The more I work time I spend working on the web, creating sites for various reasons the more I see there are people who work on the web every day and can not write a single line of code to create a site. Fortunately the web is not all about complicated programing and making boxes and images look nice. The web is a communication platform, it is a tool for all types of people to use to make connections, whether that is talking, trading goods, expressing an opinion, the web is a platform where anyone and everyone should be able to go to communicate freely.
It also happens that not all people who spend their day to day working on the web could, if left in a small room for a few hours, create themselves some semblance of a website. But I don’t think that is necessarily that important. I also believe there are great thinkers who understand above all else what makes the web great, what makes the web terrible and these people can see a road down the good paths whether or not they can get there by themselves. I think if you want to be native to the web you need to hit most of these main points.
Out of body experiences
Though it is not an easy feat to achieve, being able to getting into another’s shoes and seeing a project you are working on from another perspective is a great skill to have. You do not need to be the designer or the developer. Anyone who spends lots of time thinking about a site in any way has to be able to remove themselves from that role and find a way to be someone who hasn’t seen it before. There are tools for this and things like usability testing and analytics to help us see what it is others are seeing, but even if you can’t have that out of body experience allow yourself to acknowledge that there are other people seeing this creation of yours and wondering “What the fuck?” Keep that in your back pocket, pull it out as often as you can, sit back and really think about what someone else might think of what you are doing, and you’ll be better for it.
A road built out of intersections
In that same vein it is important to realize the internet is a big place. Understanding that people have the freedom to go in any direction at any point is a sobering fact when you are creating an on-line experience. Users can come and go from any page, leave a page in the middle, find a page in the middle, start at the end and zigzag all the way to the homepage. This is the way of the internet. When you can, again, step back and think, ‘what about people coming just to this page?’ or, ‘what about people who read the content starting here or there?’ you are thinking about the web as it truly is, free open and full of intersections.
Not just a newer, shiner brochure
I hope it goes without saying in the year 2011 that the web has to be thought of differently than a piece of print collateral. Not only can web sites and applications do many more cool things, even static webpages are intrinsically not print. For one thing, when you think about paper, well, it’s all the same more or less. Some of it may be thicker or thinner or shiny or matte, but it’s all paper. Not to mention print art is specified to a paper size and weight. When working with a browser there are people coming from a site on a variety of different browsers, computers, monitor sizes and even mobile devices; all of these things matter.
I think the web industry has created this problem for themselves in some ways. There isn’t a great way to show what a website is supposed to look like as a rough concept without a program like Photoshop. But a static image make a website not. If you’re going to work on the web in any way you’re going to have to accept the fact that what you’re seeing will not ever match 100% what another person is seeing. That’s not a bad thing if you’re not afraid of it, be ready to be flexible, the important part is that the content is readable, the design works for your content and make sure nothing is seriously broken. It’s not lowering your standards, it’s being realistic.
My old diskman isn’t an ipod, what gives?
Ah, so you bought a discman in 2001. It came with the awesome over-the-head headphones and plays CD’s with mostly minimal skipping, congrats. But what’s that, you want to load your .mp3 files on to it and control it with a cool touchscreen interface? Well guess what, it wasn’t made for that. Your 2001 discman is not a 2010 ipod. Sorry. This is the same deal as trying to force your modern website to match perfectly in IE6.
IE6 was produced in 2001, at the time it was a great browser, it really was. However, it’s so far past its prime as a piece of software it is growing digital mold. Microsoft itself is telling folks to stop using it. Since that time they have released two major browsers IE7 and IE8 (neither of which are perfect) and our working on Internet Explorer 9 as I write.
Are people still using IE6? Yes they are. Corporations have built frameworks around that browser and the operating system it originally came on (Windows XP) and don’t want to, or can’t afford to change. So yes, sites in certain situations should be made to accommodate IE6. But here’s the deal, things will never work the same way in IE6 as they work in other, newer browsers. Like the last section, be willing to be flexible, the internet has many forms, content is content in all browsers, links work everywhere and people can buy stuff from your store, get your contact info on any browser despite your design matching pixel for pixel in ie6.
Talk to the developers, we’re people too
Sure we like to hide in our little cubes or at our desks and listen to our music. But on the inside we actually like to talk, well, at least some of us. And those who don’t like to talk probably do like to talk about the internet. It might all sound like technical babel, but if you press them a little, developers and designers can actually explain things in English, I dare you, give it a try.