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2008: Decision Year for RIAs - October 20-22, 2008 San Jose

Designing for Web 2.0: "It Will Be About People"
"We are on the cusp of something here. I can smell it."

I've been thinking about this for a while now. What will it mean to design in this industry in the coming years, and how will we, as designers, have to adapt in order to get the most out of it?

But before I talk about that, I'd like to talk about design. What is it? More importantly what has it become? And how will it be in the future?

What is it? A brief history
For many years now, design has been viewed as being esthetic. Design equals How Something Looks. You see this attitude to design in every part of society - clothing design to interior design. Less so in product design, and yes, in web design.

Years ago, when the web first went mainstream, we saw designers move to it from a number of industries - architecture, print design and multimedia (CD-ROM and kiosk) design. They all brought with them a way of working which was almost exclusively associated with the esthetic. Designing nice-looking stuff for the web.

Then along came the people from HCI backgrounds and the social sciences and said "Hang on a minute, while these websites look nice, they aren't very usable," and so the whole usability thing was born.

At about the same time, businesses realised that their sites were becoming a bit of a mess. So, they asked some people from library sciences to come along and join the party and Information Architecture was born.

So, we had Designers making things look nice, Usability experts arguing with the Designers about links must be blue and Information Architects sitting quietly making lists.

Thankfully that is, mostly, in the past.

What Has It Become?
After that splintering of the design profession (I'll come back to this), we ended up with a faceted industry. By that I mean, lots of highly specialized fields. At the time of the big crash, the industry could not sustain so many experts and we had to multi-task. All of a sudden if you wanted to get by the web you had to know PHP, JavaScript, IA, Flash, be a cracking designer as well as a first rate Information Architect. Oh, and you had to be pretty good at making tea too.

That was still the case up until a few months ago. And I guess this is the whole point to this post. We are on the cusp of something here. I can smell it.

How Will It Be In the Future?
"Web 2.0" is all the thing at the moment. Silly, silly name if you ask me. And no, I'm not going to explain it because I don't really know myself. I think Web 2.0 represents a change, that's all. Not only a change in the way the internet works, and is driven, and interacted with, but a change in the industry itself.

I believe there will be a return to design no longer being associated with just the esthetic. I think design covers so much more than the esthetic. Design is fundamentally more. Design is usability. It is Information Architecture. It is Accessibility. This is all design.

A few years ago, when there were silly job titles around, designers also fell into that trap of trying to differentiate themselves from those designers who just make things look nice. We had 'User Experience Designer', 'Usability Designer', 'VP of UI' - you know, silly things like that. Now, I call myself a 'Designer ' - plain and simple - and thankfully I'm beginning to think the industry, clients included, are beginning to understand what I'm talking about.

Designers in the coming years, I feel, will have to embrace aspects of design that have long been pushed aside by the, rather bullish, esthetic. We need to embrace problem solving, not just visual problems either. We need to embrace the history of design - the craft of design - in order to understand the rules behind the esthetic stuff we've been doing all these years. When we do, we'll find that these rules have been based on solving problems - not on how things look, but how they work.

Designing for Web 2.0 will not be about technology for designers. No?

No, it will be about people. It will be about designing stuff that people use and all that goes along with it. It will be simpler, better and more rewarding for designers but only if we let go of the esthetic and grab hold of the other stuff.

Ok. Don't say I didn't warn you ...

About Mark Boulton
Mark Boulton began his career in design at the age of two - his parents had trouble getting him to write as drawing pictures to communicate was so much easier for him. After earning a 1st class honors degree at Portsmouth University in Typographic Design, he launched upon a design career that took him from print-related work in Manchester and Sydney, Australia, into cyberspace via and, most recently, Recently he became infatuated with Web Standards and User Centered design and attended SXSW in Austin, US last year.

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Reader Feedback: Page 1 of 1

Designing, keeping users in mind has been evolving over a period of time and as you have rightly put, designing for the people, yes that is going to be the key facet of the future web apps.

Users on the web have evolved from an email to search to blogging and it is this amazing demand for Information in different shapes and sizes that is going to define the future of the web.

Am really pleased be a part of this amazing metamorphosis.

Is Web 2.0 getting boring? Don't get me wrong - I love and use some of the tools from the Web 2.0 era every day. enables me to file away stuff I might need in future and find helpful tech resources (with better results than Google). I have bursts of using Flickr,, co.mments. After trying a tonne of different online feed readers with "cutting edge features," I went back to Bloglines. I've found Basecamp invaluable for keeping organised. I sometimes point people over to PXN8 or Pixoh if they don't have an image editing program on their computer.

But reading TechCrunch, Mashable and so on has lately become less exciting for me. The Web 2.0 list is massive - and there are many people bringing out similar sites and services.

Sometimes I wonder if there's a better system out there than the one I'm using for a particular task (e.g. social bookmarking) and I'll go looking and try out a new system. Either I don't give it enough time to realise the benefits, or I don't need all those extra benefits or I'm too entrenched in the simplicity of the tool I currently use.

Being bombarded with new sites and services constantly (if you're a subscriber to quite a few Web 2.0 sites) might actually be less beneficial. Sometimes there's nothing like word of mouth from people who've become converts to the system, rather than people just reviewing them. The true test of the value of one of these sites is it becomes part of your life, your habits. We can all be wowed by features the first time we meet them, but are they actually beneficial?

> "We need to embrace problem solving, not
> just visual problems either. We need to
> embrace the history of design - the craft
> of design - in order to understand the
> rules behind the aesthtic stuff we've been
> doing all these years. When we do, we'll
> find that these rules have been based on
> solving problems - not on how things look, > but how they work."

100% Correct. Design, traditionally - before it became aesthetics, is was associated with solving problems. Even interior designers do this (see Joel Spolksy's office, everyone gets 2 windows! even the cubes). On the web there are lots of problems. A while back updating content vs updating appearance, hence semantic HTML and CSS. After that, people don't even know what their looking at or how to use it, hence usability and IA. Now, applications are not responsive, hence XMLHTTPRequest. Next, managing all of that and streamlining it easily so it doesn't break every time we change something! Oh yea, and mobile too...(the mobile series has been very informative over at Authentic Boredom)

>> "Web 2.0" is all the thing at the moment.
>> Silly, silly name if you ask me.

But is there a *better* one?

|| We are on the cusp of something here. I can smell it. ||

Amen to that! "Rich media" rocks.

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