Tuesday, December 5, 2006

web design

Luke Stevens in an article titled 'Trends Shmends' on his web site Design 2.0 presents a brief survey of different newspaper web sites around the world. What captures his attention is the difference between the Scandinavian sites and those of other cultures. What was missing for me was any mention of the Spanish newspapers, which are interesting in the printed world. However, a quick visit to El Pais proved to be disappointing and there was a broken link in the sports section that threw everything off.

I have been getting up to speed on XHTML and CSS of late, so I can understand Luke’s bashing of Indonesia’s Kompas for using frames, but the overall design of the site is quite nice. Spending days at work, and nights coding, has brought a number of things to my attention. Most notably, many of the headaches I had back at RIT when we were coding HTML by hand in text edit, have been addressed by XHTML, thank goodness.

The curious thing is that when I take the results of Poynter’s latest eyetrack3 study and compare them to how people read newspapers and how we design for papers, it seems that reading, and necessarily, designing for the web is an entirely different beast. Yes, I know it is a screen, it is back lit, but many of the ‘rules of design’ seem to be turned on their head for the web. I am sure many web folks, are saying ‘duh’ right now but the point is, how photos are used and should be used on the web are different from print (and for a photojournalist this is scary). What is also interesting is that headlines are better entryways for readers, probably because of their size and dominance, but people seem to be processing the information differently from a printed page.

So is there a point to any of this today? Just as designers had to learn how people read newspapers, we digital journalists need to better understand how people read web sites. As journalists we should be trying to break new ground in storytelling and increasing interactivity so that we learn what works and what doesn’t work on the web. So I guess I would argue for going out and sacrificing a few 'design sacred cows' today and see what happens.

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