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Web 2.0 Design – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

July 20, 2010 4 comments

Following on from my previous blog, discussing Web 2.0 philosophy and the paradigm shift in internet use, today’s effort will address what Web 2.0 means to web site design, layout, navigation, and interactivity.

When surfing the web, you probably come across sites that make you wonder what the designer was thinking, and not in a good way! It seemed that for a long time, web designers and developers were simply making sites for themselves, showcasing their skills, or trying new scripts and effects for the sake of it. While that might be okay for your personal site, those “effect of the week” styles spread like wildfire through business sites too. Web 2.0 design isn’t about the underlying technology, or what’s cool this week, it’s about providing the simplest, cleanest, and most effective interface for the end user, your customer.

Design Considerations

Consider the following site, for the Twitter software MarketMeTweet. There are very few extraneous elements here. Strong, bold colours delineate sections, and walk you through the story being told. Fonts are large, easily read, and are hard to ignore. The call to actions are clear and simple. Design elements double as navigation tools and visual guides. The layout is central, scales well to all resolutions, and works in all browsers. The whole layout is visually accessible, and means little effort is needed by the user to find what they want.

MarketMeTweet.com

MarketMeTweet.com

Another excellent example comes from, PetProtect.co.uk – a pet insurance provider. Again, bold colour choices make the site look great, but they are not just for effect, also providing a visual aid, separating the various elements. A strong, persistent header means the user won’t easily lose their way, and provides  a consistent visual anchor for the user. All the activity happens below the header, but it’s all seamless to the user.

PetProtect.co.uk

PetProtect.co.uk

Unfortunately, this site wasn’t tested in all browsers – the two red buttons don’t display side by side in Chrome, like they should, and do in IE. It takes a lot of effort to make something look simple and work well. Don’t get complacent.

PetProtect.co.uk

PetProtect.co.uk

Web 2.0 design is about getting back to simplicity, focusing on the message, and always keeping the end user in mind. Back at the outset of the world wide web, web pages had to be simple, we didn’t have the tools to make them interactive, or do much of anything! Gradually, as the tools became available, the focus was lost – the message was lost.

So what can you do to make your site more “Web 2.0” ?

Focus on simplicity of design. It’s like the old story of how to sculpt an elephant – you just chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant! During the design process, keep asking yourself if elements serve a purpose, and whether that purpose serves you, or the end user. Make every pixel count. Strip away any elements that don’t make your site more visually accessible or easily navigable. Give the user the least possible choices to reach the most information.

Use technology wisely. Whether you are coding from scratch, or using libraries and code snippets, what’s under the hood of your site can make a big difference to the user experience. As with the design and layout, ask yourself if that few hundred lines of Javascript or new CSS3 element is adding something useful, or is it just cool? The technology should be invisible to the user wherever possible.

Be a user advocate. Try and see your site from your user’s perspective, and make sure you analyze your web traffic to identify patterns of behaviour that might reflect a problem with the layout or navigation of the site. What path are users taking through the site? What pages are seeing the highest abandon rates, and why? Is there anything you can do to make your site react to your users itself? Buying patterns can alter the choices presented to users, perhaps showing them what others bought at this stage, or in conjunction with specific items. Find out what the user wants and needs, them give them it. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

In the next blog, I’ll be discussing some of the tools and technologies that have contributed to the rise of Web 2.0 – and how Social Media has influenced the internet landscape.

What does “Web 2.0” mean to you?

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I had a discussion recently with someone that claimed to be a “Web 2.0 expert”. First of all, I am always skeptical of anyone that declares themselves to be an expert, or a “guru”, I think it’s my job to decide if it’s warranted. Secondly, he steadfastly believes that Web 2.0 is really just a collection of technologies and software (e.g. Twitter, Flickr, Facebook etc.), displaying a decidedly social media bias.

This inspired me to re-evaluate my thoughts on what exactly I thought Web 2.0 was. It’s almost a throw-away term now, often bandied about by marketers, but is there a single answer to “What is Web 2.0?” I don’t think so. In coming up with some notes on the subject, I couldn’t narrow it down, so decided to do a series of three blogs, each addressing one aspect of what Web 2.0 means to me. This is the first in that series.

My feeling has always been that the term Web 2.0, which has really only been around about 5 years anyway, reflects a paradigm shift in the way The Internet was perceived and is now being used. Back in the days of Web 1.0, for the sake of a better term, users accessed the internet in much the same way they read a magazine. It was a very passive pursuit, and pretty much a one-way conduit. Yes, we entered information, but usually only for the benefit of the site owner, not for our benefit.

With Web 2.0, the philosophy changed. No longer were we passive observers, we were actively contributing. Our visits and habits drove search engine rankings; our videos and blogs meant that we were also providing content; our need to be engaged led to more interactive content, tailored to our needs and wants; and Social media meant that we were using the internet for our own purposes, not just as a means of driving business to online retailers. Businesses are of course harnessing social media, and people are still monetizing blogs, but at the core, they are still our tools, and represent our collective consciousness. Webmasters use web analytics to determine our every move, how we interact with their sites and services, and whether they meet our needs – but the fundamental shift is how quickly that data now leads to change. In many cases, interactive sites change content on-the-fly based on how we use the site. Perhaps more than anything else, the Web 2.0 shift means that the tail is now wagging the dog.

In response to this Web 2.0 shift, web site designers and developers have gone back to grass roots, with principles and practices that reflect a more simplistic approach (I’ll address this in more detail in the next blog in this series). No longer is design meant to show off the capabilities of the designer, or the sophistication of the platform, but it is meant to make our life easier, by allowing us to navigate, learn, and act more quickly. Granted, many of the technologies required to make our lives easier require great underlying sophistication – but that’s their problem! Internet marketers have also been forced to re-evaluate how they reach their audience. You can’t simply rely on a single medium to tell your story, or to reach your audience. Strategic plans are now required that integrate many styles and communication channels, and if you don’t unify your message across those channels, it simply won’t reach your audience – it won’t rank highly enough, and it will just be more noise.

