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Developing a Design Concept > How Technology Impacts Design

How Technology Impacts Design

As somebody who has done both desktop publishing and Web design, I’m fascinated by the parallels and the direct impact that technology has had on both. I remember, for example, when QuarkXPress, back then a popular page-layout program, introduced gradients in one of its updates. The next month you could go to the newsstand and see which magazines were done in XPress because designers were of course tempted to use this new feature for their designs and used gradients as backgrounds. A few months later gradients disappeared. Now you rarely see them anymore. Designers quickly realized that this feature doesn’t necessarily make for a better design and focused again on the fundamentals. On the Web, you could see a similar trend. After designers explored textured backgrounds, animations, and other features, they came back to the very basics: good design. So my recommendation is to stay away from special effects; all you need for a great Web site is a great visual idea.

Metaphors

The goal in using a metaphor is to give a site a central and consistent visual theme. Finding and creating a metaphor is not easy, because not every Web site is suitable for this. Very often you see metaphoric icons used for navigational elements, such as a mailbox for email, but this doesn’t really qualify as a metaphoric Web site, where all of the graphics and text leverage some appropriate, figurative concept. An example of a Web site that used a metaphor tastefully and effectively was the Arkansas Web site. This site used a table with several objects to represent the different areas of the site. Another example was the Web site of the German Youth Hostels; it used a backpack and its contents to do the same job.

Web sites that use metaphors are certainly more visually interesting than sites that just use text links or buttons, but at the same time, if you overdo it or if you use an inappropriate metaphor, you run the risk of crossing the line between good and bad design. Using metaphors for your interface design is—in my humble opinion—also a little outdated. There was a time in the short history of Web design when the visual aspect was more important than the functionality or usability of a Web site. Back then, a visually stunning Web site could get a lot of press, which was good in terms of Web site traffic; today you rarely see metaphors used anymore.


On the old Arkansas Web site (www.arkansas.com), all objects on the table represent an area of the site. When the mouse was moved over an item, text appeared to indicate where the link was leading.




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