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Topic 54 of 109: rules for good web design

Sun, Nov 8, 1998 (00:24) | Paul Terry Walhus (terry)
Rules for good web design.

4 responses total.

 Topic 54 of 109 [web]: rules for good web design
 Response 1 of 4: Mike Griggs (mikeg) * Sun, Nov  8, 1998 (09:09) * 1 lines 
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 Topic 54 of 109 [web]: rules for good web design
 Response 2 of 4: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sun, Nov  8, 1998 (10:06) * 425 lines 

A nice new piece from Chris Locke:

From: "Christopher Locke"
To: "Entropy Gradient Reversals (E-mail)"

Subject: EGR Special - Scream III
Date sent: Thu, 5 Nov 1998 12:15:17 -0700
Send reply to:

< value-added version at >


All Noise - All the Time

Where there is no imagination there is no horror.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -

One might say that the true subject of the horror
genre is the struggle for recognition of all that
our civilization represses and oppresses.
- Robin Wood, British film critic -

Scream III

Well, Sports Fans & Valued Readers, it turns out I'm giving a talk in
Denver on Friday (11/6/98) at the Rocky Mountain Internet Expo. Here's
how it's billed on their site:

Scream III:
Horror Stories From the World Wide Web

Technology and implementation issues often crowd out all others
when companies construct their web strategies. However, these are
typically not the greatest challenges facing such projects. While
technology is clearly important, expectations and assumptions
about the medium itself -- and the qualitatively different type
of market attitudes it has spawned -- are far more likely to
determine failure or success. Understanding these differences
doesn't involve rocket science or academic handwaving, yet these
surprisingly simple lessons are too often learned the hard way.

The speaker will share his personal experience of some costly
failures -- with emphasis on how NOT to replicate them -- and
provide successful counter-examples that are winning over whole
new markets.

Yeah, yeah, OK, so I wrote that myself. But I haven't yet figured out
what I'm actually going to say. I hate this.

I'm feeling more than usually cantankerous today because a dozen
people just unsubscribed from EGR, ostensibly in reaction to that last
thing I sent around suggesting we should all wear ape suits for John
Glenn's return from space. Jeez, people have no sense of humor at all
anymore! However, maybe it's just that they expect greater substance.
You know, some of that penetrating punditry and laser-like analytical
insight I'm supposedly so famous for. God, I hate this.

But having demonstrated the bad judgment to sign up for this speaking
gig, I guess I have to say *something* to this crowd. And it probably
can't be the usual "korporate websites like suck, man!" I guess I'm
going to have to see if I can say something a bit more cogent this
time. Needless to say, I hate this. But here goes.


I have personally witnessed the squandering of hundreds of millions of
dollars on misguided and misbegotten commercial web initiatives. While
my intention here is not to name names and point fingers, this
firsthand experience does inform the views delivered below. They are
not just the armchair whinings of a disgruntled zinester -- though, of
course, they're all that as well.

Let's examine the Seven Deadly Web Sins that seem to beset companies
-- especially, but not exclusively, large ones. These are nearly
always the root causes of why corporate web efforts bomb. Some very
large and seemingly successful sites have these problems today. While
they have not yet failed, I predict they will eventually go down like
the Titanic unless they take a long hard look at how these attitudes
and practices affect what they set out hoping to achieve.

1. Greed

Greed is not about wanting to make money. All of us want to do
that, and companies have to. In contrast, greed is about being
unable to think of anything else. When money is the sole
motivator, it shows. Internet markets are smart markets. From
many a virtual mile away, they can smell sites that telegraph the
message: "Hey! We're here to make a buck off you rubes!"

Aside from vastly increased profits, there are other reasons a
company might want to have a website:

* to cement relationships with current markets through better
customer service
* to become more attractive to new prospects
* to better position itself vis-a-vis competitors
* to attract new investment

...and so on. Obviously, the prospect of making money isn't an
afterthought in any of this. However, if the assumption going in
is that a website has to break even in three months and turn into
the Midas Touch in six, its not going to last very long. Yet this
sort of assumption is a common one today.

A side effect of the more-revenues-as-fast-as-possible approach
is that the resulting site will not reflect any real enthusiasm
or true passion for its subject matter. Worse, it may very well
communicate false passion:

Oh Wow! We're Just So Excited About Our Kew-el New Offering...

Gag! Retch! To net-savvy audiences, this is the equivalent of
being served a steaming hot SkunkBurger at McDonald's.
Not-so-by-the-way, many suitish types assume that "net-savvy"
equates to old die-hard Unix heads who still prefer command-line
FTP and Lynx browsers. Wrong. As I'm using the term here, a
net-savvy user is anyone who's had an AOL account for more than
three months and has an IQ above 45.

The message here is: even if you *are* a pack of greedy
bastards, try to at least file your teeth down a little.
Look as if you're committed and have come to stay, not like
you'll be gone the second you realize the web might actually
cost you something. Talk about horrors!

Even better is to really believe what you're doing. Bring
something of value instead of another T-shirt, sweepstakes or
brain-damaged software download that does nothing more than suck
system resources to display your million-dollar corporate logo.

