Knowledge vs. perception

30 December 2003


A Blue Perspective: Knowledge vs. perception

Hope you had a good Christmas break. Holidays don't mean rest to me, they just mean I'm reduced to browsing the Web at 56kb, instead of using work's 2Mb line.

Whilst downloading web pages at 57,344 bits per second, I came across a stunning installation by artist Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern in London. In reading more about the installation one quote from the artist struck a chord with me:

"I think there is often a discrepancy between the experience of seeing and the knowledge or expectation of what we are seeing."

One of the basic tenets of postmodernism is that someone's perception of what they see/touch/hear is influenced by everything else that they have perceived up to that point. In a more specific sense, because I have read the Lord of the Rings books my perception of the final instalment in the movie franchise will differ vastly to someone who hasn't read them (incidentally, because I hated the books I couldn't fully enjoy the movies).

Believe it or not, this has interesting ramifications for the current state of web site design.

If you're reading this article chances are that you have an interest in web design; if not, what are you doing here!?!?! You'll probably be familiar with a whole host of other sites that critique and praise the latest and greatest in web design. However, you are a privileged individual, in that you have the know-how to construct a web site – you know the machinations that go on while Hotmail delivers the latest PayPal fraud spam to your web browser. Most people don't.

Given your privileged knowledge, can you speak objectively when saying this web site is better than that web site? This is particularly true if you're a fervent XHTML/CSS devotee such as myself. Not only are we privileged, we're the privileged of the privileged. But this experience can cloud our judgement. Are we saying that the web site is good, or are we saying that the web site is just good XHTML/CSS?

End users don't really care whether they're viewing bloated tables or slim CSS, they just know it looks good, looks bad, loads fast, loads slow. The question is, do we strip away our knowledge or add to theirs? I'd like to think it's somewhere inbetween. So, while we're celebrating the next XHTML/CSS showpiece, just check to make sure that what we're really celebrating is a good site. We don't want to turn out like those self-congratulatory Flash-ers.




  1. 1/2

    Matt Burris commented on 30 December 2003 @ 15:37

    That's a question I've asked myself once. I've reviewed PC games for years, I play them everyday, and over the years I go through stages. These stages can be best categorized as excited, jaded, maturity, and excitement all over again.

    When wading through web design for so long, you tend to get jaded, and you develop a particular mindset, in my opinion. This has the unfortunate side effect of not being able to truly appreciate the things that needs to be appreciated, such as a flawed website that looks good and loads fast, yet may not support web standards and uses CSS.

    I also agree with you about it should be in between. It's all about balance, sharing our knowledge and passion, while respecting that the other party may not share it, and just want to enjoy it.

    The people who should be congratulated are those that try to make the web a better place, whether they do it intentionally or not. If it's a good looking site, then that's just extra brownie points.

  2. 2/2

    Erik Sagen commented on 3 January 2004 @ 04:04

    I agree with your opinions and Matt's comment as well.

    Making the web a better place should be first priority over anything else. It harkens back to the old saying, "Don't judge a book by it's cover." Sure, the Microsoft site might be a clean, good looking site (or to some it could be quite the opposite), but delving further into their code you realize that it isn't semantically correct or ready for the future.

    I was just showing a client of mine the advantages of CSS (last night in fact). I loaded up Wordpad and essentially showed them step by step how a web site "should be" constructed, semantically of course. Utilizing your divs, headers and paragraph tags. Then after showing them the bare bones HTML document, I then proceeded to attach a style sheet and again, step-by-step showed them how the style sheet essentially improved upon the bare-bones code by "styling" it.

    To make a longer story shorter, they were amazed at how it worked and most importantly why it's imperative that web designers (coders and programmers) utilize semantically correct markup.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It's good to know I am not alone, there are the Men in Blue, the Zeldmans and the Meyers paving the way towards a better web future.

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