Designing for the New Web
Eliminate the hype and learn what Web 2.0 is really about.
by Lauren Dresnick
Web Design World San Francisco, January 30, 2006
Watch the video of the keynote! (Running time: 1 hour, 8 minutes)
After ascertaining that about half of the Web Design World attendees were familiar with the term "Web 2.0," keynote speaker Jeffrey Veen posed this question: Is Web 2.0 a descriptive term, or marketing hype? His answer was two-fold. Veen first deconstructed the propaganda and then created a functional definition from what remained. According to Veen, Web 2.0 can be defined by "The Elements of User Experience," or five aspects of the last Web that can be retooled to benefit changing user needs. These elements are surface, skeleton, structure, scope, and strategy.
The surface of a Web site, or its look and feel, has transformed in recent years to include a much more user-friendly feel. It is this visual appeal, or good design, that ultimately creates trust between the user and designer. But how do Web 2.0 designers ensure that they're creating good design? Veen suggested viewing users as peers. Build a user-rich application to disassociate content from presentation, and manipulate behavior by letting the user control the data.
User interaction with Web pages is known as the skeleton. Veen explained that in the past, designers created a new and unique page for every user action. But design history is being rewritten in part by Ajax, which allows for an asynchronous server response in the world of Web 2.0. Essentially, when users input data, the server sends back pieces of information that make small changes to a single page. This process creates a more fluid response and a happier user, Veen said.
Web site structure is the information architecture that determines how the user navigates a site. Web 2.0 bids farewell to top-down architectures, opening the doors for bottom-up design strategies. One notable approach to bottom-up organization is tagging. Users tag files with personalized metadata and are able to look at a global cluster of ideas around a particular object of their choice. Tagging is one of many bottom-up structures that are revolutionizing the new Web, said Veen.
The scope of Web 2.0 is the key decision points made during Web site design: what is done and not done to compete with other sites. This is where many designers fail to execute effectively, said Veen. It is important to recognize that simple issues, such as Web-based maps and e-mail, gain new life when the platform is based on participation. Alternatively, complex problems, such as content-management systems, are somewhat simplified. Veen encouraged designers to understand that Web 2.0 redefines the problems they need to focus on, and to embrace this change with an open mind.
The final element of user experience, strategy, explains why companies are online and what users expect from these online companies. It is the culmination of the previous four elements. Web 2.0 is about letting go and trusting your users because you cannot determine their capabilities, Veen said. He added that the new Web relies on a fuzzy, human architecture, where the association between two items is virtually unknown, or based on random user input. This new platform has changed the way designers prioritize and solve problems. Veen concluded that in order to succeed in the world of Web 2.0, designers must embrace amateurization, or the architecture of participation, by creating simple tools with which users can build their own online experience.
About the Speaker
Jeffrey Veen has worked on projects with some of today's most successful Web products, including Flickr, Blogger, TypePad, and the Creative Commons. He's currently building a Web application for Adaptive Path, based on the company's years of experience in innovation and design.
About the Author
Lauren Dresnick is Associate Editor for FTPOnline.
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