Embrace the medium

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The Web is not print. It is not TV or radio either. The medium is unique, and if you build Web sites, you need to understand the medium.

Designers that demand that every element on the site be laid out with pixel precision don’t understand the medium. Designers that lay out large blocks of text as a graphic don’t understand the medium.

The Web as a medium is flexible. Different browsers don’t interpret things the same way. Users can choose not to display images or can use a text only browser. People can use screen readers, WAP phones, and handheld browsers to visit your site, and each handles your site in a different way. Unless you embrace this concept, you are alienating your users, your potential customers, partners, and employees.

Designers that try to force Web pages to look like print are failures. If you think that’s harsh, imagine if a designer were to create a TV ad that was simply a photograph of a printed newspaper advertisement. That ad would fail to use the unique capabilities of television and would fail to make an impact.

If you don’t use and embrace the unique capabilities of the Web, your design has failed.

I’ve been told that the target market wasn’t blind, so there was no need for a site that could work in screen readers. I’ve been told that since people would only use a desktop computer to visit the site it wasn’t important for the site to work on a handheld. I’ve been told that since the Flash plugin is so common, there’s no need to provide non-Flash content. I’ve been told all these things by people who call themselves Web designers.

What they were telling me is that unless you are willing to experience the site in the way the designer envisions, they don’t want your business. The blind, mobile professionals, and people so crude as to not have Flash installed need not apply.

Over at Boxes and Arrows, Beauty is Only Screen Deep does a great job of explaining the role of the Web designer. It is not the designers job to make everything on the site look good. People don’t come to the site to be wowed by the design. People come there for information or to complete a task. If your design gets in the way of someone using the site, your design has failed.

Don’t get me wrong; a pleasing design plays an important role in setting the mood of the site and in making the site more enjoyable. But on the Web, you can’t choose how people will interact with your site. The design should accommodate the user’s choices, not the other way around.

Matt
October 16, 2002 10:15 PM

Great article. You really nailed the issue on its head.

Kim
October 30, 2002 7:52 PM

You're so right. Now can you tell me how to convince clients and ignorant marketing people that you're right?

Rob
August 5, 2006 1:46 PM

What you're not realizing or recognizing is that there is a difference in televisions, radios and other media delivery technologies. Do you produce a television show today in HD or SD? SD guarantees you can be seen in more homes where HD requires the viewer to own an HDTV. Or...if you're really, really smart, you figure out a way to produce in HD and also deliver in SD. Same goes for the web. You produce to the best experience possible (flash, graphics, whatever). The reality is that, in order to truly EMBRACE the medium, you have to design a site to take advantage of what is available and scale down to accomodate a wider audience. You need to reward the consumer who sets up the best possible experience while remaining accessible to those who have not. That's the trick. Stop whining.

Madster
September 11, 2008 4:03 PM

Rob fails. we coders call it "featuritis". There's no reason to cram everything under the sun on a website. You do not need to reward the user for something he bought, unless you're the one selling. Your job as a WEB developer is to develop for the WEB. Only use what you can't do without, and target the right platforms (yes, you can forget about text readers if you're a photoalbum website... but is there's comments to be read?). and THAT's the trick. start working properly.

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