erica cheng

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Notes on Applicable technologies and Study on E-Commerce

In “Web Redesign—Production and QA”, the author provides efficient approaches and applicable technologies to smooth the workflow of a redesigned website, which is quite helpful for our class project. In this article, it is repeatedly emphasized that the use of worksheet can smooth the process of a website project in advance, achieving the goals: No duplication of efforts, coding each HTML page only once, no misinterpretation of user capabilities or project goals. This article leads the readers to examine the redesign workflow process and how it relates to the actual site production, by which to keep the project moving smoothly, staying on schedule and on budget. Besides, it reminds the website project team of several noticeable matters when building the site, such as to include the “invisible content” in the HTML template creation stage. By doing this, the author provides solutions to different possible problems which often occur during the process of website redesign.

The article presents definitions upon some key terms on website design, such as graphic template, HTML template, slice, optimize, etc., helping readers to gain more knowledge about related technologies used in establishing a website. In addition, the author suggests several methods or tips that can be applied when establishing a site, based on different audience’s preferences and clients’ demands. Main technological terms and proper ways of using them are also introduced in the article. One of the suggestions is especially inspiring to me. That is, to separate style from content in order to facilitate design change. Since content may be updated time-to-time, dividing style from content can prevent multiple change on both style and content. The style can be designed for once while the content can be added or removed within the same style. Moreover, I think the suggestion of having a good QA (Quality Assurance) plan according to the scope of the project prior to QA testing, and the judge criteria on whether a project team should carry out informal, semiformal, or formal QA testing, are quite useful. The author also points out the difference of QA testing (technical errors/bugs fixing) and usability testing (ease-of-use of the website for audience, e.g., clear navigation systems). In order to make a bug-free and user-friendly site, both QA and usability testing are necessary.

There are many similar ideas in “Web Redesign—Production and QA” and “Standards and Accessibility Compliance for the DEMOS Project”. Both of the two articles stress the importance of accessibility of a website, and that the standards go hand-in-hand with accessibility. To establish full-access websites, the designers must make the sites supportive of various standards, thus to connect all people to the web regardless of disability, including the handicap of older browsers or outdated technology. A website compatible with different standards increases its accessibility. These two articles also suggest similar accessibility techniques. First, they both advocate for the use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) on the layout design. The author in “Standards and Accessibility Compliance for the DEMOS Project” further points out that because table layouts are harder to maintain and somewhat less forward compatible than CSS layouts, a website designer should use more CSS layouts instead of table layouts. The authors of the two articles also suggest a website designer should avoid using frames. However, while the author in “Standards and Accessibility Compliance for the DEMOS Project” suggests not to use too much dynamic content, the author in “Web Redesign—Production and QA” provides solutions for the problems caused by a dynamic website.

When reading “Standards and Accessibility Compliance for the DEMOS Project”, it occurs to me that the section of User Control corresponds to the concept of Web 2.0 presented in Dave Rogers’ “Web 2.0: Mistaking the Forest for the Trees?”. The former article mentions that the most important reason for designing according to standards is to give the user control over how a Web page is presented. The user control is the user capability of controlling over background and link colors via the browser preferences and can increase or decrease font sizes. One measure of accessibility is whether a website allows the user to change its presentation, font-style and sizes, background, text and link colours. The idea correlates to Rogers’ thought that Web 2.0 is user centered, which grants end-users more power on the Web and strengthens the interactivity between individual users and the websites.

Unlike the previous articles, which focus on applicable technologies for creating a full-accessible websites, the article “Interactive E-Commerce: Promoting Consumer Efficiency or Impulsivity?” presents a study on online buying activity. The author examines two kinds of online shopping behaviors—convenience and recreational orientation, building a model that can explain fifty percent of the variance in online buying activity. Besides, the author verifies the relationship of interactive e-commerce features to online buying activity through his study, showing that the interactive features of e-commerce websites stimulate most online buying activity regardless of one’s shopping orientation. In the end, the author points out that convenience and recreational orientation can go correlated and together stimulate further online buying activity. I think this article is easy to read and understand, while provides pretty incisive examination and clear explanation on the online buying activity patterns.

