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The Search Continues

By: Ranajit Tendolkar

Ranajit Tendolkar, self-taught Web Design Guru, Digital Imaging Pundit and Creative Services Evangelist at Pigtail Pundits, has over 7 years of experience in professional advertising fashioned at agencies such as Mudra, DaCunha and The Edge, coupled with 11 years as a still-life commercial photographer and digital imaging specialist. As Creative Services Evangelist at Pigtail Pundits, Ranajit heads the firmís Web Design & Multimedia divisions. He is also a moderator at Ultimate Photoshop and a resident expert at all experts.com. Visit www.pigtailpundits.com for more information.

With offices in New York and London, Visual Arts Trends is an international quarterly "state of the industry" report for the creative professional Focusing on graphic design, advertising art direction, photography and illustration, each report offers a brief, business-oriented, definitive and timely overview of industry developments that affect aesthetics, pricing, salaries, working conditions and client relations. Visual Arts Trends combines unique proprietary research with material gathered by monitoring hundreds of publications, companies, membership organizations, online sources, and other relevant sources of information. The reports review and analyzes professional trends by business category and by specialization. In addition, each report profiles "hot" client industries interviews with senior executives of leading companies and organizations. An annual subscription retails for US$29.99 and includes four reports available for download as PDF files. Visual Arts Trends is a trademark of and is published by Colonial Communications Corp. Contact: info@visualartstrends.com

"Possess a Diploma in Internet Technology. Have learnt PhotoShop, HTML, Flash, DHTML, JavaScript, CGI, Perl and Server Administration. Seeking employment as a Web Designer." Words to this effect, at times slightly different, with more jargon thrown in for good measure, cross my desk, nay email, very often. Not a single CV stating, "Graduated from Art School. Majored in Illustration, with Typography as a subsidiary. Have extensive experience on PhotoShop, Illustrator, Quark. Have worked as a Visualiser. Want employment as web designer Ė donít know much about it, but willing to learn."

Recently, we had need to hire a JavaScript/Perl programmer. The WANT ad drew many responses, but none totally fit the bill. Oh yes, everybody knew JavaScript, Java, CGI, Perl, ASP and what have you, but none had either a solid programming background, or the requisite experience. Most were eager to point out that they could integrate and adapt "borrowed" scripts, but none could write an original. Many applicants held engineering degrees, such as those in electronics, mechanical, civil, and aeronautical; a few were even qualified as chartered accountants. It was apparent that most who had applied had done a short-term course in Web programming, with special emphasis on either HTML or JavaScript, Perl, and CGI.

Upon later reflection, the reason for this glut, or rather the mismatch of trade qualifications dawned on us Ė the Internet boom and the hype surrounding it. The same scenario manifests itself in web design as well. HTML, DHTML, Perl, CGI, and Flash are the buzzwords today, with most people not having a clue as to what they mean. However, everyone knows that these words are related to the Internet, which is "the industry to be in" today.

Short-term courses offering minimal knowledge abound. Unscrupulous course owners and franchisees cleverly advertise to gullible youngsters, resulting in an absolute dearth of qualified people, on both the design and programming sides.

Very few realise that the Web is a serious communication medium and has to be addressed by communication professionals who understand the business. Granted, the rules are different from the traditional mediums, but these can be mastered. Ask a prospective job applicant what he or she knows about web design, and the answer is the affirmatively-emphatic, "everything." But ask them what they know about communications, and the doubt is plain in their eyes.

Itís quite common to see designers jump into the fray without any idea of the limitations of the web. On the other hand, sites "designed" by programmers abound as well. Neither extreme does much good for the client. Designers are averse to understanding the basics of HTML or DHTML, in the same way programmers are clueless as to colour harmony, composition, or image optimisation. Fair enough, but what galls me is the total lack of aspiration on both ends of essentially the same profession to make any effort to understand the basics.

Constructing a web site is a team effort Ė where one part is responsible for the front end, the second for the back, the third for the site architecture, and a fourth for the content. But since everybody knows everything or nothing, the result is an overwhelming amount of badly designed sites. Letís tale the example of the site architect, for the sake of argument. Drawing a parallel to advertising, this would be the account planner. Incidentally, most web outfits donít have one. To me, a site can take shape only after the said architect has mapped out the entire navigation, fixed the content and studied Ė and addressed Ė the clientís requirements. Looking at the majority of existing sites, itís quite clear that very minimal rational thinking has gone into their architecture.

More so than in conventional media, on the Web, design is secondary, while content is king. However, a quick tour of the net will throw up a host of "designer" sites, which are useless, or "pale content-rich," which is just as useless. Some have unnecessary graphics and animations, many are "Flashed," but well-balanced sites are few and far between.

Ask a designer/programmer what he or she does on the web, and most say they surf and have a grand old time. Some donít even bother to log on, other than to check their mail, and a handful are absolutely intimidated when required to use a search engine. Ditto for visiting online forums. Strange, but true.

Itís no different where clients are concerned. To most clients Ė whether corporate, institutional or individual Ė a web site is a repository to "dump" the electronic versions of their brochures and sales literature. Most do not realise the importance of site promotion both online and off. Fewer still have any inkling that what goes into print cannot easily, nor should always, be translated to the Web. Again, this is linked to the design aspect, as the Web design outfits themselves remain clueless about effective communication.

For many clients, having a web site is more of an ego trip, which they can talk about on the cocktail circuit or teeing off on the golf course.

Thankfully, the scenario is gradually changing. Professional Web outfits are taking it upon themselves to set things right. Qualified, if not the right talent, is being hired and wooed increasingly. Talented but lacking individuals are encouraged to attend professional seminars. The time they spend on the Net is increasingly more purposeful rather than fun. To be inquisitive and questioning rather than tame doers is the order of the day. Adapting to newer versions of applications and experimentation is on the rise. Overall, the Web outfits themselves are slowly transforming Ė for the better.

Similarly, clients are first being asked as to why they think they should be on the Net. At the same time, they are being educated on the benefits and correct commercial use of the medium. They are shown the benefits of using the services of a professional Web outfit, rather than a nephew or niece, who just happens to "be in the biz." 

Today, Web outfits pay more attention to site maintenance and regular updates, rather than just making one and parking it in cyberspace. On the client side, there is the realisation of the importance of feedback and hit reports, as well as how best to draw up a useful databank or plan a web strategy. Both Web outfits and site owners are learning that the surfer is not a dumb cluck who can be lured to the site the first time and be expected to come back again. Thus, richer and more appropriate content is increasingly seen, which, in turn, is what the users wants and not what the Web outfit or site owner used to think they want. It will not be long before clients and Web outfits alike turn to audience research and take it seriously. The numerous "focused" portals are proof of the increase in catering to user demand.

In 1984, Apple unleashed DTP, and the boom began Ė but surviving it are only the professional communicators. It will not be long before we see professional Web communicators and, within this broad category, sub-specialists for e-commerce, portals, and communities.

When the Web was young, everybody who owned a computer and had a WYSYWIG editor jumped onto the bandwagon and prospered. But the days of one-man outfits and hole-in-the-wall web shops are definitely drawing to an end.

First published by www.VisualArtsTrends.com

© Copyright 2000, Ranajit Tendolkar

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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