Last Friday I spent the day at a Neilsen Norman Group usability workshop in London. The topic for which I subscribed was "Designing Complex Applications and Websites" hosted by Lynn Pausic. The key theme that emerged during the day was the accelerating convergence between websites and web applications. Web 2.0 and Flash are forging a new type of online experience and we are now a long way from the simple brochureware sites of the 1990s. The task for website designers is to ensure such functionality remains both easy to find and easy to use. Quite a challenge, I assure you! So who are the leaders at addressing this complexity? Well, you won't be surprised to learn that sites such as Flickr and Basecamp lead the area. Indeed, I am using one of this new generation of websites as I write. Blogger.com have just released the Beta version of a new interface to which I have upgraded (it is lightning fast compared to the old site). Yet, even though Blogger is reasonably complex, it is childsplay compared to what other sites have to do. Anyone familiar with the volumes of content and functionality contained within a corporate intranet will know the scale of the challenge they face. Indeed, this was a key reason for my attendance. Although Lynn provided a good overview of the challenges of complex design and suggested a structure for addressing such projects, she was light on solutions. I guess I was looking for more specific guidelines. For example, should the language used in complex application change and if so how, what interface features work best in large applications, what should I avoid, etc? There were a few things I can take away but as she said herself solutions depend on the problem, so it is really a case of tailoring the design for your audience.
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