Web design, defined
Clarifying the Terms
Update: Jeffrey Veen is giving away his book for free in PDF form. He is a leading industry expert in the area of web interface usability. The book is five years old, but very good. Check it out: The Art and Science of Web Design.
I read an interesting little article over at Seventy-Two that I agree with whole-heartedly. He ponders the question of what exactly it is to be a web designer, who fits into this category, and why. I quote here an interesting point he made, regarding the level of status given to web professionals…
I'm not saying that [amateurs] shouldn't be having fun playing around with the programs and making sites for their own personal usage, but the minute it crosses over into producing commercial sites and charging for them, the term "web designer" loses yet another bit of credibility and value.
This is not to say that beginners shouldn't have a starting point, of course. If this was the case, the web would not be what it is today, and many of us would've never got a chance to develop our skill-set. I appreciate this article though, because it places wizzy-wig (What You See Is What You Get) programs in their proper context, as "training-wheels" for web design. Or, better yet, as microwave-dinners, when the real coding process is like cooking from scratch. Of course, I am biased, since I had my start in hand-coding.
That being said, here is what will probably be an invaluable resource to those who want to really get into web design, more than just wetting their feet in the mud puddle of FrontPage. This comes from a well-known designer. If you haven't heard of him, you've surely seen some of his work, as he is the one responsible for several Blogger templates.
Dan Cederholm has recently put the finishing touches on his new book, Bulletproof Web Design which is slated for release in the next few months. He is the author of Web Standards Solutions which has been highly read and acclaimed in the field of web standards design. Anyway, go check it out at his site, SimpleBits.
Radio vs. Drop-Downs
Here is another interesting article, from Your Total Site as to whether user-choices should be presented in the form of radio buttons or drop-down lists. There are certain situations in which one or the other is better suited, and this article addresses some of those variables.
One example I can think of is at Asbury Seminary, we have a Bible Competancy Exam which all students are required to take. This test is browser-based, and has drop-downs for the answer choices. This creates a problem, because if the user is used to scrolling the page via the mouse-roller, it is very easy to accidentally select the wrong answer in the drop-down menu.
Had the system been based around answers that were mutually exclusive radio-buttons, it would make for a better user experience. It would have kept me from answering Menasseh as the first human God created! (I still passed)
While you're at it, also have a look at the personal site of Garrett Dimon, the man behind Your Total Site. He has also recently launched NotableWords.com, a site that centers around people who are exceptional writers. I like this site, because it takes the concept of StyleGala and applies it to writing, featuring those of literary rather than (but not excluding) graphic design skill.