But what do online audiences perceive as having genuine value?
After you've finished wringing your hands over this one in
innumerable meetings and wading through innumerable abstract
analyst reports, pull up a browser and surf around a spell.
You'll get the vibe if you just hang out a while and stop
thinking about all those easy profits about to fall into your

2. Arrogance

So you spent a huge wad on web banners. So what? Let's hope you
saved a buck-twenty-five for a cup of coffee, because maybe
that's all it's really worth. You've got your site up and hummin'
loaded with the latest shockem-sockem javajazz -- but no one
gives a damn. What's up with that?

Your brand should be bringing those golden eyeballs winging in,
you say? Are you familiar with the expression "LOL"? Look, wise
up. Most of the people online are like 12 years old. They never
heard of your frickin brand. OK, so some are actually over 20,
but still, who cares about you and your slick brochureware site?
And why should they?

Arrogance takes many forms online, the foremost of which is
assuming you already know it all. Large companies are especially
susceptible to thinking that because they're big, because they've
got revenues in 99 figures, they're bound to win at anything they
try. Guess again.

Here's a question for ya. Would you open a car dealership without
ever having driven an automobile? Weird concept you may think.
You might find it ever weirder though -- I sure did -- to
discover how many so-called "Internet Executives" have never
spent any time on the web. And sorry Charlie, but protesting "My
secretary takes care of that" is just not an acceptable response.
Which brings us to...

3. Cluelessness

Cluelessness is the objective correlative of "not getting it," a
somewhat mystical concept that we'll take a pass on this time

< >

However, we're not talking mysticism here. Call it "unfamiliarity
with the medium" if you prefer. Call it whatever you like, we're
talking about high-level management types who think Yahoo is
browser, who can't tell a modem from a fire hydrant, who
literally don't know where the ON switch is. These are real
examples, by the way, taken from real life -- or as close to real
life as it gets in some of of our more surrealistic corporate
"web-centric" wannabes. And yet, many of these same people are
responsible for defining and administering high-budget
"e-commerce" plays. You can meet them in droves at Internet

Is the problem here that these corporations somehow missed out on
enlisting the requisite talent? No way. They've got cadre upon
cadre of technical adepts, most of whom don't come cheap these
days. But do they listen to them or -- heaven forfend! -- ask
their advice? Of course not. That would be showing weakness. Or
at the very least, admitting ignorance.

A well-known analyst outfit is currently putting together a
report on why companies with bigtime web plans are operating in
that regard at something like 10% efficiency. (I know about this
because I contributed to the study.) Again, the problem isn't
lack of people or incompetent or lazy people. In fact, the talent
is ready to rock and roll. The real culprit is a little number

4. Bureaucracy

U.S. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover was once quoted in The New York
Times as saying: "If you're going to sin, sin against God, not
the bureaucracy; God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't."

An in-depth analysis of what's wrong with bureaucracy would get
us hopelessly sidetracked here.

< >

In a nutshell, though, this authoritarian hierarchical management
style was developed in the heyday of mass production when
products were few, product cycles were long, and all the
requisite know-how could still be presumed to reside at the top
of the management food chain. Getting products out was simply a
matter of telling people precisely what to do.

This is no longer true. Today's products and services depend on
the coordination of enormous and widely distributed knowledge.
The problem is really power. The guys at the top may be dumb as a
brick, but they'll be damned if anyone "under them" is gonna tell
them what to do!

The typical bureaucracy is not unlike a Communist collective; no
one really owns anything. Some faceless functionary way up the
chain of command is ultimately responsible for the final product
or service, so why bother trying to do the best job? It'll only
be revised by some VP six layers removed. In contrast to Total
Quality, this institutionally reinforced mindset underpins the
"Yeah, Well, Whatever" school of web design.

Thus, while many organizations do have the expertise they need to
create great web sites, its application is often blocked by
senior management. This is of course the responsibility of the
Department of Business Prevention. And don't kid yourself, every
company has one. Much of the talent locked up in this process is
technical, but not all of it. There are also those people who
create what this industry delights in calling "content" -- as if
it were something you got from a can and poured into a pie shell.

5. Bombast

If bureaucracies have no soul to speak of, neither do they have a
genuine voice. If web content often reads as if it were written
by committee, that's because it probably was. The customary
result is bombast: humorless hype, hysterical specsmanship and
boring valued-subtracted anti-information. If visitors to such a
site already know they want something specific, they'll simply
ignore this blather and hunt around for what they came looking
for. If, on the other hand, they came to investigate whether they
*might* be interested, they'll probably go away with the notion
that everyone in the company is forced to wear a clown suit.

In an article I wrote for The Industry Standard called Fear and
Loathing on the Web...,1449,1019,00.html

...David Weinberger says: "The dogs have it right. Customers want
to take a good long whiff. But companies so lobotomized that they
can't speak in a recognizably human voice build sites that smell
like death."

Human beings simply don't talk to each other the way most
marketeers still try to talk to human beings. Given the enormous
flows of person-to-person information exchange now taking place
via email, newsgroups, web conferencing systems and chat rooms,
everyone seems to understand this except the big corporations
building bloated high-dollar web sites. In fact, falling down
laughing at the comical results of these egregious failures to
communicate has become a highly popular Internet pastime.

