Hist 697: Visual Architecture

The readings for this week focused on creating visual hierarchies between the various elements of ones site, which creates the argument structure of a website. While I had been thinking of information architecture in terms of the back-end of the website, it was good to be reminded to focus on the visual organization of information and the visual coding given to pieces of information. As Jakob Nielsen’s piece argued, while there are many inventive things one can do with design, there are simply some things which make the user-experience more difficult. By doing such things as signaling links in consistent and expected manners, you can increase the usability and effectiveness of your site for a broader audience. Luke Wroblewski also offered a good reminder that, for effective visual narratives, the most important elements of the website should be visually coded as such, by position on the page, by size, and by relationship to other elements.

The TED video of Hans Rosling illustrates very clearly the value of well done visual design. I found his visualizations to be very compelling and the software he has created seems extraordinarily powerful for allowing users both to trace large-scale trends and to gain greater clarity by breaking down the data into more detailed visualizations. I think this type of dynamic visualization is an under-utilized approach to public history on the web and one that offers a lot of potential for enabling the kind of creative, read-write, engagement that Larry Lessig promoted in his TED talk.

Finally, it was helpful to look again at White Space is not your enemy. Some of the design sins were starting to creep into my mock-ups for the design/final projects (but I like centering…) so it was good to be pushed back out of those ruts.

One point I keep coming back to is that design is continually evolving, both because I am never “done” with a design, and because the  community’s ideas and standards about design are also in flux. The aesthetic expectations and standards against which design work is judged shift, which means work must also be updated to keep from becoming visually outdated. At least the modular approach that using an external style sheet provides means that the content can be separated from the design, reducing the amount of work that needs to be reworked over time to keep my designs visually compelling.

**Addendum: **I posted on Sheri’s blog this week.