Fifth International World Wide Web Conference

May 6-10, 1996, Paris, France

Panel9: Good and Sensible Design is Crucial to the Success of the Web!

Thursday 9 May, 1996 - 11:30-13:00

Panel Chair

Nahum Gershon
The MITRE Corporation
1820 Dolley Madison Blvd.
McLean, VA 22102-3481,USA
+1 (703) 883-7518 Fax: +1 (703) 883-5230,

Panel Members

Panel Description

Currently, many pages over the Web are poorly designed even though they might be rich with visual sensations. Many people do not have minimal knowledge or awareness of good visual, textual, and information design. Time has come to do something about it.

The function of a good design of Web pages is to present the information clearly and effectively and to engage the user rather than just searching for new (and sometimes not so effective) means of expression. The panel will present and debate what is a good design and how it can improve the interaction of the user with the information and reduce frustrations when browsing, searching, or just reading. A good design takes into account not only the needs of the user and the task but also the shortcomings of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and the practical bandwidth limitations of current networks.

The panel will discuss and debate why a good design is essential to the success of the Web, how to achieve it, and where are the road blocks. Topics include:

The panelists are all experts in various aspects of Web page design and have published extensively. They have a broad experience in presenting talks knowing how to engage the audience and how to express themselves in a friendly way in spite of an ongoing debate. Each one brings a different aspect of the topic and to spice things up, they do not agree on all issues. We expect to have a lively, exciting, and yet informative session. The audience will be enticed to continuously participate in the debates and discussions.

Position Statements and Biographies

Information Organization: Designing Hyperspace that Makes Sense--
Nahum Gershon

A good organization of the displayed information is needed for enhancing its understanding by the user and for reducing the number of times the users need to click to reach the required information so they do not need to suffer from the "Click-Until-You-Drop" syndrome. It is important to consider what information will appear on the screen once the page is retrieved. If the information contained in the page is long, a table of contents (possibly with internal hyperlinks to the following sections in the same document) might be helpful. In case the information must be contained in separate pages (e.g., otherwise the document will be too long), a careful consideration of the distribution of the information in the set of pages (related to the users' needs and the problem at hand) could reduce users' frustrations and enhance understanding of the contents. The hierarchical structure of the pieces of information should not be too shallow or too deep, again depending on the information on hand and on the purpose of the presentation.

Nahum D. Gershon is a Principal Scientist at The MITRE Corp. His work is concerned with data and information visualization, Web browsers, image processing, data organization, and analysis of medical, environmental, and other multidimensional data. He pursues research in the use of understanding of the perceptual system in improving the visualization process and dealing with information. Nahum was a Co-Chair of the IEEE Visualization Conferences in 1994-1995 and co-organized the first Information Visualization Symposium in 1995. He serves as a member of the Advisory Panel of the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) and the US National Research Council's CODATA Committee and was a member of the Focus Group on Visualization and Presentation of the White House's GLOBE Program.

Andrew Glassner

Web pages are pictures. These pictures often include smaller images, pieces of typography, and now moving images and sounds. Web pages are advertisements. The nature of the web is that people surf casually, and if you want them to read your material you need to get them to stop at your page. To do that, you need to get their attention, and promise them a rewarding experience. First impressions matter. Magazines work hard to make attractive covers, and web page designers do the same. Even if a page is simply reference material, if it's poorly organized or difficult to read, people will not enjoy the experience, and will either not return or regret it when they must.

So good design is essential. Web design combines traditional graphic design with the limitations of screen display and the active capabilities of web browsers. With today's markup tools, almost anybody who has absorbed a sense of visual aesthetics from the culture can create an acceptable set of pages. But to make pages that are interesting, or exciting, or beautiful, or intriguing, or otherwise special, some extra effort is required. There are lots of opportunities for creative design with today's tools, and with the tools that are just around the corner. I'll talk about some of the basic ideas of graphic design that we don't want to leave behind, and some of the new ideas that will give us a whole new way of dealing with 2D and 3D visual documents.

Andrew Glassner is a researcher at Microsoft Research, where he studies issues in computer graphics and the social implications of computers. In addition to many technical articles, he has authored or edited many well-known graphics texts, including Principles of Digital Image Synthesis, published by Morgan Kaufmann. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Graphics, and serves on the editorial board of IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications. He also writes fiction, plays jazz piano, and enjoys painting and hiking. He holds a Ph.D. from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Good and Sensible Design--John Lansdown

It is often thought that design is solely about the appearance of things. In fact, this is only one of its concerns- and not always the most pressing one. The purpose of good design is to enhance the meaning of an artefact. To make it more comprehensible, more easily understood and more usable. Two thousand years ago the Roman architect, Vitruvius proposed that good design needed: 'Utilitas, Firmitas and Venustas' - translated into English in the seventeenth century as: 'Commoditie, Firmness and Delight'.

