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.