Designing for the Web ~ Getting Started
People can of course use email to track their web activity. Through notification emails — from blogs, discussion forums, web applications and services — you can engage with the web. You can track a discussion, reply and participate without ever opening a web browser. Through something called an API (Application Program Interface), another program can access data on the web, and then display it somewhere else. This brings the web to the desktop. A program I use regularly is Flickr Uploader. It’s a small plugin for iPhoto and allows me to upload images from my galleries to my Flickr account online. From there, it can be shared with family and friends. Flickr Uploader does this by using the Flickr API. By adding my account details, Flickr Uploader can ‘talk’ to Flickr, make sure it’s uploading the images in the right place, give them a title and any other meta data, and perform the upload. Again, I haven’t opened my web browser to do this. Up to now, I’ve only been talking about accessing the web via a computer. Of course, there are several other channels for the delivery of web content — from mobile phones and PDAs to television and games consoles. The iPhone is of particular interest to me (mostly because I own one). Not only is the browser that ships with the iPhone a fully—fledged, fully—featured web browser, but there are an increasing number of iPhone applications that use the web. For example, the Facebook application is so good, I prefer using it to the web browser version. Likewise, with Twitter clients. On my iMac, I use Twitterific — an OS X application — and on my iPhone I use TwitterFon. I hardly ever use a web browser to log in to Twitter. What I’m trying to illustrate here is the web isn’t just limited to Internet Explorer or Firefox. From mobile devices to your Playstation 3, the web is everywhere.
The Changing User Ten years ago, a lot of people used the web, but the skew was towards a younger, male, technically—savvy audience. Five years later, and adoption had shot through the roof. All sorts of people were using the web to buy gifts or book holiday tickets. Blogging was born, and with it a fundamental change in journalism and how people read news on the web. Now, five years later, my mum is using Facebook. Doesn’t that say it all? The web has changed from a publishing medium, to one of tools and applications that enrich people’s lives. The audience is now massive and broad—reaching. The technology is getting increasingly pervasive. It’s all incredibly exciting! But, with this rapid change, how can we be sure the audience we’re designing for today has the same desires, needs and motivations as the audience of six months ago? The role of research in web design is more important now than ever. By speaking to the potential users of a site and by gathering data on their behaviour, we can then design to their needs. We cannot assume that all users are the same. Just because we, as designers, think a design is appropriate to a given audience, doesn’t mean it is. The audience is changing, and we have to keep up.
The Changing Designer The web moves fast. Really fast. What is new today, will be a convention in six months time. To keep up, a designer not only has to be at the fore—front of current trends and conventions, but also has to be a user of the products and services that define those conventions. Take Twitter for example. Twitter is a web application that lets you tell other people — who you ‘follow’, and who ‘follow’ you — what you are doing. In Twitter’s own words: ‘Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co—workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: what are you doing?’
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Designing for the web