Surf Design: Web Development in a Fluid Environment

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Presentation Title:

  • Surf Design: Web Development in a Fluid Environment




  • Poster Statement

    Web designers have in the past mostly focused on their specific sites-using an approach was strongly reminiscent to the handicrafts. The browser frame was the window through which designers examined their work. Today, designers face a set of complex challenges that go much further than this still very traditional approach. On the one hand, their level of technical expertise must rise as sites are created dynamically and are automatically patterned to changing individual user preferences. On the other hand, they must become aware of the changing economics of the Internet. They must consider the positioning of their sites in a network of links that are increasingly being dictated by advertising expenditures. Technology and economics are now more relevant than ever to designers, who must step back from viewing specific sites as isolated entities and must see how the Internet functions as a fluid environment that encompasses dynamically changing user communities and changing patterns of user interactivity. In the beginning of 1996, it was sufficient to realize that a site had to constantly offer up-to-date information and fresh design in order to stimulate the surfer to interact with it. Content merged with design since web page appearance needed to reflect the type of content contained in it. Part of the web design process also involved the task of automating authoring procedures. In order to produce a constant flow of new information, authors used procedures like dynamically generated web pages and database connectivity. Thus, fresh, content-specific design and authoring ease were two important design considerations that could easily contradict each other but needed to be brought together somehow. Challenge enough, one would think. From the Summer of 1996, agent technology was integrated into more and more sites. User expectations were pushed even further. Then, not only the authors publishing process, but also the readers surfing process, could be automated. Readers let agents do the tedious Web surfing, demanding to view only the results. Design faced the difficult task of needing to visualize fluid information outputs. Web design has from that moment on permanently moved away from the handicraft stage. This does not mean that sites ceased being produced in this fashion. These sites, however, were increasingly branded as unprofessional and moved to the periphery. Behind the glamour of the major Internet sites, a cottage industry is working away quietly in the background, mostly in private households and universities. In this increasingly vast sea of information, it takes ever-greater economic and technological resources to make a visible splash. In the information space of the internet, proximity is not determined by location but by connectivity; sites that are well-linked loom large on the horizon of possibility. The result is a margin that is as rich and varied as it is invisible. Much of the most interesting Web work is still done here, but it is being noticed only by a small group of home users and rarely stumbled upon by chance. The reasons behind the formation of a periphery and a center are, of course, not only technological, they are primarily economic. The people behind the major sites are constantly asking themselves one question: how do I best embed myself in this fluid ocean of links? Money dictates position. There was a time in which Yahoo listed a whole range of alternative search engines- in the spirit of that horribly overused word: Netiquette. Now they list only one: Alta Vista. In this poster session we would like to present our work in Web design and content development, using it as an example to discuss the set of problems and opportunities outlined above.