Marketers and internet users are no longer adversaries, they are partners in the new Web 2.0 revolution, each driving the other. The last five years have been an exciting time for those of us who work in the internet industry, but much more than that, it has been a Golden Age for the user. Now, Web 3.0 ?

go directly to the next Web 2.0 blog …

The Avatar Blues – Sex and the Single Alien

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

This blog brought to you by the letter ‘B’ and the colour ‘Blue’.

It’s been about a week since I picked up my copy of Avatar on Blu-ray, and a few related things have influenced this blog over the last week. I was not a huge fan of Avatar when it came out in the theater. It was a good movie, but way over-hyped in my opinion. It has to be said though, Avatar is stunning on Blu-ray. It looks and sounds amazing, and to top it off, the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack was only $20 at Best Buy! There are no special features though, and many people seem to be waiting for the special editions that will be coming out … and you know that there will be several of them, to cash in as much as possible.

Matriarch Benezia

Matriarch Benezia

One topic I have seen talked about at length is whether there will be any Na’vi sex scene in the special editions, or discussion of Na’vi sexuality. I don’t get the big deal. If you want some good blue alien sex, get Mass Effect! I just finished my 2nd play through of the game recently, and one thing I did finally figure out was getting the Paramour Achievement, which basically means you got to sleep with one of the female characters (or the male character if you play as a female). To make it more interesting, BioWare even created a little love triangle between the human characters and the Asari scientist, Liara, who is of course blue. Even Liara’s mother, Matriarch Benezia, gets the sexy blue treatment. She wears the dress shown above, revealing her true biotic, er, talents.

If you play the game right, you even get once scene where the two women confront you, forcing you to choose between them. Commander Shepard, with a glint in his eye, even asks about the chance of a threesome, but gets shot down by the human… the blue alien seemed up for it! Choose the Asari, disappointing Chief Ashley Williams in the process, and you will end up with a VERY steamy sex scene involving Shepard and Liara (well, steamy for a video game – see it below), complete with bare blue buttocks and a hint of much more!

‘Noughty’ & Newsworthy – Part 2: Blood

December 24, 2009 2 comments

You might have sensed a bit of a theme so far in this ‘noughty list’, i’d love to say it was intentional and I had some grand plan to guide you through the decade as I see fit – I don’t. Just bear with me for a few more posts.

BLOOD

A couple of themes I’d like to address under this trend. Obviously Blood follows on from the Vampire thread too, but one of the biggest literature titles of the decade took Blood in a whole new direction. The Da Vinci Code went from being a great summer page-turner to becoming a media sensation, but not without several controversies on the way.

Dan Brown weaved a seemingly plausible thread through his book, positing that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene, and have fathered a child. The whole crux of the story being that this bloodline might exist to this day – with this fact being covered up by the Catholic Church – and that the Holy Grail of legend was not a cup, but the literal Blood of Christ passed down through the generations. The book was heavily criticised by scholars and theologians, but it didn’t stop it becoming a huge success, spawning Da Vinci Tours, documentaries, and a very mediocre film. Brown was even accused of stealing the idea for his book from other sources, without anything really coming of the claims. The Da Vinci Code was without doubt one of the media stories of the decade.

Hollywood is really missing a trick here though. What if a Vampire bit one of the descendants of Christ – you could really get some mileage from a Vampire Messiah movie!

As well as Vampires and Da Vinci, blood came to the fore again in the debate over violence in video games. Blood and gore in games has certainly been ramped up this decade, with many titles falling foul of ratings boards. Australia seems to get a lot of press regarding ratings, with Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2), the great zombie shooter, one of the recent games to come up against the fact that Australia has no game rating for 18+ titles. I play L4D2 with my kids (who are 11 & 13) – so perhaps I’m not the best person to pass judgement on this – but it’s my blog, so who else is going to? L4D2 features some pretty graphic decapitations, gushing blood, and spatters of blood on your ‘screen’ – using a chain saw on a group of zombies will actually leave you barely able to see as your vision is blocked by so much blood.

Photoshop'd Ralph Lauren Model

Photoshop'd Ralph Lauren Model

Personally, I don’t see this stylised violence as a serious threat. I grew up watching Wile E. Coyote getting abused in ever more creative ways, and it did not make me run out and drop an anvil on a neighborhood dog – but perhaps that’s too simplistic a view. I am more concerned about moral ambiguity in games than violence. I will gladly play L4D2 with my kids, but wouldn’t dream of playing GTA4 in front of them. Perhaps that says more about my moral compass, or lack thereof, than anything else. The recent controversy of the Modern Warfare 2 ‘airport sequence’ is of more interest to me than blood spattering my screen. I find the way woman are portrayed in games like GTA4 far more disturbing than taking an axe to a zombie … in fact, as the father of two daughters, I think the Ralph Lauren picture shown here has far more chance of screwing up kids than computer game violence!

See another horrific RL ad, and other ridiculous uses of Photoshop here – http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/2009s-top-25-most-ridiculous-uses-of-photoshop

I’m pretty sure my kids are smart enough to figure out that killing zombies with a molotov cocktail is not something that should be imitated in real life. Ads such as this, however, filter into the subconscious, and can have a far greater effect. I have yet to be convinced that playing violent video games inures kids to real world violence, or encourages them to be more violent. In my opinion, the evidence is simply not there. Will ads like this lead to body issues in young girls? It’s far more likely.

You can find Part #1 of this year end blogging extravaganza here

Merry Christmas all!