There is one viewpoint in the study I disagree with. In the section of data analysis, the author states that information overload could be a stimulus for consumers with convenience orientations to do online shopping. The author argues that because the consumers are overwhelmed by the amount of product information they find online, they become frustrated and will make impulse buys so they don’t need to spend much more time searching and comparing product information. In my opinion and personal experience, information overload may intimidate the consumers and decrease their interest and willingness to buy online. They may just give up shopping online and do off-line buys instead.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Notes on aesthetic experience in information design and Web 2.0

In “Aesthetic Experience and the Importance of Visual Composition in Information Design”, Tim Greenzweig stressed the importance of visual composition in information design, which is often neglected by the usability-orientated designers. Greenzweig pointed out that the “look and feel" of a website is an integral part of the information design structure, rather than merely serves as a decoration function of the information. The visual composition of information should be simultaneously applied with the structure and content to the information design.

To advocate the importance of visual composition, Greenzweig stated that navigation on the website is just like watching a movie or listening to music, people gain their respective aesthetic experience through different perceptions on the objective. Furthermore, the visual composition allows for variations in the information structure, making viewers surprised and interested by the whole design based on their different ways of perception and interpretation. Consequently, a good visual composition can enhance the communication ability of the website, and should not be compromised due to the focus on the usability. In other words, visual composition and usability of the website is correlated, not conflicted.

Greenzweig embraced the central idea of Gestalt Theory, claiming that the information design should build a cohesive composition that gains order and clarity from the relationships between the elements. The composition, as a whole, should provide users with an easily accessible, clearly structured, and aesthetically pleasing presentation. In my opinion, basic Web convention such as underlined links, color change in links for visited pages, and common terminology should be followed, so as to give users a familiar and comfortable environment when accessing the Web. However, creative visual design on the content layout and information architecture should also be encouraged, in order to impress the users and further arouse their interest at the website. A good visual composition in the overall information design can enrich viewers’ experience and arouse their interests and expectation for further content.

In Dave Rogers’ “Web 2.0: Mistaking the Forest for the Trees?”, the author asserted that user centralization is the critical element in the era of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 serves as an open platform for users to participate in the creation of content and the design for the Web. Under the circumstance, end-users are granted more power to decide what they want to know on the Web, as well as to control the access to the content on the website. For instance, blog has enabled consumers to publish their own content on the Web. Many websites have provided blog function in order to invite users to contribute their opinions and ideas. Web 2.0 has strengthened the interactivity between the websites and individual users. Besides, website designers become more and more aware of the necessity to learn users’ perception and habits on using the Web, so as to design the Web content that can effectively reach the users. In this way, the users have changed the way people design for the Web. Rogers appreciated the value of traditional ways of collecting users’ preference when visiting the Web, such surveys, usability tests, personas, card sorting exercises. However, he stressed that Web 2.0 calls for deeper reaching into the minds and hearts of the target users. It is necessary for the designers to explore new tools, novel methods and fresh perspectives. Also, the designers should bear in mind to always bring users into the design process, even after the site is launched. In the era of Web 2.0, user is the king. The web should serve the user first and be flexible with users.

In the end, Rogers presented the idea that people should move beyond site-centeredness. Nowadays people use the websites in the context of the greater Web. Rogers compared the Web as a forest and the websites as the trees. Based on my interpretation, the websites interlink with one another and together establish a robust Web ecosystem. Users surf on the Web through the interlinking among various websites. A good system of interconnection among websites on the Web must be ensured so as to keep the Web growing. Under this circumstance, a website must be originated from and modified according to the users and the overall condition and development of the Web, rather than be established under a narrow scope of a single organization.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Book Review

Content Critical: Gaining Competitive Advantage through High-Quality Web Content
--by Gerry Mcgovern and Rob Norton

This book provides an instruction on how to create a content-oriented website, including organization (Information Architecture), navigation, search and content layout and most important of all, content creation. It takes several websites for example, to further illustrate the methods and practice. The authors also introduce the elements in a publishing team as well as build up a publishing strategy approach.

The reason I chose this book is because I am interested at how to create a compelling content and website that can effectively reaches my target audience. I think this book can provide me both the methods for content creation and website organization, as well as the understanding of the roles and skills in a publishing team.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Notes on Information Architecture

In “Blueprints for the Web: Organization for the Masses”, the author provides the method for a designer to organize the contents based on how people think about those contents, so as to make people easily get access to the information they need. Meanwhile, in “Hierarchy And Contrast: The Basis of Good Design”, the author suggests several techniques that can be used to grab viewers’ attention and make them see what the designer wants to present. Both of the two articles aim to reach the target audiences but their bases are reverse. The method provided by the former article is based on what viewers want to see; while the techniques used in the latter article are based on what do designers want viewers to see. In short, the first article can be viewed more user-orientated; while the second one seems to be more designer-orientated.

