Information Architecture In Web Planning

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Question: Comment on the information architecture of the site you have chosen. Are there places where the organization and layering could be improved?

With several companies competing for users' attention, information architecture plays a key role in the development and organization of company websites. Many websites, in fact, have a fairly decent layout with organization that is typically easy to understand. However, some fall behind in the competition with poor layout conventions and muddled/overly written content.

Bad Taste Records (BTR) is a company signing and promoting several musicians from all over the world. Several competing record companies are in the race against Bad Taste Records for profit and sales, but BTR needs to update information and organization to stay in the race.

First, BTR definitely needs to cut down on tabs located underneath the company logo and name into more condensed categories/subcategories. Below is a screenshot of the homepage where you will notice thirteen different tabs. WRIT 4662W-Bad Taste Records Tabs.pngIn a redesign of the site, I propose that the tabs be narrowed down to: Home, News, Artists, Video, Join, and Store. The remainder of the categories on the site can be easily placed into subcategories under these tabs. Not only will there be less clutter, there will be a lowered rate of wrong-turns users may take when deciding which tab to choose.

Next, BTR could use a larger window with higher quality graphics to advertise news, records, events, and upcoming artists to engage the user. Noisy animations are currently in place on the home page in four different locations. A quick fix would be to slow the rate at which the advertisements switch. Flashy animations are annoying and upsetting to users, and often times they are ignored. Also, if the user is interested in the advertisement, there could be numbers placed within the ad box where the user could click back to that specific ad.

Last, hierarchy isn't in a natural order on BTR's website. News headlines and dates are present, but there is no content to grab the reader's attention. Also, pictures are a nice addition to stories to complement the content and engage readers in what is offered in the story. I would suggest creating several boxes with dates, a picture underneath and the headline with a small clip-it of the story.

Overall, Bad Taste Records could use some serious redesigning and content editing to make their website more marketable to users.

Comment on your web site of choice for the final project and on the use of headings, illustrations, and link names in your web site of choice.

Whether change is subtle or drastic, many Internet sites are updating to current styles designed around the user. Janice Redish explains in Letting Go of the Words how small changes in headings, link names, and illustrations affect users to a great degree. User's trust in a website and the ability to be mobile within the site is especially important to several companies. However, some companies have fallen behind others and are in serious need of revamping the appeal and content they display on their website.

In my website redesign project, I plan to focus on a company called Bad Taste Records and their "bad taste" in web design and content choices. They violate several of Redish's guidelines in the use of illustration, link names, and headings.

First, users will notice the flash animation overload on the home page of Bad Taste Records' website. Three animations are illustrated above the fold with differentiation in font and distracting backgrounds that have nothing to do with the information they are trying to promote. The first animation has hills in its background, but they are promoting a new album for one of the bands they signed. To improve the animations, they should use the album covers and use it as a picture rather than in flash because it's too distracting and people are more likely to skip it.WRIT 4662W-blog; bad taste records website.png

Second, the use of links and link names are inconsistent with one another. The titles of the tabs on the top of the site are a different font than the other links and quite a bit smaller. Also, the links on the tabs do not underline when you put the cursor on them, but the rest of the links on the website do. I would suggest consistency through changing the color of the text on the link when it is highlighted so users know they are about to click it or that they already have clicked it. Also, there is no indication that a link has been clicked once a user clicks it, which is problematic when looking for a trace back. Many users end up in circles going back to the same pages they already clicked on with information they weren't looking for.

Last, headings on the Bad Taste Records website are pretty consistent, but the coloring and organization in boxes is distracting. For each page you navigate to there is a blue line with white text containing the name of the page. The pale blue background washes out the white text and makes it difficult to see--especially because the background of the entire page is white. Text size is nearly the same as their level two headings, and they put each level two heading in a text box. There are way too many boxes on the website and readers are likely to become annoyed. To create better consistency, this company should use the similar fonts with different heading sizes and colors. Also, eliminate all of the text boxes--they are unnecessary for breaking information.

What Constitutes "Good" and "Bad" Web Writing?

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Give one example of good web writing and one bad example.

In Janice Redish's book "Letting Go of the Words," she outlines many important aspects to web writing on websites and the words used within their pages. Whenever I enter a website, I look for information that is concise, a layout that is interesting, and links that will take me where I want to go. Many technologies give websites the opportunity to meet standards most audiences want, however, few are still missing elements essential to the website's success.

