coming to Thanksgiving dinner this year. More to the point, the article provided both a useful conceptual framework and working definition for understanding web design. Perhaps the most critical part of Zeldmans definition is that web design needs to “facilitate and encourage human activity,” and Zeldman clearly outlines how flashy media and graphics may look great in a brochure, but they can often detract from a websites ability to facilitate and encourage human activity by encouraging passive reception of a websites content. As I mulled over Zeldman’s definition, I also found myself intrigued by his call for websites that “change gracefully over time while always maintaining their identity,” and I kept returning to the Documenting the Old South website. Perhaps it is simply one that I have kept returning to over the years, but despite some of the flaws we identified with keyword searches in class last week, I have always found the site clean, easy to navigate, and constantly updating with fresh, invaluable archival material.
Despite the strong conceptual framework and working definition offered by “Understanding Web Design,” I actually came away with a better understanding of the entire design process after reading “Flexible Fuel: Educating the Clients on IA.” This article does a tremendous job of identifying a problem (or a series of problems), and the provides a clear discussion about how these problems can be avoided (or disposed of quickly). The author lays the overall goals of what IA should be doing, and then maps out evaluative criteria to help both the client and designers meet those goals–and not coincidentally, how to speak a little bit of each other’s language. Perhaps the most valuable insight comes right at the very beginning when the author comments that established IA will allow the project to come in on time and on budget, but that changing the message will necessarily impact everything that happens downstream. This might seem like the simplest insight in the world, but it seems to also be the one that causes the most friction between a client and the web designers. The author does a fantastic job in laying out the shared responsibility that goes along with IA. The client has an obligation to fundamentally layout what they want (often one of the hardest tasks as clients seldom seem to figure this out until a later stage in the process–something the author neglected to take into account), while the designers have to make sure they explain precisely what they will be doing, and how it will meet the clients needs. Only after that is completed can they establish that changing the IA midstream will necessitate an adjustment to the cost, time, and overall scope of the project.