Furthermore, both of the two authors assert the importance of organization in a content design but the methods they suggest are different. In “Blueprints for the Web: Organization for the Masses”, the author aims to track viewers’ minds so as to collect their ways of organizing. The author suggests that to understand viewers’ preferences or habits on organizing, can help a designer determine how to facilitate the ways for the viewers to seek information on the designed website. Nonetheless, In “Hierarchy And Contrast: The Basis of Good Design”, the author emphasizes more on optical design of contents display. For instance, to add contrast and exaggeration of word sizes, text styles, and colors can grab viewers’ attention effectively. In my opinion, the organizing methods provided by the two articles can be complementary. The method presented in the first article helps to understand the target audiences’ way of perception; while the techniques offered in the second article is useful for attracting the audiences’ attention. The combination of theses methods can be helpful to effectively convey the designer’s message to the target users.

It is noticeable that the two articles both mention about the idea of grouping related elements. This concept of categorizing different contents can make it easy for people to find what they want; at the same time, it can emphasize and make the message the designer wants to convey coherent and comprehensive to the viewers.

To me, the method for organizing presented in “Blueprints for the Web: Organization for the Masses” is more inspiring. I think all designers must know who their target audiences are and understand what the audiences want. I always believe that this kind of interactivity between designers and viewers is essential for the success of a website or a product. Therefore, the step of “user testing” in the procedure of organizing is especially important. This is helpful for designers to understand people’s ways of organizing, what they are most interested, and how they may perceive the designed website/product. Not only can the step of user testing enhance the designed website/product in advance, but it can also prevent some errors or inconvenience that might happen to the use of the designed website/product. At last, there is one phrase in “Blueprints for the Web: Organization for the Masses”—“If you do your work right, no one will ever notice your taxonomy”, that makes me think of what Andrea mentioned last week, which is “The best design is no design”. I think a good design should be simple but impressed. If a design can make it so easy for people to use that they don’t know they are using a design, it is a success.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Notes on HCI design principles & Gestalt Theory

As far as I’m concerned, the Gestalt theory can be applied to the instructional design, which can facilitate the ways people perceived and understand the contents. Meanwhile, Human-Computer Interface (HCI) design provides users the simple and clear ways to operate the designed product.

The fundamental idea in Gestalt theory is that people perceive a design according to the context, which is the relationship between contents. It is the whole design that affect people’s perception rather the fragmentary elements in the design. The theory is composed of the basic terms—figure and ground, and the six principles—similarity, proximity, continuity, closure, symmetry, and area. There are some ideas in HCI design related closely to Gestalt theory. For instance, the rule of “Strive for consistency” in the HCI design can be viewed as the practice of principles of similarity (put things that share similar visual characteristics together to make them seen as a group) and continuity (preference for continuous figures). It is suggested that the designer should put the consistent actions or similar displays of text (e.g. color, layout, capitalization) together so as to facilitate the ways users understand and operate the designed product. In this way, users can perceive the organized contents as belonging to a group or having relationship with one another, so as to reduce their memory load and enable them to absorb the information more systematically, efficiently, and effectively.

Besides, the rule of “Design dialogs to yield closure” can be interpreted as the practice of principles of proximity and closure. The author of “HCI Design” asserts that “Sequences of actions should be organized into groups with a beginning, middle, and end.” In this way, users can have a complete recognition of the information, which has relationship among each other and is displayed orderly. The application of proximity (put things closer to make them seen as a group) and closure (people’s tendency to see complete figures so as to get complete information), will be helpful for users to catch the message of the design more quickly and coherently.

In my opinion, the application of Gestalt Theory can make a designed product more easily, pleasantly, and distinctively be accepted, understood, and adopted by the users because the process of perception is simplified and organized. Besides, people can grab the information more quickly and efficiently since they will not be distracted by messy contents, neither do they need to waste time finding information in a chaos or looking for relationship in the contents.

The HCI design also includes the ideas of conceptual model, constraint, and conventions discussed in “Affordances and Design”. The conceptual model helps both designers and users to catch the messages being conveyed as well the organization within the messages at a glance. Besides, using constraints and conventions prevent users from making errors during the operation of the product, and familiarize users with the use of the product by following the conventional usage.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Notes on “Internet Standards, Protocols, and Languages” and “Information Interaction Design”

In the article “Internet Standards, Protocols, and Languages”, the author introduces how different standards impact people’s lives by giving examples of different “standards” set on language, metric system, and electrical standards among countries. The different standards have caused communication gaps and thus need translators or converters to bridge the gap. Similar concept can be applied to the electronic systems such as the Internet. As the Internet has become a critical global communication channel, the different Internet standards, protocols and languages must be interoperable so as to make the data conversions proceed smoothly and enable people to share messages and resources. If the standards are incompatible, the distribution of messages and information will be limited and thus hinders communicators’ ability to reach their target audiences. The globally applicable standards will become one of the primary driving forces to support international electronic data exchange and commerce transaction. The same standards or interoperable standards can facilitate global communications, like English as an international language for people from different countries to communicate with one another, and translators as the interoperable tools to bridge the gap between different languages.