Express is a company that sells clothing, shoes, and accessories for both men and women. As a company, Express does a very good job of creating a user-friendly website with many guidelines mimicking those outlined in Redish's book. First, Express uses you-centered language "that makes the information inviting and personal" (Redish 172). On the homepage, users will notice promotional language that invites them such as "Sign up for e-mail, get 15% off your next purchase," and "You're invited to an exclusive concert at SXSW!" where you can easily click on the link to receive more information.WRIT 4662W-Express Screenshot.png Second, there is a strong contrast in coloring allowing for text that is easy to read as well as sans-serif text, which eliminates cluttered lettering and allows the eye to move easily. Last, the format of the page is similar to other webpage's' in the location of the search bar, shopping bag, account information, and so forth. All of these elements are critical for successful design and wording that will keep users coming back to the site.

IHop is a restaurant that sells food and beverage items. As a company, IHop has a simple homepage with minimal information, but has a few issues users may encounter. I noticed an issue with the wording on the website where some readers may become confused. Before I was told that IHop stood for International House of Pancakes, I thought it was a gas station. The company does not indicate the entire name of the abbreviation unless the user clicked on the "company overview" link where even the wording describing the name is a bit confusing. The page says, "IHop restaurants, one of America's favorite restaurant chains, are franchised and operated by Glendale, Calif.-based International House of Pancakes, LLC and its affiliates." I don't understand why California is abbreviated in the sentence and I have no idea whether or not International House of Pancakes is the company or owned by an affiliate. WRIT 4662W-IHop Screenshot.pngAlso, it takes about ten seconds before the user actually gets to see beyond the massive "Welcome" at the beginning. Last, the website did a bit of overkill putting a video and flash animation on the homepage. With such little information and animations so close together, it's hard to focus on information.

Question: How do YouTube and Podcasts change our understanding of "writing" on the web? How is writing different for video?

pencils.jpgToday, the Internet provides several corporations linking to one another through advertisements in video streaming. One particular place we see the linking of companies is through YouTube, which streams videos online for free. In the article "The YouTube Phenomenon" by PC Mag, author John Dvorak discusses how huge websites like YouTube spend millions of dollars and in return, make a very small profit because they offer their services for free. However, popular video and sound streaming websites and companies give others a chance to advertise to a massive audience of both viewers and listeners. While the issue of copyrighted materials is still being heavily watched over, there isn't a lot companies can do about their material being aired by someone without rights to that material. Dvorak notes that "If a company such as NBC actually managed to shut down YouTube, the backlash would be so severe that NBC would likely be forced out of business--that's how big YouTube has become." Without websites like YouTube offering their services for free to a massive audience, companies wouldn't be able to reach their audiences through advertising. Even if copyrighted material is being streamed online, that company is still making money because more and more people are seeing and hearing about their services or products.

Both YouTube and Podcasts, in the sense of advertisement, change our understanding of writing through visual and audio recognition. Not only are companies benefiting from their material, some are even teaching their viewers about writing. Grammar Girl is an example of an online script accompanied by audio in which listeners or readers literally learn about writing. The Podcast I listened to was called "Top Ten Grammar Myths" where Grammar Girl discussed myths that people often encounter in writing. The Internet has provided many helpful tools for learning, especially when there is absolutely no cost to listen in or read. Video streaming is a little bit different in the sense that you can both see and hear writing. I've noticed on YouTube how some of the users who post videos incorporate some form of writing into their videos, such as lyrics to songs. While this form of writing may be beneficial it also has downfalls because anyone can post on YouTube and we often see language used in instant messaging. Our understanding of writing is changing especially when strangers through the Internet are teaching us. I think in the near future we will see more and more shorthand related writing that reflects writing one would see in instant messengers.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Website

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Comments on U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website regarding home pages and path pages.

The old home page of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website was very condensed, but not in a good way. Condensed information on the Internet is usually good for greater readability and navigation. Especially for readers, simple language gets us to where we need to be and helps us find the information we want to see.

Author Janice Redish of Letting Go of the Words makes an outline of problems associated with the old HHS website starting with people having "no sense of 'brand'" on the homepage (47). Because of the large lettering and brief information, readers didn't understand agencies associated with the company. The homepage clearly states the name of the website, but when I first saw it, it didn't look like a Health & Human Services website. I thought it was strange how they didn't have the latest headline news stories written out and instead made three different links leading to the stories. It would have been nice to have some more depth with the stories and some inclusion of photos.

Upon viewing the website, I was expecting to see pictures of people or families, but instead there are a bunch of smaller logos everywhere with a few news links and 6 tabs on the left-hand side. Redish is quick to point out that the "search was a button, and many people did not see it," instead of making it a bar you could simply type into (47). Also, I almost completely missed the different tabs under the website name because the title was written so large and the bars are so small. The buttons on the left-hand side are also smaller than the ones under the title, so there is a strange hierarchy with information the user might be looking for. If I looked any further into the path pages, I would definitely get lost because the buttons are vague and there isn't very much information on the home page for direction.