It is worth having these elements in mind when we talk about the design of web pages (and anything else too): Commoditie so that the pages do well what they are intended to do - presumably to convey information or mood; Firmness so that they don't fall apart when we explore them; Delight so that they are a joy to use. Web pages, though, present particular problems to designers in that most of the current tools for their implementation allow the design of input but do not guarantee a matching design of output. Thus special attention has to be paid to structure so that, whatever the format of receipt, the whole is still comprehensible and usable. It is important to examine how we can do this and the role of design and designers in the process.

John Lansdown is Emeritus Professor of Computer Aided Art and Design at Middlesex University, London. He has been using computers in creative activities since the early 1960s and has lectured and given tutorials on the creative uses of computers in Europe, Australia and North America for many years. In 1986 he was given the 20th Anniversary Award of the British Computer Society's Displays Group for his work on the application of computers in architecture and the arts. He was one of the founders of the Computer Arts Society in 1968 and was its Honorary Secretary for 21 years.

Jakob Nielsen

The desire to become a "cool" web site is often detrimental to good WWW design. Certainly, boring or confusing web sites will not attract many users, but the use of advanced design elements simply for the sake of adding more suff to the page will discourage users from repeat visits to a site. The key issue in web design is how to add value to the user's experience: how to make them feel that they truly got something out of visiting a web site. It is particularly important to attract repeat traffic and this cannot be done with gimmicks that are fun the first time but stand in the way of the user's real tasks on subsequent visits.

Unfortunately, many recent web sites (including some very expensively designed ones from major consumer goods companies) have promoted themselves as leading-edge by virtue of extensive use of several of the latest web media types. Many of these design elements have no communicative value except for the implied message "see how advanced we are to be using the latest technology".

Dr. Jakob Nielsen is a Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer, currently serving as the Human Interface Architect for SunSoft Desktop Technology with responsibility for the Internet Desktop project. He led the user interface team that designed Sun's WWW pages, co-designed Sun's internal WWW pages (SunWeb), and has contributed to user interfaces for several other WWW projects as well as pre-web hypertexts and online services.

Jakob Nielsen's recent books include "Multimedia and Hypertext: The Internet and Beyond", "Usability Engineering", "Usability Inspection Methods" (with Bob Mack), and "International User Interfaces" (with Elisa del Galdo). He also writes the monthly Alert Box column on Internet user interface issues at http://www.sun.com/current/columns/alertbox Dr. Nielsen's previous affiliations include Bell Communications Research (Bellcore), the Technical University of Denmark, and the IBM User Interface Institute at the T. J. Watson Research Center.

Syed Towheed

Ted Nelson, who coined the term hypertext in 1965, claimed that the very structure of human thought is neither sequential nor linear. That computer-based hypertext systems will fundamentally alter the way humans approach information and the expression of ideas during the coming decades.

However the argument against this theory of associative thought is that people are more comfortable with linear thinking and are easily overwhelmed by too much freedom, becoming quickly lost in the chaos of nonlinear gigabytes. It is important to always provide location markers, menus, or illustrative maps, for travelers of nonlinear systems.

The Web is the first example of a global nonlinear information tangle. This is because we need to learn a fundamental lesson of hypertext - humans cannot make sense of chaos. We are creatures who by our very nature categorize, class, and sub-class everything. This is a critically important lesson we need to learn when developing Web systems.

Syed Towheed is the president and founder of Web Designer, Inc. - a WWW systems development studio based in Reston, Virginia. Before founding Web Designer, Syed developed and maintained the NSSDC's Web system - one of the largest and busiest WWW site at NASA. Syed has given many talks and day-long classes on WWW and has published numerous papers. His work has been cited by Byte Magazine, On The Internet -- The Internet Society Magazine, IEEE Computer Graphics, Newton, Net Magazine, NASA Information Systems Newsletter, as well as many other publications. He has received numerous awards including the Federal Leadership Award for his contribution to making government data and information publicly accessible. Syed holds a BS degree in Physics.

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Created: 9 April 1996
Last updated: 18 April 1996