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by Eolake Stobblehouse

The Thousand-Dollar Question: Is It Design, Or Is It Content?
December 13th, 2000

When surfing the Web here near the dawn of the 21st, I get confused. You go to a site, and you sit there and wait. Then letters start racing around on the screen. They are followed by circles and lines in patterns that would be called psychedelic if not for the fact that they mercifully are of better color harmony than the stuff they did back in the late sixties. Then you try and navigate. The "links" are often not helpful. Sometimes they actually show where they lead, but only if you put your cursor over them. Sometimes that only makes it worse, the links explode or move around on the screen.

Even when a site is not as bad as that, I still get slightly irritated by all that animated stuff. I did not quite know why I was irritated, until I realized that I did not quite understand this simple thing: Is it design, or is it content?

This is a very important distinction, but one that many fail to make in the wild-eyed enthusiasm over new technology. Consider this: If it is content, why was I not asked if I wanted it? And if it is design, why am I sitting here waiting for it to run, and to finish? Why is it getting in the way of my information, and the content?

When adding something to a site (or to anything), you should always ask yourself, "what is the purpose?" This seems mind-numbingly basic, but you will find that many, particularly young people caught up in the new power and possibilities of technology, habitually lose sight of that when working. They play around with the technology, get wildly enthusiastic about all the cool stuff that is possible, and then find somewhere to put it to use, or failing that simply put it in. In other words, putting the cart before the horse.

In other cases it seems like the purpose of most of the effects is to impress the visitor. That at least is understandable. We like to impress each other, we like when people say "Cooool... how do you do that?!" But when it comes to professional application, when it comes to business and to art, this is... well, juvenile.

So, in short, line up the purpose of the site, and then design an attractive, but not distractive design that helps the visitor get at the content as quickly and easily as possible. Is that simple or what?

Yours, Eolake Stobblehouse

is a contributing editor to the Mac Observer, specializing in cultural matters, and comes to us by way of MacCreator. Comments invited.

The title of this column, "Fuzzy Logic", refers to an attempt to view the larger issues without getting lost in the details. Sort of "squinting" at things:) Of course it is also the term for an attempt in computing to get computers to look at the world like it is, in a spectrum of grays, instead of 1 and 0, or Black and White.

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