Friday, February 6, 2009

Searching for a metaphor

With my home page redesign due in less than a month, I seriously need to figure out how I'm going to reach my goal of making an interactive site out of what essentially is an online portfolio, blog and student hub for the classes I teach. How boring is that! ... So I'm turning again to Meadows in “Pause & Effect,” who describes the key stages of interaction: 1. Observation, 2. Exploration, 3. Modification and 4. Reciprocal change. He then later layers on the parallel storytelling stages of: 1. Fascination, 2. Captivation, 3. Investment and 4. Interest. With this site, I want visitors to get to know me (at least to a certain degree), and I want them to see what I've done and what I can do in this medium and others, including writing, publishing and teaching. For them to be even close to “fascinated,” though, I'm going to have to develop a much stronger entry point at Something abstract, yet something that sets an appropriate tone for what I'm going to deliver. Inspired by Meadows' look at perspective, I'm going to attempt to create an interactive portrait, so that the first thing someone sees at my home page is me looking right back at them. Only it won't really be me, exactly, more of a dynamic representation of me, or parts of me, that would encourage a visitor to explore and peer past this facade I've created and go inside my online space. While Meadows states most designers concern themselves only with outside-the-skull interactivity, (how long the page takes to load, etc.), I think my hesitation lies heavily on the inside-the-skull interaction, or what is this going to mean to the people who come to this site. If prospective employers look, what will they think? If my friends look, what reaction will they have? If strangers come by, how will they respond? It's almost a target audience issue, more than anything else. Since I'm asking this site to do a variety of things, and appeal to a variety of people, I'm having trouble visualizing an entry point that will satisfy (and intrigue) them all. I think it would be so much easier if I had a site set up just for prospective employers, and another one just for friends, and another just for my teaching, and another just for other interests I might have. Maybe that's my true solution, to turn into nothing but a portal that sends people to different pages (while I can send them there directly, too, when I choose, and bypass the entry point), and then the work of consistency and focus can be left to those pages as they are designed for their uses. The input / output that Meadows describes, creating an interaction cycle, becomes difficult the more ways I'm pulling people, who probably won't be interested in more than one section of this site. I'm really struggling with that overlay, I suppose. Maybe it's the metaphor. Maybe it should be doors, like Meadows shows, and someone rings the doorbell of one door, and it opens to the portfolio. And maybe the next door opens to teaching. I'm starting to like that idea more and more. That would give me some input / output at the beginning, doors that people could open and shut or go into. I'll explore that idea as well in the next couple of weeks. And maybe think of similar metaphors. Like C.S. Lewis' wardrobe. Hmmm, I think I might be on to something. What else can be used as a portal? A pool of water, a hole, a cave, a closet, a phone line. How about a series of phones that are ringing, and the user can choose to answer one. Or just pick one up, like the Bat Phone, or the Red Phone, or whatever. With the way mobile computing is going, I think the phone will become even a stronger metaphor in years to come. There certainly are a lot of buttons on a phone, and these buttons could do a lot of things, input-output wise. Can I technically pull that off? That's a big question. And I'm not even in the ballpark yet of Meadows idea of an open system, versus a closed system, or, in other words, one that the user can change and improve. How about a ringing phone? The user clicks on the phone to answer it. That starts the adventure ... I'm going to work on that. Questions: To what degree does a person need to be a full-time web designer with years of programming experience to create a compelling and interactive page? Is it more about concept than coding, like someone shooting a fabulous movie entirely on a hand-held?


Adrian Jackson, columnist said...


Your home page refers to you in the third-person: Brett did this..., Brett won that.... It is difficult for me as a viewer to be drawn in when Brett is an abstract concept and not a reachable, touchable person. There is a narrative wall between us. If you could refer to yourself and "I" or "me," I would feel closer to you and be willing to invest some emotions into your site.

In answer to your post question, I have asked myself the same question. Everyone wants the best site, but how many of us can actually pull off what we are planning? I want to create something for this class that I can continue to use later on. You know?

Luckily, there are devices and scripts we can pull from the internet. At the end of the day, even with all of the bells and whistles, our knowledge (or lack of) will come shining through. Good luck with your projects.

Chris said...

I enjoyed this post a lot, Brett; it made me think. The phone metaphor is a good call, I think (especially the bat-phone!). Mobile computing is definitely an important direction to consider-both as a metaphor for connected perspectives and from a design perspective.

And you're right--"Can I technically pull that off?" is the big question. I think--and this is something I've been grappling with as well--that you don't have to be an ultraproficient programmer to create a compelling site. I think it's more that we must be able to take whatever technical skill we have and use it to our maximum proficiency. I don't think that flashing lights and all the bells and whistles are necessary in a well-designed site--as you pointed out on my blog, I think, sometimes that stuff even serves simply to get in the way, cluttering up the page. (Will flash elements go the way of the spinning .gif?) What is necessary is a design that works for (rather than against) the content--and we want to be content-driven, of course; I think that we can definitely do some very nice things with some very basic HTML/CSS skills. You're right, there is charm and grit in a hand-held movie. But the story had better be fantastic for that to be the case.

That being said, I think that if a person is really interested in publishing for the Web and not just on it, that person should probably know how the language and the code works. You don't have to be able to crack Vista to write a good web page, but at some point, you've got to move past basic tags, don't you think?