6. Senility

Here we don't mean the senility that sometimes comes with
advanced years, with its attendant loss of memory, inflexible
attitudes and general pissed-off grumpiness. However, the effects
are the same. Thus, it is perfectly possible to have a senile
manager in his or her 20s (research has shown that MBA programs
are often the proximate cause).

A prime example of corporate senility is the continued collective
wish for the web to be transformed -- perhaps by the Tooth Fairy
-- into television. "If only it were like TV!" bemoans the
Chairman to his Loyal Troops. "Goldurn it! This dubya-dubya-dubya
thing is just another advertising medium is all it is! Why, in my
day, we woulda licked this whippersnapper into shape in nothin
flat! Hell, we woulda just *bought the sucker*!!!"

Yeah, well, why don't you just go and have a nice nap, Pops...

I'm not suggesting that change is always (or maybe ever) a good
thing in itself. However, an inability to accept the fact that
something critical is no longer as it once was is the very
definition of dysfunctionality. The web is not TV. A mouse is not
a channel changer. And no amount of song-and-dance to the
contrary means a damn thing. Companies that are strategically
dependent on this delusion are sleeping late and in for an
extremely rude awakening.

7. Inattention

After the first six Deadly Sins in this lineup, inattention may
not seem like such a big deal. It starts with little things. The
graphic isn't loading on your homepage, the form is broken, the
page has 404'd, the CGI script has gone South, the ColdFusion
tags are messed up, the phone number is wrong, client names are
misspelled, the mailto button doesn't mail to anyone, and the
mega-herzified super-extra-configurated Lotus Notes server took a
powder for reasons unknown -- which are nevertheless being
reported to ten million users in gloriously arcane detail.

Trust me, it's a big deal. If God is in the details, as the
saying goes, then sites like this have the Devil to pay. But
metaphysics aside, the real problem is not all the pesky little
screwups this causes, but the inattention itself. It's a symptom
of something deeper and far more dangerous: that no one really
owns the operation, no one really cares. Some companies seem to
believe their markets aren't paying attention either. But they're
wrong. Every typo, every 404, every sloppily formatted piece of
email is another nail in the corporate coffin.

Because if *they* don't care, why the hell should we? While
laughing at organizational lamers is amusing for a while, let's
face it, there are a lot better ways to have fun online.

Taken together, these attitudes, assumptions, proclivities and the
plain old dunderheaded blunders they almost always lead to make a lot
of sense. In a perverse sort of way, that is. None exists in isolation
from the others. Instead, all are part of a single constellation of
problems that has been coming together -- some would say congealing --
long before the Internet appeared on the scene.

In the face of global competition, industrial corporations had to
radically revise their business practices and traditional notions
about uncoordinated stove-piped departments and divisions -- had to
painfully revise long-held notions of command-and-control management.
This was in the early '70s in non-sexy low-tech atomic-not-digital
industries like manufacturing. Thanks to advances in computing and the
Internet, the speed and dynamism of change have since accelerated by
orders of magnitude. Why is it, then, that computing and Internet
companies feel they are exempt from the same sort of painful soul
searching and organizational redesign?

As the blurb for this talk suggested, such a reassessment needn't
entail lengthy and expensive rocket science or the high-powered
hucksterism typically associated with "business process
reengineering." It's a lot simpler than all that.

Chances are good that the market for your product or service is not
primarily constituted of bigwig industry executives who spend half
their time preening at conferences, patting each other on the back for
their "insight" and "vision," and the other half bossing people

No, the market looks a lot more like people who get *bossed* around --
by dimwit Dilbertesque executives with hyperinflated egos and way too
few clues.

Hey now, Mr. Web-Centric Business Guy, this is curious, is it not? The
market looks a lot like your own workforce! Which you boss around
constantly, ignoring how they run for the barf bags whenever you trot
out your latest board-approved site demo.

Here's an idea. Listen to the people who work for you. Often as not,
they *are* your target demographic. Stop telling them what to do.
Instead, begin to ask: How would *you* do this? What would you put
here? How would you phrase that? Get out of their way. Run
interference for them through your labyrinthine organizational
steeplechase. Help, assist, promote, be useful. Take an interest, be
curious, pay attention. Maybe even learn something.

You might just be amazed at the the results.

Meanwhile, lookout for me. I've got your number. I'm one of those
Internet Weirdos who make up your hoped-for market. And hey...

I Know What You Did Last Summer!

Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time


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Entropy Gradient Reversals
CopyLeft Christopher Locke

"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon

 Topic 54 of 109 [web]: rules for good web design
 Response 3 of 4: wer  (KitchenManager) * Wed, Nov 11, 1998 (15:25) * 1 lines 

 Topic 54 of 109 [web]: rules for good web design
 Response 4 of 4: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Thu, Oct 10, 2002 (20:45) * 10 lines

The site includes one sample pattern, "The Process Funnel":

uses Christopher Alexander style pattern language to create websites.

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