Unlike “Internet Standards, Protocols, and Languages”, the other article “Information Interaction Design” focuses on the process of creating an effective information design, which includes information design, interaction Design, and sensorial Design. Information design emphasizes much on the representation of data and its presentation; while interaction design aims to creating compelling experiences for target audiences and sensorial design affects audiences’ perception on the message being delivered. I think the organization of data, which is the critical process of information design according to the author, as well as the various ways to organize data that the author mentions, are pretty important and can be very helpful in our class project design. Besides, in order to achieve an successful information interaction design, the author points out that the designers have to first bear in mind the goals and messages they aim to convey, and to build a meaningful experience for target audiences. It is necessary to clarify the goals and understand the target audiences, including what their needs, abilities, interests, and expectations are and how to reach them, so as to build useful and effective experiences for both the designers and audiences.

When the author mentions about the interactivity with audiences, it reminds me of cases about standards influencing communications. The author suggests the designers to pay attention to the limitations of the technologies and media through which their messages are conveyed when designing the interactivity with audiences. As far as I am concerned, the limitations can be referred to different or incompatible standards, which hinder the process of communication. In addition, the author asserts that people can be more willing to express their creativity toward the designed product if they are accustomed to performing with the tools or techniques. The author suggests that this can be achieved either through the careful design of the experience or offered assistance from the designers. Yet, I think an universal agreed-upon and adopted standard, or interoperable standards, can also provide the accustomed tools or techniques for audiences to reflect their creation on the designed product.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Websites reflecting the Project

I think this website community focus has some reference for the Greenlake community project. It is noticeable that the website provides a channel for people to exchange their opinions and discuss issues in the community. We can learn from the website to add the interactivity functions into our class websites. By this way, the website would be more attrative to retain more readers. It can become an online community for people to gain information about the virtual community, meanwhile for people to communicate with one another.

For the immigration experience project, I found a website marriedhappy, which provides personal experience on immigration. I think this website may be closer to the project idea that people sharing their personal immigration experience.

Projects I am Intersted in...

I like the project about immigration experience website from Meg, Drew and Andrea. Also, I am interested in the Greenlake community website project from Ingrid. I think the first project can help people understand and appreciate various cultures and backgrounds the immgrants bring to Seattle. In long term the website can establish the multicutural trends and broaden people's scopes on different cultures. Compared with the immigration experience website, the Greenlake community website does not address broadly enough to the whole Seattle area. However, I think the idea is really great! First, the information provided on the website is abundant, useful and attractive to me. Second, I think it can bring more business opportunities and development in Greenlake community area. In my opinion, the project can be broadened by extending the introduced communities, instead of focusing only on Greenlake community.

My personal goals & the team roles

My personal goals in the class project team are to learn how to construct and manage a website, how to build up and maintain interactivity with the readers, as well as how to achieve team building and good cooperation among members. I don't have technical background on estabilshing a website. Thus, I feel eager to learn the related technologies. I also feel like learning how to combine the text, audio, and video content on the website effectively and attractively. In addition, I hope to gain good interactivity with my readers. I aim to use effective contents (text-based, audio, and video) to let my readers easily understand my pursuit on the website. In return the readers can provide their feedback and I can know how to improve the contents so as to make the website more attractive to my targeted readers. Finally, through the process of working together for the class project, I aim to learn how to communicate efficiently and properly with each member. I think it is necessary to firstly understand the strength and weakness of each team member, and then we can share our personal experience and comments on our respective positions. That may help group members mutually come to get familiar with the positions that are not their professional fields. Through understanding each others’ fields, the members can give more useful feedback or suggestion to enhance the team collaboration.

I prefer to play the roles as an editor and a graphical designer. I am intersted in reading people's work and sharing my thoughts with the authors. Also, I expect myself to be able to bridge the communication between authors and readers. In addition to the text-related work, I am eager to learn how to design the appearance of a website as well as the display of the contents. Thus, I feel like to trying the jobs a graphical designer take.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I am not good at the technical matters. Therefore, I prefer not to take the roles as information architect or programmers.