Research Assistant Mark Turner ponders what kind of website the Cutting Edge will need…
Designing for the web is often the fusion of two roles, functionality and design. In the first case whatever function the website performs must not only work, but must perform its task in a useable and intuitive way. Design enhances a user’s interaction with the website, perhaps representing information in a different way or making it easier to find and read information. Despite the arguments of developers and graphic designers, one cannot exist without the other and be a success. The internet is littered with examples of websites which either look visually stunning but simply do not work, or provide fantastic information that is utterly unreadable.
Designing for an audience is crucial, in the same way that people write with their audience in mind, so a web design must plan for the website’s audience. In this case the Cutting Edge project must cater for a wide range, from both professional and amateur researchers to children and educational groups. For this reason the use of intuitive controls that people can just pick up and use are vital.
Whilst it can be generally assumed that researchers will be prepared to study instructions, and spend the time learning to use something, the general public and especially children are far more discerning. People have short attention spans- if they encounter something that doesn’t work or is hard to use then within seconds they will go and try to find information from another source. Capturing people’s attention and keeping it is the key to good design.
Good design can start with very basic and simple things, such as choosing the right contrast between the text colour and background colour. The tradition of dark text on a light background exists because it is easier on the eye. You only need to imagine trying to read something like red text on a bright blue background to realise how difficult reading with a low contrast is.
For the Cutting Edge project it is also important to create a website which allows the user to view the collection in different perspectives. Humans are not often very good at comprehending long lengths of time for example, so the inclusion of a time line on which objects in the collection can be shown allows users to see how the objects relate to periods in human history. Designing a public website for the Cutting Edge project is an on-going and interactive process which hopefully will lead to a tool which is both useful and enjoyable to use.