Nottingham conference to set standards for Web design

Purveyors and practitioners of Web design will come together in Nottingham next week to analyse the discipline to better define its values and establish best practice – which many involved currently see as muddied and unclear.

Some of the standpoints of speakers at the New Adventures in Web Design conference, to be held on 20 January, look likely to be at odds with each other as themes of overdesign, the effectiveness of Web design, and the creative vs the scientific are put forward.

There will also be a call for the Web design industry to define itself through a consistent vocabulary set out in a commonly recognised lexicon of terms.

Web author Andy Clarke, who says he is ’bored to tears’ by the science of Web design, says that looking at patterns of user behaviour can ’destroy the sense of animation and suspense’.

Clarke, who will talk about ’time’ in Web design, says, ’Reducing the number of clicks to get from A to B forgets the points in-between.’
These in-between stages are vital when engaging with the user, argues Clarke, who describes this space as a ’fourth dimension’ in terms of Web design and explains his point through a comic-book analogy.

’Comic-book artists use the size and the proportion of panels to tell the reader the amount of time they want them to spend reading each one. The white space between each helps the reader interpolate this,’ Clarke says.

The value of designing with this level of interrogation will be brought into question by Erskine Design senior designer Greg Wood, who is to deliver results from his own research on how much value Web design adds to a website, with the aim of establishing its worth.

Wood will ask, ’Do the great unwashed public actually care about the way their content is presented? Does art direction and editorial design on the Web actually work?’

In a live experiment, Wood is using his own blog, www.gregorywood.co.uk, to trial the significance of Web design. ’I’m designing and art-directing each post to see if it is this that engages people,’ he says.

Sample groups are being asked questions on experience, content and what information has been retained. Wood says, ’The counter-argument might be that blogs are “a place to get information from quickly” and that, therefore, “a blog post doesn’t need to be designed”.’

Elliot Jay Stocks, illustrator of Sexy Web Design – a book about ’destroying the Web 2.0 look’ – will talk about knowing when to use Web technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 and when to show restraint.

His approach encourages ’solid design principles’, and offers what he sees as the optimum amount of design that needs go into a website. Practically, this means ’when, and when not, to use things like text shadows, rounded corners and animations’.

As well as establishing an optimum amount of design, the conference will raise the idea of a Web design vernacular and the need for an industry-agreed glossary of terms, which will be put forward by graphic designer and Web developer Dan Rubin.

’A proper foundation of terms is a mark of maturity for an industry,’ argues Rubin, who says only the Web design industry can evaluate which terms work ’and it is high time we set about creating it’.

Many terms are borrowed from the print industry, he says. ’”Page” doesn’t explain a Web browser, for example – it has a physical, real-world counterpart and doesn’t explain the browser representations. There are outlines for code set out by the World Wide Web Consortium, but not for industry terms. This is what we have to figure out.’

New Adventures

  • New Adventures in Web Design will be held on 20 January in Nottingham’s Albert Hall, and is now sold out
  • Organisers say, ’This event will be sympathetic to existing and new challenges and opportunities faced by front-end Web folks in their day-to-day work’
  • Ten designers will be given 30 minutes each to speak and there will be two debates with five designers in each encouraging audience participation

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