A website I have used often because of their great deals is Zappos.com. While Zappos has a lot of good selections for discounted products, their website suffers from an information/link overload. To fix their problem, I would incorporate more drop down menus with pictures of their products in animation instead of lining them up next too each other on the home page. Also, I would like to see better organization of information. Overall, many websites have been better with more user-centered designs, but a few are still lacking very important navigation elements.

Linear and Non-Linear Reading Online

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Question: Are you a "linear" or "non-linear" reader?

When it comes to reading online, I'm definitely a non-linear reader. Many people can arguably relate to non-linear reading because of our fast-paced society. We don't have a lot of time to read an entire website and often times, as Author Jakob Nielsen explains, users are lazy. Many websites make the mistake of incorrectly organizing their information and need to make sure they are creating a site encompassing the needs of the user. However, if I am on a website that I regularly visit, I will tend to read in more linearity. I believe the same habits are true for many other Internet users.

The reason a user returns to a website is because it has created a space that is comfortable and easy for people to use. Jakob Nielsen stresses getting to the point when giving information in his article "Reading on the Web".352249_what_u_looking_for_1.jpgIn fact, he says "promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts." As users of the Internet, we want brevity. One of the main reasons for non-linear reading is because of advertising and annoying promotional language that distracts us from our main task (see http://www.shoebuy.com/ as an example of a bad website). Also, Nielsen tells us in "Information Foraging" to use language that is plain and visible. If you want to draw attention to your website, the reader needs to make a connection with what they are looking for in the words you are writing.

Reading a lot of text is extremely exhausting for users. Many times readers will give up if your website doesn't contain what they are looking for within the first paragraph, which is another reason for non-linear writing. If I am at a search engine looking up a word's definition, I will skip through the ones that pop up first unless it is from the website that I trust the most. I will also read the first sentence of the competing websites to see if they have any information better than the website I usually go to--if not, I don't even bother clicking on the link to their site. With that being said, users are almost forced to be non-linear readers because of all of the junk incorporated into some websites.

Digital Writing and the "Visual"

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Question: Why is the "visual" so important to digital writing?

Before digital writing, visuals acted as supplements to text in books, magazines, and newspaper. Some cultures even incorporate visuals as a part of their language and how they read text such as Chinese characters in the Chinese alphabet. 326807_chinese_paper_2.jpgToday, we have encompassed much of what we print to resemble what would be found on the Internet. Author Jay Bolter of Writing Space suggests, "In graphic form and function, the newspaper is coming to resemble a computer screen as the combination of text, images, and icons turns the newspaper page into a static snapshot of a World Wide Web page" (51). Not only do text and visuals work together, they create a stronger image to the reader rather than just text, which only has so many implications. A really important point that Bolter makes about the idea of text and visuals working together is that "text as images becomes even more popular...with the rise of digital media, because of the ease with which images and words can be combined" (52). In a way, the combination of the two acts as a symbol to readers. In this way they can understand the idea and are able to move to other information more quickly without dwelling upon what idea was trying to be conveyed.

In my experiences with digital writing, the visual has taken over the place of text in some cases. Often times, some websites will link their images to take users to another part of the site or even off of the site map to another location. In more cases than less, a website logo or name will be the link to the homepage. For example, if you are navigating through Facebook and become lost somewhere within the website, clicking on the company name in the upper left-hand corner will bring you directly back to the home page. Also, it is a social norm to create an image of text as we remember it such as the "M" arch for McDonalds.

In my Introduction to Design Thinking course here at the University of Minnesota, professor Brad Hokenson explained to our class that people who remembered words were more likely to do so if they created an image in their brain of that word. To prove his point, our class was divided in half and told to remember a sequence of words. One side of the room had to think of a word that rhymed with the words displayed while the others had to create a mental image. The results came out with visuals being more strongly associated to memory with text. With what has been shown statistically, visual importance to digital writing will continue to progress because of human experiences and feelings that visuals bring to the Internet.

Technological Impact: How We Think, Read, and Communicate

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Question:Do you think technology drives/determines the way we think, read, and communicate?

