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FROM PICAS TO PIXELS

  Mario Garcia, President, Mario Garcia New Media Design International & Author of «Re-designing Print for the Web» (USA)

These are excerpts from Dr Mario R. Garcia's new book, Redesigning Print for the Web (1998), which has just been published by Hayden Books (www.hayden.com) and which serve as the inspiration for his presentation of today.

From the beginning of communication, visual images (such as icons used as graffiti or as carvings on the wall) and words have been the ultimate information tools.

The last communication medium to be fully developed in the 20th century, not surprisingly, relies heavily on those same tools to do the job.

We, the information designers, are in the words and visual business. It is as simple as that. While traditionalists tend to throw web pages and on line systems together with television, one must note that a difference between television and web pages is that while television is to be seen and heard, web pages are to be READ. Of course, the visual elements we may add to our web pages will help considerably. Ultimately, however, the users have come to obtain information that, most of the time, will appear in the form of text.

Web surfers are reading, but they are also scanning, and looking at pictures, and listening to sounds, and writing back with their feedback.

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of this new medium is how easily it is misunderstood, specifically by traditional print journalists, and writers generally, who tend to see web pages as "the enemy". Quite the contrary, journalists and writers should rejoice that web pages are here to stay.

I am always surprised by the number of journalists, especially those in their late 40s and 50s, who have decided that they will not have anything to do with the web. I have also encountered print designers, among the best in their fields, who have failed to see how they could have an impact on the new medium. Perhaps I, too, felt that way until I decided to start surfing the net.

It did not take me too long to realize that here was a medium that allowed for immediate satisfaction in three of the most important areas of information:

· Access: the information desired is as accessible as the touch of a "link". · Depth: there is no limit as to how much information one may obtain if he is willing to spend the time. · Interactivity: the ability to communicate with others and to obtain feedback almost instantly.

And so here we are, light years from the new century, in one of the most exciting media to come along in a long time, and reading prevails. Literature is being read on the web, the same way as we read stock listings, gallery postings, the news of the airline hijacking and letters to the editor.

A new generation of writers are writing exclusively for on line systems.

The task of the information designer is to make all the words that do fit more accessible, and to make sure that once the user "hits" that link word, he stays on beyond the first few paragraphs.

Nothing new here for anyone who ever edited a publication, although the challenge is greater, and the time to capture that busy reader/user gets shorter all the time.

We are information designers. Let us assume that information design is taught at the university, and that a student who wants to become an information designer walks into her academic advisor's office for some advice.

Having advised students through the years, I know how vulnerable they can be, and what an influence the adviser can have on a 19-year-old sophomore who vaguely knows what he wants to become.

In an ideal setting, the information designer understands how people communicate, has a clear idea of writing styles, of organizational hierarchies for visual presentation, and understands enough about technology.

So, as the adviser I would recommend that the student have no specific major, but about five minors with courses in writing, editing and the media, art and design, management, marketing and computer science.

One cannot separate technology from any of the processes that we will discuss in this book. However, because technology changes so rapidly, this book will not deal specifically with programs, allowing more coverage to the concepts that are the same regardless of the technology used.

In most of the working settings with which I have been associated as a consultant, the information designer in charge of working with web pages has been a technical person. This creates problems, but it will be some time before we have an abundance of information designers in the workplace.

A technical person is necessary to get an on line system developed. When the publisher of a newspaper or magazine, or an in house newsletter for an industrial organization, decides to go on line, obviously one of the first necessary steps is to secure a person who can deal with the technical implementation of the project. This person's know-how becomes a key to the project, as it should, but more often than necessary, the technical person begins to make content and organization decisions for which he/she is not prepared. This is the reason so many web sites appear congested, disorganized and not easy to navigate. When it comes to the creation and maintenance of successful web sites, it is imperative to have the expertise and instinct of the technical person, with the knowledge and heart of the journalist, and the head and eyes of the visual person or designer.

That is why an ideal setting for a web site operation includes these three individuals as a minimum staff : a web editor (the person whose journalistic background allows him to make decisions concerning content and its organization on the site), the technical person, or web master, to maintain the site, and a visual person to monitor what appears on the screen, secure the proper art and provide continuity for the design.

Designing information for interdisciplinary users Just remember that ALL of us begin each day to prepare this delicious soup that is all the information that goes into a newspaper's many sections and editions. However, the same rules of creating hierarchy and selecting content apply to web sites not related to a newspaper. You could be in charge of arranging information from a traditional print version of an annual report to turn it into its web page version.

With electronic publishing, several things happen: a) Suddenly, you must imagine that you have a new book or section of the newspaper. Or that the traditional annual report, or newsletter, has an ADDED section. You must now, however, go into the project thinking that the web site is an identical duplication of the printed material, because it is not.

The work involved deserves the journalistic attention to detail, to freshness, to content, that we have traditionally given to the printed work. Transmitting information, what we have learned if we attended journalism school , continues to be at the heart of what one does.

Unfortunately, and because this new medium is so highly technical, we all tend to lose sight of its merits as an information tool.

There is no question in my mind that technology, not journalism, is what most web site projects emphasize in their early development. Ideally, the two disciplines must be approached with equal zest for a web site to be successfully launched.

