The Potential of Web Based Video - Last Exit | 2 | WebReference

The Potential of Web Based Video - Last Exit | 2


Typically, people can recognize a well-designed building from far away by the distinct characteristics in its silhouette. The Taj Mahal is a prime example. Upon entering the compound, the large cut-outs on the façade mark the locations of entrances and direct people entering the building. As you get closer, the large scale cut-out only signifies an entrance. The actual entrance is a pair of much smaller doors leading to the inside, and is of human scale. Once inside the in and around the building, it’s possible to actually experience the intricate architectural details. It is this kind of progressive disclosure -- from Overall view > Full view > Human scale > Detail -- that creates the opportunity for a logical and smooth user experience, beginning with a visit that actually begins miles away. A number of creative information design products are based on that principle, among them

Architecture has always been defined as the art and science of building. Numerous design theories and principles have evolved, based on art, philosophy, and scientific research. Anthropometrics research helps architects understand the physical dimensions required for certain users and certain tasks for various spaces and rooms. Pattern language is a well-known architectural guideline developed by Christopher Alexander. The concept of patterns has been adopted by software development community and, lately, by the web development community as well. Jakob Nielsen is Alexander’s counterpart in the web development community. We read about his 10 heuristics, the magic number 5 for web testing, the top 10 web design mistakes, and so on. While the IA community is split on Nielsen’s theories, the important thing for web development practitioners is to understand the rationale behind his principles and apply them to achieve design goals.

For example, the purpose of a maze is to get visitors disoriented only to the extent that they are not totally frustrated. A maze designer needs to understand way-finding in a physical environment: how people navigate and orient themselves in that environment. The designer will leverage this knowledge in way-finding, and remove or disguise the sensory cues to make finding ways in the maze more challenging and hence more entertaining.

Design Methodology: It’s All About Teamwork

We’ve all seen blueprints – formally known as contract documents -- which architects produce and builders use to construct. General contractors estimate cost, sign contract (hence the name), and construct the building based what’s spelled out the contract documents. A typical blueprint contains working drawings and written specifications made by landscape artists, plumbers, interior designers and structural, mechanical, civil and electrical engineers. No one knows it all; the end result is entirely a product of teamwork. But there is one axiom: architects do not build.

In contrast to web practice today, architects design and contractors do the construction. In order to communicate the abstract design to the clients and contractors, a review and sign-off process is developed. Further down the process, design documents are subject to most scrutiny at (1) agency review – during which building officials check for code compliance -- and (2) bidding, when contractors read both the drawings and the written specifications, to understand how the building will be constructed and to determine how much it all will cost. When cost is of concern, contractors tend to review the design in minute detail. This process ensures that all parties understand what to build before construction takes place.

What Can IA Learn From Traditional Architecture?

• Know your users, client, and context before you design.
• Multiple checkpoints and sign-offs during design.
• Design before you build.
• Document everything.
• Test before putting it together.

Site Planning -- Not Site Design

In today’s complex business world, a successful site that will support the business goals must balance multiple stakeholders’ objectives and users’ goals. Sites need:


The site must be expandable to support the growth and evolution of the business.


One site doesn’t fit all. In order to meet the specific needs of each individual user, the content and functionalities should be personalized to individual user or user group.


No matter how much we know about users, personalization cannot be done without customization.

Dynamic Content

In order to provide users with most valuable content, the information has to be timely, which means dynamic – that is, ever-changing.

Accordingly, today’s web sites continuously change over time. We can no longer “design” a site since it can differ greatly depending on who the users are and when the site is accessed. Instead, we “plan” the site based on business objectives and user goals. The site will, we hope, grow without deviating too much from the master plan. This is much like a city planner shaping the city growth by laying out the usage – zoning -- density, site coverage ratio, building height limit, and even exterior treatment. Architects and builders then design individual buildings following these guidelines.

Emergence is what happens when an interconnected system of relatively simple elements self-organizes to form more intelligent, more adaptive higher-level behavior. It's a bottom-up model; rather than being engineered by a general or a master planner, emergence begins at the ground level. The web today is like a primeval village; there is no master plan, no general plan, no zoning ordinance, no architectural guidelines, and no building codes governing what you can build and how you should build it. This is a communal architecture. So the question is: do we actually need a big plan? A small plan? Or no plan at all? It’s a question that may not have a simple answer.

Created: May 2, 2003
Revised: December 15, 2003