updated: April 12th, 2007 / Ross Johnson / 4 Comments

The void and the separation

I often see voids between us “standard-ities” and the rest of the “web creative world.” We all have our “Happy Cog” role models that nod approvingly as we create clean, simple, content centered web pages that are accessible and validate.

What about the rest of the world?

It is no secret that marketers, graphic designers, and Advertising agencies are often looked down upon focusing too much on the design and throwing music/sound and animation in where ever possible – however they make up a large percentage of those driving the development of web pages. These groups often focus on branding over content. What exactly is said is not important, it is the message that the sites themselves give off. This often means more focus on graphics, and a few specific messages.

Many times this also leads to excessive animation, flash intros, and *gag* music.

Who is right?

Like most of you, I read mostly coder/web designer specific blogs. Those writing on these subjects are likely to preach simple standards, content is king, etc. However I wonder if we take a narrow viewpoint on the issue? After all, many of these companies have vast amounts of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, branding, and corporate identity. While they may take it too far, maybe us standardites don’t take it far enough?

Most web sites are sales/marketing/advertising pieces. Sure some are purely content focused, but those of us creating sites for business clients we must realize that we are also playing the role of the advertiser. Yes content is king, but we must also consider the message/branding and maybe that does go beyond simply using corporate colors or design schemes?

Why I ponder?

Lately I have been redoing a few sites with a Detroit based advertising company, and as expected the idea of a flat HTML based site was not in the cards. While I was able to do the sites in AJAX/Javascript over flash (which I have a hatred for), the whole while I wondered if the sites would frustrate users rather than engage them.

Zeldman and Neilson would tell us that it is unusable, it is annoying, it shouldn’t work. However I herd that focus groups based solely on the website came back very positive, and I must admit while the site is not full of in depth content it does a great job communicating a lifestyle that the product represents?

Maybe we give the average user more credit? Maybe the average user wants to see something cool, and a tiny bit of content on the side?

Or maybe not…

In the back of my mind I always remember author and web designer Stefan Mischook. Stefan wrote the book “Creating Killer Websites” back in 2000 which popularized tables and spacer gifs, back before people knew much more than framesets and aligning left, right or center. Stefan’s methodology was always to create killer “looking” websites.

However after countless hours of testing Stefan determined that users don’t want killer looking websites, they want websites that work and are usable. Stefan now focus’ on usability over design.

The solution

I don’t know that there is one, other than to test your target market. More than ever clients should be paying for these testings to see how their audience is responding. I am going to try and shoot the middle ground and focus more on branding than before while keeping things easy, simple, and sound free. Web design is such a combination of skills and areas that it is easy to overlook the big picture and focus on what matters to US rather than what matters to the USERS.

4 thoughts The void and the separation

  1. I have been thinking similar things for a while. While I will always take standards over non-standards and I will promote them as best practice that is because I see it is as a craft, not a businesses.

    Those people who just provide a product to people who want to buy it are not necessarily wrong for not worrying about standards, or for using flash. After all we all drive cars that are a hell of a long way away from the ideal.

    Anyone who ever settled for a Ford or a GM is that customer who is happy enough if it doesn’t meet web standards. Are Ford wrong for building cars with old fashioned suspension because people in some markets will buy it?

    OK it is a little different but you get the point?

  2. Good points Andrew.

    Coming from a car person your analogy makes perfect sense to me, the average person doesn’t high tech suspension because they simply need to go from point A to point B. Better technology would only inflate the cost.

    I am still curious as to who is correct as far as focus? Most “lofty” web developers/designers scoff at animation, music, and feel that a static page is better any day of the week.

    But are the Ad people seeing something that we aren’t? Does some tasteful and simple animation, flash, or even *gasp* sound allow brand/product communication beyond static pixels? or does it just get in the way?

    In that sense it is not so much people marketing an inferior product to people who want it, but maybe a product that has value that we simply don’t see the value in?

    I am not sure to be honest, but I wonder… 🙂

  3. Done right flash, sound, animation can be really good.

    If you look at the UK Audi site it has some flash, it does add something, but more importantly it doesn’t take anything away. If it were all flash it would be a problem. If it had sound it would be dreadful. It would remove my choice to ignore it for a while.

    There is a right balance to be had I think, and either side could be wrong; although clearly the one who wanted sound would always be more wrong.

    Those sites that play sound automatically, or permit adverts that do (such as the one with wasps that interrupts me often) are basically saying that they think they are so important they should not be left alone. It is a clear statement of contempt and to me that will always be wrong.

  4. I totally agree with this ‘bubble’ that standardistas can get themselves trapped in. It’s very consuming at times, thinking validation, all AJAX, no flash is the way to go, but sometimes these things have their places.

    It is great to keep these things in perspective and see the role of the marketer, salesperson or even backend developer before pushing 100% validation agendas on everyone.

    Once you understand other peoples perspectives, I find you can push your standards agendas more creatively.

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