Tuesday, April 16

Form Should Follow Function

It’s a problem that most people don’t think about enough. Fadware, that often too common piece of technology that is making some people very popular, is turning some applications and fields into very useful enterprises, and is pulling the wool over a lot of other peoples eyes. Its not one specific technology, its all technologies.

I think the largest, or at least of one the largest problems in web design and web development is that people forget the ultimate goal, and that is to present the information in the best way possible. We seek the best, not just good ways, to present information because we wish to communicate. Few people wish to communicate that they are mediocre, though I have run across sites with that goal in mind. No, businesses want to use the best because it communicates that they are the best.

But here is the problem. Some very smart people come along and grasp this, and they come up with a way to present their information in the best way possible. This practice serves to make them and their clients successful and it puts them in the public eye. This is great. Everyone wants to be just like them, so they rush off to incorporate that new technology into their organization. But as is often the case, the public gets only the product, not the principle that led to that great new technology. And because of that, many misuse it, doing more damage than they do good.

Form should always follow function. If communication is the goal, then the information should hold the highest place. To often we don’t stop to consider what our information is and what pieces of technology and design would best emphasis that information. We think, ooh ooh, we need a CMS cause everybody is using them, and because ESPN is really popular, we should implement ours just like they do. But what if your site isn’t geared around presenting the news? What if your site presents photography instead? Should your CMS configuration be just like ESPN’s? Maybe your site is really just a plain old brochure site and doesn’t need a CMS at all. There is no shame in being a brochure site, if that is what your company needs.

Not every business needs a web presence like ESPN or MSNBC. Not every business that sells things should look like the typical ecommerce application either. In some round about manner, I ended up using a company called EasySpace.com to handle my domains. At the time they provided a service I needed at a price I could afford. And to their credit they have done for me what I wanted. But their website is by far one of the most difficult sites to navigate that I have encountered. They’re an ISP who handles Domain registration but they set up their website like an online retailer. Every action is treated like a purchas, even if you are only trying to change an option in your account.

Granted, most organizations do a better job than EasySpace.com does in the area of usability, but too often in our efforts to catch the next wave, we forget to stop and ask ourselves, does this technology help me achieve my aims?

Jeffery Zeldman is finally getting around to publishing an RSS feed for his Daily Report. Zeldman, a long time proponent of web standards, still hand codes every aspect of his website. He does this for personal, and some might say masochistic, reasons. It seems that Jeffery just likes coding for coding’s sake. We respect that. But Jeffery Zeldman understands that Form should follow Function. He notes in his post about the RSS feed that, although popular, not every site benefits from having one. Sometimes the information needs the visual context of the website to communicate effectively. Sometimes an RSS feed will drive traffic away from your site, a situation few web developers would appreciate.

Here at walljm.com, I fight getting caught up in the trends. I dislike the idea of always chasing after someone else’s ideas. When I started my blog, I did so with a bit of intrepidation, not because I didn’t like the idea, but because I wasn’t sure if that was the best way to convey the information I wanted to show the world. Walljm.com was in its inception a playground for my design skills, and a place to showcase my photography. With each section I’ve added since then, I’ve tried to pause and consider, does my format effectively present my information in the best way.

Everyone has something important to say. Not everyone will say it in the form of a weblog, or a moblog, or an audblog, or a vlog, or any of the other many popular forms. Some won’t even say it on the web. So before you step up to present your information, stop and think, "is this the best way for me?"


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