Knowledge vs. perception
30 December 2003
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.
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