Everyone’s a Web Designer …. A Call for Accreditation of Virtual Architects

I’ve been making computers do what I want them to since I could first understand what a computer was, and have never stopped experimenting and pushing what I can achieve. These days I do most of my work in virtual space, such as application development and world wide web sites, and feel I have a deep and profound understanding of just what it entails to move about in virtual space and connect with the multitude of digital objects that live there. So why do lay people continue to challenge my advice, and question the validity of what I try to achieve? Am I missing something ... or are they?

Application development is relatively straightforward it seems – perhaps people are so used to having to come to terms with the oddities of some of the interfaces that are available that they are willing to sit and learn how to use them. The individual nature of most applications and the sense of connectedness to specific hardware seems to give them a sort of kudos that requires respect and attention. Think of your VCR, or these days your digital free view box, sky box, or whatever else you have in your living room. The interface may be a little bizarre, it may be irritating, you might even think ‘I wouldn’t have done it that way’, but you accept it – you don’t demand a rewrite from the supplier! Websites on the other hand seem to be fair game for critics.

Perhaps it’s their ubiquitous nature, and the fact that practically anyone can create one, that makes websites seem a fair target. Everyone’s an expert when it comes to creating a website, or at least knows someone who in an expert – cousin John perhaps, or granddaughter Caitlin. Yet the web is literally littered with millions upon millions of badly designed, difficult to use, ugly creations. Indeed even some of the larger and more professional looking sites can leave their users steaming mildly. Is there perhaps a link here? Does it perhaps take more than just knowledge of a bit of code and an FTP client to create a website? What really makes a good website as opposed to a bad website?

Well I think I appreciate what it takes - a real appreciation of the users. And when I talk about the users, I mean all users and not just you, the reader of this blog post right now. Probably the most common and most irritating of all the web critics is the person who looks at one or possibly two pages from a website and has an opinion. These are the kind of criticisms that you must throw away without even giving them a second thought. Just think of the word itself – website – this is not just a page, it’s not just two pages, it’s a web of content, a finely tuned interlinking of many parts of information, perhaps text, audio, imagery, video, and more. Any assessment must be made using time – you have to experience the site to be able to appreciate it; you have to move within it, take unusual paths, browse the content. A reflection of the overall look of a website may have validity as a design appraisal, but never as a website appraisal – that’s like trying to decide whether or not to buy a house without ever going inside, or the quality of a good meal just by looking at the plate and never tasting anything.

So what does this mean, what’s my point? I think that perhaps it’s time to make a better distinction from those that can from those that can’t, to separate the professional from the amateur. Most other professions have some sort of regulatory body that ensures that customers who need a professional you can get one, typically granting a form of chartered status of other accreditation. Architects in the real world for example, as opposed to virtual architects, can get accredited from several different bodies. Perhaps a chartered status or similar for those that build in virtual space is the way forward, and will help to show that being a virtual architect is a little bit more complex that many people understand!

Rant over …

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