Theory of Designer's Role in Website Design
In this paper I will address the ideas of what design is and the role of the designer in society. I will be focusing on how website design effects society and the influence a designer can have. I will talk about how society perceives web design and what needs can be met by designing webpages effectively for multiple devices and people with disabilities.
When designing for the web, a designer has to think about all the different aspects and elements that go into a site in order for it to be successful. From a design perspective, there can be many metaphors for presenting information or ideas to others. The purpose of the site can drastically effect which elements are necessary and which can be done without.
Design allows for information and ideas to be communicated effectively by organizing them in a fashion that can be effectively understood by the intended audience. Design allows of your thoughts to come out in a form that can be understood by someone other than oneself. This concept is the basis for understanding the purpose of design. Communication is a word with a rich history. The word comes from the Latin communicare, meaning to impart, share, or make common. It became part of the English language in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (Peters, 1999). Learning how to communicate effectively is the basis of website design.
When a designer creates a website, the intent is usually to express something. If someone is creating a site for themselves their motivation can be quite different than if they are building it for someone else. In the first case, the designer probably has the desire to express his or her own ideas or work. If they are building it for someone else, there is usually a monetary or socially beneficial aspect of it. Understanding the intent of the communication will help the designer to understand how best to design the site. Society looks to share their experience with the world mainly because it feels good for others to know about us and think about us in a positive light. People have been imparting their ideas on each other for thousands of years. The additional ways that people do this have changed over the years, but the same basic intent has stayed the same (Father, 2000).
One thing to consider is that not everyone is gifted with being able to communicate effectively with others. Also, as new media are created, not everyone is able to comprehend the significance of them or possess the ability to utilize them. The designer’s role is to allow these people to communicate by converting their thoughts and ideas into a new medium (Warner, 2004).
In considering this role, the designer is putting power back into the hands of people that may be very brilliant, but lack the technical knowledge to communicate over the Web. That role can also be thought of as an interpreter. There are many people with limited understanding of the language of the communicator and using translation programs on the Internet, anyone can view your website in their language without you having to translate it for them. The result of this is that publishing your thoughts and ideas on a website gives you an audience that you could never have dreamed of before. And if we like others to think about us, people with websites must be very happy people (Zuvich, 2003).
In order for webpages to be accessible by people with disabilities, it is important to create a clear structure that is separate from the presentation of the page. This means that your HTML tags should flow from top to bottom in a meaningful way. This is because screen readers for the blind read the content of the page in that order. Also if someone is unable to operate a mouse, they need to be able to jump through the links on a page quickly and easily. Having complex tables and side columns with links in them hampers accessibility by forcing the user to go through extra links to get to the one they want. Creating webpages with only the needed links for each level of navigation is recommend for all sites by ADA (American Disabilities Association) and required for all government websites. If the designer is only concerned with the finished visual product then content structure in the HTML can be disjointed to such an extent that anyone trying to pick apart meaning from it, that has a visual disability, would have a really hard time. This is because element as they appear on the screen, are not always in that order in the HTML which screen readers use.
Now there is another angle to the design process. Not only must a single page in a website make sense by itself, but it must also fit into a site structure to give it relevant meaning. A webpage should not be an island onto itself because it decreases the meaning of it without the context. It should be woven into the web of pages to give it relevance. Effective web design means that the structure, which you give a page, must be tailored to the entire collection of pages in the site or it will loose relevance.
The navigation is the glue that holds all the pages of a site together and clues in the user as to where they are, where can they go, and how they can get there. As a designer, this is something that must be considered carefully. Without a clear plain, a website can become a chaotic mess very quickly and the communication process can break down.
Another element of a website is usability. When looking at usability, we also need to look at accessibility. Not limiting usability for accessibility or vise versa should be the role of the designer. Usability is whether or not a website is easy and understandable to use while accessibility is whether or not a website will function with screen readers or limited browsers. We all live in this world together and some of us are not as physically capable as others. I try and imagine what my perspective as a designer would be like if I were to become blind or paralyzed (Ward, 2004). I would want others to design things taking me into consideration, so how can I not take others needs into consideration?
Keeping things fast while looking good is important in making a site usable. If the user experience is to be enjoyable, the designer should consider the people less fortunate with slower connections. An important aspect of usability is helping your users to use your site. The designer’s role should be to design for aesthetics first so the designer will not be thinking about all the restraints and feel limited by what has been done before. After that is in place, only then should usability be worked on. The concept here is that making a nice design usable is much easer than the other way around. You can also make sure the product is usable at the end rather than trying to make a usable site pretty without breaking the usability of it (Knemeyer, 2004).
As a designer, it is important to consider more then just the visual needs of your visitors. The designer’s role is to control and anticipate the needs of the user. This role in society allows people to gain what they desire without very much effort. People in general tend to be lazier when it comes to accessing information than ever before. Adapting to this trend will allow web designers to gain market competitiveness over those that do not take this into account (Moss, 2004).
Design can be thought of as a way to anticipate the information receivers needs and accommodate them. It is important to accommodate because without accommodation, there cannot be understanding of others needs. Our shared experience is what brings us together, but we as designers must also consider those who we do not share an experience with. We need to seek out others point of view and find out how they need to be communicated with. Communication over the Internet is no longer just between friends and colleagues. The web designer needs to be aware of the larger audience that may view the site.
