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Archive for the ‘Web’ Category

HOW EASY IS IT TO BUILD A WEB PAGE?

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 14, 2010

I’m often asked this question by friends and business acquaintances as they know I have been in the systems business for a number of years. My pat answer to them is simply, “It depends.” Some people think their “whiz-kid” son or daughter can bang something out rather quickly, and maybe they can, but will it really do the job for them?

I say, “It depends,” because it is ultimately up to the type of business or organization you have and what you want to communicate. I categorize web pages into two types: Static and Dynamic. Static means it is a simple page where people can look up basic information for reference purposes. Dynamic refers to a web page which provides for more user interaction, such as to pose questions, place orders, participate in surveys, etc.

If you have a simple business organization and all you want to do is list your company’s name and address, then I would say, Yes, little Joey can probably whip something together for you. Static web pages are great for basic information, but because they are not updated too often, they do not encourage return visitors. However, this may not be important if all you are trying to do is take a “Yellow Pages” approach to listing your business. If you need something a little more sophisticated though, No, little Joey probably won’t be able to handle it and you will waste a lot of money getting to where you want to go.

Static web pages can be easily produced using common Word Processing utilities, desktop publishing tools, or manually using some simple HTML tags (Hyper Text Markup Language). Dynamic pages require a little more oomph though, requiring special design tools and programming talent; e.g., Java, JavaScript, PHP, XML, ColdFusion, etc. All of this obviously costs more than what you’re paying little Joey.

I find most companies go into a web design project rather naively. Frankly, I think you should go into it with a more structured approach, such as requirements definition (including a Table of Contents), prototype graphical appearance and navigation, and complete the assignment accordingly. Further, I tell people to think “virtually,” whereas they may have historically felt constrained in publishing sales literature, a web page has no practical limitations. However, I caution them to avoid the “War and Peace” phenomenon which tends to alienate users who, in most situations, want to quickly lookup answers to their questions.

Because of the spin from I.T. vendors, there is also a general perception that web page design is easy. Consequently, companies become impatient for results. Actually, web page design is no different than the design of anything; the greater the complexity, the longer it is going to take, which is why it is not a bad idea to use Project Managers on major web design projects.

So, how easy is it to build a web page? Actually, it is rather simple, but the real question should be, “How easy is it to build an EFFECTIVE web page?” Just about anyone familiar with a computer can produce a web page, but building something that truly works for you requires more skill. True, there are some slick design tools out there, but there is no substitute for experience and polished skills, not to mention some design standards as well.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

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FORM & SCREEN DESIGN

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 17, 2009

I’ve been working with a new web site that offers some pretty powerful features for multimedia, I don’t want to say which one. Fortunately, I have been around the Information Technology industry for a long time now and can find my way through just about anything. Although this particular web site offers some pretty sophisticated capabilities, it is painful to navigate around and has pitiful Help facilities. Basically, it’s as intuitive to use as a dead slug. Although I have found my way around the software, mostly through trial and error, I wonder how many people simply gave up due to the frustration factor involved. I suspect a lot.

You see this same phenomenon in nonprofit organizations that rely on paper forms which are confusing to read with no effective way of cross-checking the data being recorded. Consequently, erroneous data is entered which permeates and corrupts the rest of the system, thereby causing considerable expense to correct errors and eliminate redundancies.

Both forms and screens serve the same purpose, as an input device to collect data. The only difference between the two is the media used. Aside from this, both should be designed according to some basic principles:

1. They need to be “clean” and inviting to use. Consideration should be given to the types of people intended to use the form or screen and their intellectual capacity to work with it. If it is perceived as difficult to use, it will be rebuffed, and people will avoid using them, thereby defeating not only the form or screen, but the entire system as well.

2. There must be a means to validate or cross-check the data collected. For screens, there should be no reason why certain editing checks cannot be added to obtain the results desired, such as checking basic math, upshifting/downshifting certain text characters, and enforcing the use of valid entries such as state mailing codes; e.g., FL, OH, NY, CA, etc. (thereby prohibiting invalid entries). On-line help should, of course, be provided, not just for the screen, but for each entry. For paper forms, preparation instructions should be included (such as on the back of the form), sample entries should be provided, and a simple means should be provided to check math, such as tabulating columns and rows in a table.

3. They should be designed according to standards thereby making it easy to learn and use which, in turn, means improved user acceptance (since they are already familiar with similar screens and forms) thereby promoting system success. Besides, why should designers reinvent the wheel with each development project? Standards for form and screen design are certainly not new. Such standards have been available for a long time, but is anyone using them? If the web pages found on the Internet represent any indication, the answer is “No.”

Forms and screens are usually designed by people who, despite their good intentions, fail due to their obsession with the technical implementation as opposed to concentrating on the human dynamics involved. I’ve seen some beautiful web pages that are graphically alluring but fail miserably simple due to horrible navigation, cryptic commands, microscopic lettering, and poor editing checks. They may look beautiful, but they fail due to the elements mentioned earlier.

Just remember, forms and screens are the portals to our systems. Systems begin with people and end with people; systems are for people.

For more information, see my paper on “Effective Screen Design.”

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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