Read the article below and do the writing exercise at the bottom of the page.
Web sites, awful and not
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LONDON: When did you last see a well-designed Web site? One that wasn’t just great to look at, but so easy to use that you found what you wanted effortlessly? And when did you last grumble about a badly designed site having spent far too long trying – and failing – to find something?
I’d love to think that there’d be more enthusiastic answers to the first question, than grouchy responses to the second. But sadly for the millions of us who waste so much time struggling to extract information from the Web, it’s bound to be the other way around. The blunt truth is that far from being visually pleasing, intelligently organized and simple to use, too many Web sites are ugly, cluttered, sluggish and brain-fuddlingly difficult to navigate.
There’s no logical explanation for this. Lots of smart design graduates go into Web design, and it’s at the forefront of technological innovation. Even corporate dinosaurs now recognize the value of a well-designed Web site, and design budgets have risen accordingly. Why then are so many sites so poorly designed?
1. It’s difficult. Designing anything well is difficult, but Web design is especially so. One reason is because it’s such a new medium that there are few design rules, and most of them were imported (not always successfully) from print. Its newness also means that the 99 percent of us who use Web sites, rather than create them, aren’t sure how to judge whether or not they’re well designed. Another problem is that technology changes so fast that Web designers constantly have to abandon old tricks and learn new ones. (A particularly painful lesson seems to be designing sites that are remotely legible on cellphone screens.)A third is that the designers have no control over how their work will be seen, because that is influenced by so many other factors. Will the site be seen on a computer or cellphone? If it’s the former, on a Mac or PC? (Even typefaces can look different on the various formats. Take Georgia – gorgeous on a Mac, and ungainly on a PC.) The type of browser changes things, too, as does whether the screen is adjusted correctly for brightness and color, and if it’s dusty or stained. But don’t feel too sorry for Web designers. They don’t help themselves by working – and showing off their sites to clients – on state-of-the-art computers. Popping into an Internet café to use its elderly PCs would give a more realistic impression of how most people will actually see their work.
2. Too flash by half. One of the worst habits of Web designers – and the clients who let them get away with it – is to “prettify” sites with digital animations created by Flash software. Think of how many times you’ve logged off Web sites because you’ve been locked into a seemingly endless (often irritating) animation. That’s Flash. It was fashionable in the late 1990s, but fell from favor when Web designers started obsessing over “simplicity.”Ironically Flash still tends to be popular with would-be fashionable brands. The chief offenders are fashion labels. Chanel, Dior, Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Louis Vuitton all have unfashionably Flashy sites. “Often those brands are trying to recreate their print ads, which are very elaborate and very beautiful,” said Daljit Singh, creative director of Digit, a Web design group in London. “You just can’t recreate that level of finesse on the Web.”
3. More isn’t always merrier. Another common crime is cluttering up Web sites with inessential stuff that makes it harder for you to find what you’re looking for. “I don’t understand why people think that putting everything on the page will attract more clicks,” said Chanuki Seresinhe, co-founder of the London design firm Design Science Office. “It just confuses users. We’re already overwhelmed with too much information, so why do they throw too many choices at us?” Quite. She cites the online shop of Liberty, the London department store, as an example of a site that’s “full of useful features without creating too much clutter.” 4. Not that you’d notice. A well-designed Web site looks so straightforward and is so thoughtfully organized that you can find your way around it instinctively. One of Singh’s favorite examples is Google Maps. “Just fantastic!” he said. “It goes to show that keeping things simple and human does make a difference.” The better designed a site’s navigation is, the more intuitively we’ll use it. Like the user interface software with which we operate cellphones and other digital devices, we only tend to notice Web design when it goes wrong.One obstacle to usability is the fragmented nature of many Web design “teams.” The designer often works with a user experience expert, who’s in charge of navigation, as well as a graphic designer responsible for the aesthetic of the site and the developer that builds it. With so many people pitching in, it isn’t surprising that Web sites often seem incoherent.
5. To print, or not to print. Sometimes I wonder whether Web site designers are so entranced by their screens that they never print anything on paper. They certainly seem determined to stop the rest of us from doing so, either by making it fiendishly difficult or ensuring that the end result is barely legible.A prime culprit is http://www.nationalrail.co.uk, the online information service for Britain’s railroads. The site is so poorly planned that details of a single journey are spread across several screens, and printing the information gobbles up pages of paper. A link to “Timetables you can Print” just fobs you off with directions to other sites. Then there’s http://www.ica.org.uk, the Web site of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. It looks O.K. on-screen, at least it does on a Mac because the font is Georgia in an elegant shade of gray. But if you print a page, the gray type is so pale that it’s barely discernible. Great.
EXERCISE: Read the article and write a brief essay (tesina – 500 words) about your experience with well constructed and badly constructed web-sites you have encountered. Use the points in the article as a guide (but not only!) with which to evaluate the examples you use. The first paragraph should include a sentence that indicates what you are going to talk about and the point of view you are going to take in the essay. The last paragraph should include some form of conclusion.