Just picture what a dream it is for all of us journalists to be able to update our information constantly, to be able to provide entire databases of research and resources to those readers who want it, and to do so without having to deal with so many of the traditional obstacles of paper, ink, printing, delivery trucks. True, other challenges abound here, including being at the mercy of telephone lines and a technology that is in its infancy, but ONE CANNOT afford not to enter the rich field of electronic publishing. And when one does, there are certain recommendations to review:

b) This is an area which involves, at its foundation, a good understanding of the sociology of modern information consumers. The printed newspaper is, for the most, a medium for the general audience of people who wish to be informed, and who consider it important to do so. The on-line product is, by my definition, a more tailor made information system for a more "obsessed" type of user. Therefore, as anyone with any obsession will do, he/she will pursue the desired information at length. The topics could be as varied as the history of the Olympics, to a day-by-day account of events in Bosnia from the beginning of the conflict in that region, to every detail about a sports team, movie studio or national industry. It is all INFORMATION, and it is also information that every newspaper, has an abundance of stored away in its library archives.

c) If you think of going on line as a matter of duplicating your "paper" product, it is best not to incur into this field at all. If, however, you see on line (the screen edition) as a good extension, but not a duplication of the newspaper, then things and possibilities develop. For one, you can create things for YOUR OWN electronic edition that do not appear in the printed edition. You can market it so that users of one will want to be readers of the other, and vice versa. For example, one cannot compare a printed version of Walt Disney's annual report with the prospect of an "animated" version of it as it may appear on their web site. Store catalogs, too, enhance their products' visibility and increase a shopper's desire to buy the through the presence of movement and interactivity that only the new media can offer. For newspaper web sites that incorporate video and animation, the still photograph of that fire or rescue effort that appears on the printed edition seems passive by comparison.

For newspaper web sites, the new media offers an opportunity to explore INFORMATION BASKETS of items unique to a specific CIRCULATION AREA AND ITS READERS, TO a STATE OR PROVINCE, or COUNTRY, and put these baskets out there for users to sample. You are no longer limited by geographic boundaries. You may have some PEOPLE FROM YOUR REGION visiting your site from anywhere in the world. Nobody should cover YOUR AREA anywhere as well as YOUR ON LINE EDITION.

You can then develop ON LINE CHATS with experts who may be especially suitable to write for the new medium. These should include humor, analysis, a brief stop along the way, a chat in the corner cafe.

You begin to get the picture of why, not everything that is printable is on-lineable, and vice versa. In any good day, only 60% of what appears in print should go into the on line edition. The rest is INFORMATION FOR THE OBSESSED and a good team of on line journalists can dig into that and finds lots to be obsessed about. Begin with sports, business and entertainment.

Add history and trivia for good measure. In other words, to make it good, you need IMAGINATION, and a team of people who are young and who can grow with the medium.

In terms of newspapers and even magazines, a good ON LINE edition can help to revitalize the printed edition, if a professional effort is put into it.

c) And, finally, you must be able to consider the commercial possibilities: I believe that advertising can and should be a pivotal part of on line publishing. True, it is not going to be easy to attract these advertisers at first. However, if you market the edition properly, establish

d) a base clientele of upperly mobile readers --executives, professors, lawyers, intellectuals, then you can measure the number of hits and begin to build the advertising groups from there.

The placement of advertising on web sites should be removed from the traditional print version metaphor. We have no evidence to indicate that advertising should always appear relegated to the bottom of a screen, or to the side. Instead, advertising messages may appear almost anywhere in the screen. The new medium should finally echo the feelings of media users in many focus groups: advertising is information , too, and users are not adverse to it. Quite the contrary, advertising messages are considered a vital part of information today. It is only some traditional editors who still refuse to accept this as reality. Web sites offer us a great opportunity to revitalize the presence of advertising, to let it joint with editorial matter on the screen.

The information designer at work No matter what the information is, chances are four essential elements will be discussed before and during much of the execution of a design.

These elements are: story structures, typography, architecture and color palette. The order of these elements, and how they come into view during the information designing process, does not matter. First, of course, there is a message or messages to be conveyed. Then a medium through which that message will be presented. At the point these two criteria have been established, then the information designer is free to engage in the process of thinking how to utilize the four elements that will give life to his creation.

In a sense, with the new medium of web design we enter into a new discipline as well, that of information design. It is, essentially, the business we are in, all of us. Perhaps we have called it by a different name. The principle is the same: we are gatherers and dispensers of information. We have been doing for years. Today we have a new tool to present the information to our clients.

This is only the beginning, and an exciting time to be in the information design business, undoubtedly.


Summary by Monique van Dusseldorp:

Creating Web Appeal

Although Dr. Garcia gives "a tip of the hat" to content, his major focus is on presentation techniques for Web projects. And he has written what is undoubtedly the best short overview of the "webification" of print material that I have read yet.

His major theme is that "Good web sites are an outgrowth of words" BUT "You must not, however, go into the project thinking that the web site is an identical duplication of the printed material, because it is not." In other words, even with the same conceptual content, the techniques of presentation must be different IF the web material is to be communicated effectively.

After clarifying this premise, Dr. Garcia walks us through layout, fonts, color, graphics, photos, and animation, showing the design principles behind their use, and offering marvelous examples of screens from WebSites that have done it right. This is an exceptionally well written AND well illustrated book. Managers, amateurs, and casual users of Web facilities, will all find this a valuable introduction and/or source book. AND, there are a lot of pointers to further WebSites, and lists of print sources for the purposes of follow-up. I've never seen a better guide for the re-thinking of information design for the Web.

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