W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > October to December 2003

Re: User customization using a style sheet switcher and server side scripts.

From: David Woolley <david@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
Date: Thu, 6 Nov 2003 22:23:36 +0000 (GMT)
Message-Id: <200311062223.hA6MNai13010@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

> types to forget that if you talk to Joe Public about browsers and settings,
> the general reaction is a blank expression. Yet if you ask if they surf the

That's because, especially starting from the Mosaic to Netscape transition,
these features have been obscured, as they get in the way of putting
across corporate identities and subliminal content (see below).  That
Netscape transition, even at the time, was a very obvious transition 
away from the web as a means of distributing information to the web
as advertising; they dropped all user configurability of the presentation,
as well as adding lots of presentational elements for the designers to
control the display.

> I once gave a talk on who within the work place should design a web site,
> there were obviously a majority of IT departments and computer people
> present in the audience. So you can imagine the sharp intake of breath when
> I told them the last job they should have was designing their company's web
> site. I have said this before and will no doubt say again. IT departments
> should be given parameters 

IT departments usually are given such parameters and they are normally
completely incompatible with the use of HTML and require heavy use of
browser dependent scriptng and multiple browser opt outs.  Usability 
is normally the excuse given by the marketing department for insisting
that sites work this way, rather than the way HTML is designed to work.
IT people go along with this because they value their employment, not
because they necessarily want to write horribly contorted code.

>                            to work within and graphic designers chained to

Overall responsibility tends to be with the marketing department, which
means that they tend to come from a graphics design background.

> desks and told what is required of them. Designing a web site and how it
> should work and what it should do, should be left to the people who know
> people, not people who know computers.

To a large extent it is, but what is meant by "knowing people" really
means "knowing how to control the way people think", i.e. a strictly
one way process.  That they know more about people is the line they
will always take when dealing with IT people.

> The number one reason for anyone to access the internet is to gain
> information, and secondly for personal research of market places of interest

I'd say the main reasons these days are entertainment and finding the
cheapest seller (which might, very loosely, be called finding information).
People like us use it for information; the general public doesn't.

Basically companies create web sites to sell things: products, their
shares and eyes to view other people's advertisements.  Most of them
(i.e. ignoring fundamentally web based businesses, like Google) use it

- it's cheaper than outsourcing their call centres to low wage countries;
- the fashion element attracts well off young people who tend to be 
  relatively big spenders.

There is a general perception amongst businesses that you should provide
as little real information as possible to your customers, some reasons are:

- information itself is saleable, so you don't want to give it away free;
- most people are trying to convince people that their product is simple to
  use - full details will reveal the complexity;
- full details will also reveal what can go wrong - sales is about convincing
  people the risks of buying are less than those of staying as you are or
  going to a competitor;
- full details will show that there is no real difference from their
  competitors, because what is under the marketing speak will be revealed;
- they are filling a gap in their portfolio with a badge engineered product
    - don't want people to realise this (if one is trying to find if a
      Linux driver exists, or if the programming model is available, this
      can make it appear that they are unavailable when they actually
    - don't know any real detail about the product themselves;
- critical comments would put them at legal risk;
- information takes effort to collect and most customers don't care;
- they don't want to imply a commitment to support something, or accept
  the risk of problems in third party addons (e.g. Linux drivers) reflecting
  on them;
- they don't want to commit themselves to always using the same product
  under a given brand name;
- there are real trade secrets involved.

Some are better than others, but it is almost invariably the case that real
information from businesses is in PDF (it seems to be less controlled by
the marketing department, even though it better matches their design
values and HTML would better match the technical departments' needs if 
vector image support had ever become universal).

Good ones will have user manuals, service manuals for both current and old
products online.  Many, though, will ditch the documentation when they
are no longer selling, even though it is useful in the second hand market,
or even for hobbyists, who may be future buyers.

If a company gets taken over, say goodbye to its documentation, within

Given that most sites try not to provide hard information, the graphics
designer comes in.  They are about:

- entertaining the visitors (who, as I said, want entertainment, not 
- establishing a corporate graphic identity (see the @font-face thread
  on www-css for a view from a graphic designer as to what they do);
- putting across subliminal messages that couldn't be put across in plain
  text as they are not true statements about the product, but an attempt to
  associate it with something else desirable;
- particularly in the case of intranet based products, giving buyers
  and department managers a good self image because they have got glossy
  graphical tools, not boring but effective ones (this motivation may
  be the only benefit).

Early web designers (and there are still many around) had no design training
and just played with design elements, but, as mainstream design consultancies
come on line, identity and subliminal messages will be conscious parts of
the design.

User customisation (taking the non-accessibility context) is a nice feature
for designers because:

- it gives the user a false sense of being in control (in some cases there
  is some real control, but not where it matters to the business);
- it allows users to express their personality, improving their self esteem;
- it provides an excuse for identifying the user, so that click trails 
  can be generated;
- for intranet applications, it is easy to demonstrate on a sales stand and
  doesn't require the salesman to have a lot of knowledge of the application;
- marketing people also like to think of their application as the only one
  used (this is also why they like using the whole screen and, given the
  chance, will force windows full screen.

> to that surfing individual. What we are prepared to do with our computer or
> what we "experts" are able to do with our computer is academic.

Which means that using them to get real information is academic!

I've discussed this mainly in terms of commercial businesses.  Charities
sometimes have an information function, but they always have a fund raising
function, and the latter is just a sales operation.  Education institutions,
also have a strong sales element (there has been a strong drift towards this
in the UK).

Governmental institutions you might thing were about information, but:

- in the UK there is a lot of talk of "spin", i.e. influencing people by
  selectively suppressing information;
- again in the UK, there is pressure to outsource things like web design to
  the big commercial companies in the field, and they use commercial
  web site design values;
- governmental organisations tend to pay less than industry, so designers use
  them to practice skills they will need to escape to industry.
Received on Thursday, 6 November 2003 17:59:33 UTC

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