In recent years, technology has had a more significant impact on our lives than ever before and the results are clearly visible. Today's most important technology seems to be the Internet since it is growing rapidly each day with new information and updated material. Several users of the Internet rely upon its technology for several reasons from news to communication, and the availability of its information is addictive.776367_tesla.jpg

Author of "Technological or Media Determinism," Daniel Chandler shares his belief that, "technological developments, once under way, are unstoppable" in such a way that "their 'progress' is inevitable, unavoidable and irreversible." Inevitably, I believe humans are unable to resist from the wonders of technology and what they have to offer. However, I do not believe technology is unavoidable. It is still up to the consumer to decide whether or not to give into social norms because of accessibility and convenience, although it is difficult, we still retain the choice. As far as irreversibility is concerned, technology can't be reversed, but it can disappear from our lives. There have been numerous products or ideas proving that their features were not desirable to consumers, therefore, removing them from society (examples of Wired's "Seven Revolutionary Technologies That Failed"). In a world of advancement and gadgets, we have revolved our lives around what we "think" will give us more time.

While reading Sherry Turkle's "Can You Hear Me Now," I gave a lot of thought about how emotionally involved humans are with their technologies. Turkle brings to our attention that "we live a contradiction: Insisting that our world is increasingly complex, we nevertheless have created a communications culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think, uninterrupted." I believe we are constantly scrambling to find more time to complete tasks or make time for friends, family, or work, but the reality of it is that we are spending more time fussing over our technology when we could be finishing tasks more quickly without them. Our emotional investment in technology makes us more upset with our relationships with others. Cell phones, for example, can be interpreted in various ways depending on the emotional state of the reader. Technology, therefore, can alter what the sender meant to say into something entirely different to the receiver. As long as we have technologies that allow us to think, read, and communicate, we will constantly be influenced by the way that technologies makes us feel.

Remediation of Hypertext

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Question: What does hypertext refashion?

Since the beginning of print, hypertext has been a term defined as linking several pieces of text together. In Jay Bolter's book Writing Space, he outlines several aspects of the history of hypertext and how its relation to the World Wide Web has redefined the actual term "hypertext". I believe hypertext refashions a variety of written elements, especially those we find on the Internet. 754170_keyboard_spy.jpg
The question of whether or not books will be able to withstand their prominence in the literary world since everything has been shifting to the web has been in question. I believe that books will retain their importance as long as there is a need for them and if they maintain credibility of being a scholarly source. Anyone who has used the internet knows that it is constantly developing, which still leaves in question what sources we consider valuable and credible. If I am looking for quick information or to social network, the internet is a great tool for me to access what I need, when I need it. However, I would also argue that recently there has been more credible information online. I have often times used sources from Google Books, which allows me to view a book (sometimes in its entirety, sometimes partially) that I am unable to access because it either isn't located in my area or is already checked out at the Library.

Bolter also points to hypertext as refashioning or remediating how we understand the term "genre". Without genres, searches on the web would be difficult since there are phrases that link to other pages and tags to further direct readers. Bolter says that "Each new medium claims to provide a strategy--in this case the strategy involves interactivity and the unification of text and graphics," which many of us are becoming adapted to for a myriad of reasons (45). Although we see hypertext in its current form as genres on the web, the term is more than likely going to change in the near future with the technological advances that are continually being created, therefore, refashioning the literary world as we know it.

The "New" Writing

1206711_digital_world.jpgQuestion: Are you a Digital Native, or a Digital Immigrant?

As described in the article "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" by Mark Prensky, users of the Internet and new technologies speak different languages. In other words, some of us understand technology because we grew up with it while others are learning to adapt because it is new to them. I am, myself, a digital native and I would argue that others in my age grouping are as well. Since I was in elementary school I have been experimenting with new technologies, therefore, I learn more easily when presented information in a digital or technological form.

In Prensky's article, he says that "Digital Immigrant teachers assume that learners are the same as they have always been." The age we live in is significantly different from that of the past--even from only five years ago! As a student, I find that computers and other technologies enhance my learning and the information I retain. It is a rarity that I hand-write anything because I use a cell phone, an iPod touch, a computer, and several other technologies.

Also, Pew Research wrote an article, "Writing, Technology & Teens," in which they recorded statistics about how teen students use technologies for assignments or in their free time. They said that "teens report being motivated to write by relevant, interesting, self-selected topics," which is true because who would want to write about something they are not interested in? I am always a willing writer, but the task becomes more interesting when there is a challenge involved--in most cases, it's the grade I will receive. However, there is also the issue of the expectations given to our technological age by society.

National Public Radio discusses in an interview on multitasking how it is changing brain development in children and teens. In the interview they said "our brains weren't built for multitasking. There are limits to how much our brains can process at once." I find this true in some cases and false in others. When it comes to writing assignments or learning, I need complete silence because I get very easily distracted. When it comes to other tasks involving surfing around websites while listening to music and text messaging, I am completely capable of the tasks I'm completing. No matter what the case is, I do feel that sometimes there is too much expected of people my age and there is no possible way we can do all that is requested of us.

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