Good intentions are no longer enough. Designers must create with the conscious aim of answering immediate needs without loosing sight of future expansion. To achieve communication, we must bridge the gaps between the communicator and the receiver by removing roadblocks like high-end computer requirements. When all the elements full into place, it is something to be appreciated and looked to as an example for others to strive after. I do not believe that perfection is possible, but I do believe that striving to improve on what has already been done should be the goal. Knowledge increases by starting where someone else left off and building on it. Designers must realize the work required to achieve balance and hopefully are inspired to achieve it (Clark, 2003).
When looking at how design differs from analysis, we see that analysis involves what the current system is doing for consumers and how it interacts with them. Design is about deciding on structures which can be justified as being necessary in terms of efficiency, flexibility, re-use, and other factors. The amount of choice a designer has in structuring a project varies depending on who the project is for and what its purpose is. When looking at the analysis side of the puzzle, we look for ways the design does not conform which is different from the design side, which tries to explore new avenues to reach the desired end. The benefit of work with a short development cycle is that analysis of the project becomes more a part of the design process. The theory is to keep the two sides separate as to maximize the effectiveness of each, but using each in short cycles will in theory produce better designs. A great deal of design solutions can be discovered by using systems analysis to uncover problems and elements that need to be improved.
One of the most common causes of project failure is the lack of a complete, unambiguous, and understandable user requirements. It is important to clearly define who the audience is and how they are unique. The structure and implementation should be based strongly on these user requirements (Weisert, 1999). There are actually several kinds of requirements. The term requirement is awkward because it describes the concept of an objective, goal, or necessary characteristic, but at the same time the term also describes a kind of formal documentation. User requirements are instructions describing what functions the website is supposed to provide, and what characteristics the website is supposed to have, and what goals the website is supposed to meet or to enable users to meet (Sisson, 2000). Ensuring that the signed requirements are met will help any website to be successful. Provided that the requirements are clearly defined.
Design is an iterative decision-making process. It allows us to devise and produce ideas and needs into products that solve problems, asks questions, or simply entertains. The iterative process will produce both relevance and uniqueness for a project if it is done will. The repeated decisions made in the iterative process help to flush out problems that may not have been apparent otherwise. The theory is to check and fix until the designer and client are happy with the final product.
Designers are given the responsibility to coming up with innovative ideas. Society looks for novelty in order to distinguish one product or service from another. Our eyes pickup on slight differences and uses that information to identify what we are looking at. If websites are too similar in content or appearance, the user will less likely be inclined to explore further because of the great amount of information that we have to process each day. Websites are less detailed than say a human face is so differences must be greater in order for someone to distinguish between two different sites.
The requirements of design are a formulation of concepts from the broadest outline down to the specific arrangement of elements. You can think of design as concerning itself with how things ought to be in order to attain goals. The function of a website should achieve the goals for which it is contrived. If the communication goals are negated by the design, then we must consider why and look at ways to modify the design in order to achieve our goals. In every product, especially in website design; there are what we call design trade-offs. This is to say that in order to achieve our goals, certain aspects must either be compromised or done away with. Priority of elements should be carefully considered in this process so the right aspects are emphasized and the correct ones are diminished (Etemad, 2004).
Understanding the design process will help us gain better flexibility and skill in website creation. As the world sees the benefit of publishing information on the Internet rather than printing everything, I believe we will see in increase in the need for well-organized content. No longer will we be satisfied with poor design and confusing navigation. Users and businesses will demand well thought-out websites. Businesses will need to create easily useable websites to attract new customers and keep their current one. This idea of usability will increase in importance in order to compete in this new emerging market.
In summary, it is important to understand the theory of website design and how to create useful websites that allow people to access information and content. Understanding our users needs that visit the websites which designers build is important to making them successful. Learning how to balance visual and functional design is an important aspect that designers who wish to be successful must grasps.
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This site gives information about the Latin roots of communication. It explains what communication is and helps people to understand it.
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Discusses the frequent pairing of different disciplines and how it violates the fundamental life-cycle principle that keeps the two fields apart.
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Offers information about international cultural understanding and multilingual translation training. Also has linguistic resources to understand languages over the web.
Moss, Trenton. (April 2004). What Is Web Accessibility?. Retrieved November 11, 2004 from http://alistapart.com/articles/wiwa/
Understanding web accessibility and the needs of disabled users. Explains the theory behind it and the issues involved with accessibility. It is an over all good resource for understanding this concept.
Warner, Scott A. and Laura L. Morford (2004). The Status of Design in Technology Teacher Education in the United States. Retrieved November 11, 2004 from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTE/v15n2/warner.html
It covers the important aspects to understanding the interdependence and complimentary nature of technology and design. It talks about Standards for Technological Literacy.
Knemeyer, Dirk (Nov. 2004). The End of Usability Culture. Retrieved November 11, 2004 from http://www.digital-web.com/articles/end_of_usability_culture/
This article talks about how usability has taken away from uniqueness of website design and has done a disservice to the users by making sites all look alike.
Clark, Joe. (Nov. 2003). How to Save Web Accessibility from Itself. Retrieved November 11, 2004 from http://alistapart.com/articles/saveaccessibility/
This article is about how to save Web accessibility from itself. It talks about following the guidelines for accessibility and where succeeding drafts produce deficiency reports for understanding the field.
Ward, Mark. (Dec. 2004). A decade of good website design. Retrieved November 14, 2004 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4061093.stm
The web has changed a lot in 10 years but making websites easy to use is as important as it ever was, says usability guru. This article talks about what has made website usable and looks at the progression of site designs.
Sisson, Derek. (Jan. 2000). A thoughtful approach to web site quality, Requirements, and Specifications. Retrieved November 14, 2004 from