Distribution > Destination

Avenue A | Razorfish’s Garrick Schmitt has written a great post in the Digital Design Blog that riffs on information from their Digital Outlook report: Does the Home Page Still Matter?: Why Distribution Trumps Destination Online. Most of the web folks that I know have been working on this basis for some time now, but it remains important to underline that the old “get people in through the homepage” model is broken (and likely always was, it was just harder to figure out before).

Trying to force people into a specific usage pattern is a recipe for failure – trumped only by the mistake of trying to predict where users will come from in the first place. What does this mean in practice? Many things (and the conclusions in the post are right on), but two immediate things spring to mind:

  • Deep links have to provide context within the URL itself (i.e., be readable)
  • Don’t hide content in non-machine-readable formats that people can’t link to directly (and that Google can’t grok)

Excellent mashup for Super Tuesday

I’ve seen a lot of mashups in the past couple of years, but the Google Maps, Twitter, and Twittervision thing is one of the greatest I’ve seen. Not only does it seem to work very well – but the mix of live results and individual reactions is simply wonderful. And the presentation of the results (on the left of the screen) is a model of simple, clean, effective design. Not super-pretty, but more effective than all the bells and whistles generally seen at the Networks’ sites.

Scoble: Talking with Six Apart

I just caught up with Scoble’s interview with Six Apart over at PodTech.net. It’s a good piece, though if you’ve been involved in blogging in the corporate environment there’s not much new. What was new was the focus the Six Apart gang is putting on getting MT into all of the mashups that are coming into vogue. I think they’re really well positioned to take that a long way.

I just hope that Six Apart doesn’t lose its core constituency first – like me, for instance. Shipping MT4 without an easily extendable library of ready-made templates – and without even providing complete instructions at how to build your own – was a huge mistake.

In my travels today

I came across an extended interview with Peter Merholz, published in the NextD Journal. It’s an exasperating interview to read, because although the interviewer, GK VanPatter is clearly a sensitive and intelligent person, he seems completely obsessed with design-as-boundaried-profession, which makes him unable to truly understand the first thing that Merholz says.

It’s a common reaction, the retrenchment of beleaguered fields into professional re-definition and defense. We have also seen it in terms of ‘journalism’ in the past decade as well as they have been faced with blogs and other new media. But it’s pointless. Professions aren’t successful because, as VanPatter’s ridiculous hypothetical about heart surgeons suggests, they define themselves as the ones who can do X task, they are successful because they CAN accomplish X task. A CEO of a hospital can’t redefine ‘heart surgery’ such that the janitor can do it, because to try to do so makes it no longer ‘heart surgery’ at all.

The relevance of this is not only important for design, but for all areas of expertise on the web. The ones who understand, deeply, business – users and customers, relevant financial models, business goals, marketing approaches, all of those – are the ones who will be in leadership of organizations, including leading design processes. Designers can complain about it or do something about it – but it must be understood that doing something about it means learning how business works, not laughing at business and demeaning business people and their aesthetics. As Merholz says, it’s up to designers to define their role.

I tweaked the design

around here in the past couple of days. I migrated the whole layout to use (close to) standard Movable Type templates, and in so doing made a few other subtle changes. In so doing I was able to (finally) migrate my old and neglected Words page to the current design. It had been stuck for some time in a previous generation.

Design note: the p:first-child selector is critical for me to keep my strange “Title-as-beginning-of-post” approach. Tech note: I still haven’t been able to get the freaking MT search going. I used to use an external service but I’d prefer not to continue. But the Search is down as the cgi doesn’t seem to load. Strange.

A quick question:

Why do all ad/marketing/pr/web agency sites suck? For both personal and professional reasons I browse such sites on a regular basis, and the ONLY reaction they give me is to completely lose confidence that they have the slightest clue what they are doing.

There are exceptions, generally among very small shops like my friends at Plank, and even more so 37Signals, to single out two of the decent ones. But the big shops – they display nothing but complete ignorance of the web; which, in 2004, is equal to ignorance of the media and marketing world in general.

Thoughts of a redesign.

Traditionally, weblogs are redesigned as a surprise. The person who maintains the site generally toils for a short time and then abruptly unveils the new design, hoping for maximum shock value as the new design hopefully impresses and awes readers. I am going to take a different approach: I’m going to ask what people would like to see.

I have been tinkering with a couple of ideas, but haven’t quite settled on anything good yet. One of them was yellow and black and red – sort of a throwback to an old mikel.org design. One of them is almost identical to this one, but a little cleaner. I’ve also been looking at some of the very white-looking low-contrast text-oriented designs.

So I throw the ball to you: what do you think the next mikel.org should look like? Are there any design elements here that you think should be untouchable – maybe the pencil? From a strict usability standpoint, what do you think it is important to fix? The orange I use, for instance – I know it’s a little bright and hard to read on some Win machines. How about the one lowly table in an otherwise all-CSS design? OK, or ditch it? What do you think?

Design by Fire

takes an in-depth look at self-checkout systems in grocery stores. We have such a system at the local Provigo, and the experience is just pathetic from beginning to end. But even before that, I fail to see the payoff. What is my incentive to use the self-checkout? Do I get a discount for doing the work myself? Do I get out of the store more quickly? Is it somehow easier? The answer to all of those things is emphatically no. The problem, though? I highly doubt that the grocery store gives a damn. That’s not even the worst violator of system design in that one location!


Don’t design on spec.

Netscape’s DevEdge site

fatures a great interview with Douglas Bowman about the Wired News redesign. It turns out that my complaints about the colours the other day probably look silly out of context, cause they change the colours of the site regularly.