Network: Hip and cool - but also accessible and informative

Web Design: Defining the goals of a website enables the developer to have a target to aim at
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The Independent Culture
RAYMOND PIROUZ discovered the Web the old-fashioned way: an engineer told him about it. He was working as an intern at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory while studying for a degree in graphic and packaging design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The JPL engineers would talk about their private little network that was "slowly becoming public/ mainstream and how they hated that".

Since those early days, Pirouz has worked hard to increase the medium's popularity and to help people design stronger websites. He has written numerous books and magazine articles on web design, including HTML Web Magic and the best-selling Click Here.

As a working Web designer (www.r35.com), his clients have included American Honda, Toyota, Panasonic, Virgin Records, Rational Software Corporation and California Institute of Technology.

Jason Cranford Teague: In your book Click Here you talk about going beyond the "killer website" mentality. Why do you think so many sites are striving to be cool and hip rather than usable and informative?

Raymond Pirouz: The Web is a communication medium that is based on technology. Unfortunately, most people assume that it is a technological medium for the purpose of showing off one's technological abilities without really addressing an audience, an overall concept or communication strategy.

JCT: Can you do usable and cool in the same website?

RP: By all means. You can have a website that is accessible, usable, informative, cool and hip. However, you have to approach the project in that order, not the other way around. If you begin saying, "I want a website that uses Flash and DHTML", you're missing the point completely. You must begin by saying, "I want a website that showcases my skills as a gardener. Through articles and step-by-step tutorials, I will teach my visitors about key gardening techniques to grow a variety of plants. In order to create a more compelling experience for my visitors, I will employ Flash technology to develop vector-based animations to visually reinforce my articles online."

This approach will yield a much more thought-out and successful website and, more importantly, one that will be visited beyond the initial "wow, that's cool" factor.

JCT: What are the first questions that you ask yourself, or the client, when approaching a new project?

RP: The single most important question is: "What's the goal of this website?" It may seem like an easy enough question to answer, but it is rarely even addressed in most Web development projects. When I ask this question, most people freeze up simply because they haven't given it much thought.

Defining the goal of a website enables the developer to have a target at which to aim. Without predetermined goals, objectives and communication strategies, you might as well build a really cool website using the latest technology and the most beautiful graphics - basically some eye candy. There's nothing wrong with eye candy, don't get me wrong, but websites can be so much more. A fully thought-out, creatively designed and strategically targeted website can feed a family of four. Think about it.

JCT: It seems as if the days of the solitary Web designer are gone. Instead I see the tasks - information architecture, creative design, art direction, production, HTML, JavaScript - that used to be handled by a single person being split into specialised niches. Do you think that to get into this field you still need to be a jack of all trades?

RP: You certainly don't need to be a know-it-all to compete in this ever-growing field. However, I feel that the more one knows, the better off one is - especially as this technology changes ever so rapidly. What happens if you are an HTML expert and XML replaces HTML? I'm not the biggest fan of specialisation, so I would argue that those interested in staying around for the long haul need to be pretty flexible and knowledgeable overall.

JCT: You have done a lot of work with advertising and marketing on the Web. Personally, I think banner ads are an old solution being forced into a new medium. What do you think the future of marketing and advertising is on the Web?

RP: I totally agree with you on the banner ad issue. Because most people refuse to pay for content, online 'zines and others have had to resort to the ad model in order to fill their coffers and pay for the expensive technology behind all that free stuff.

In my estimation, all the hype about convergence isn't limited to technology. The convergence [merging TV, telephone and Internet] that is about to take place within the communications industry is going to bring about a whole new - and less intrusive - way to market goods and services.

These are exciting times. In fact, I am working on launching a bi-weekly online magazine at the end of April, entitled massCommunication (www.masscommunication. com), which will deal with this very issue.

JCT: The 5.0 browsers are in the process of rolling out all around us. IE 5 came out two weeks ago and Navigator 5 should be coming soon. Any comments on how these are likely to change the job of the Web designer?

RP: Well, so far, new browser releases have done nothing but make matters more complex. However, I feel that many of the bumps have slowly subsided and are behind us with the 4.0 releases. I think - and hope - that the browsers will become what they were intended to be in the first place: simple information receivers and visualisers as opposed to information decoders and manipulators.

E-mail Jason Cranford Teague at jason @webbedenvironments.com

Raymond Pirouz is on www.rpirouz.com

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