Posts Tagged ‘ web design ’

From Brook to Bruce: my iMedia journey

I entered Elon’s iMedia graduate program a year ago as Brook Corwin.

I graduated last week as Bruce.

Bruce was the name my professor mistakenly called me when grading one of my very first assignments. Bruce was the title almost immediately adopted by my classmates for every presentation, project, social event, or intramural sport. Bruce was the sound they all chanted as I was being hooded as an M.A. recipient.

It made me smile every time, especially that last chant inside Whitley Hall. Because Bruce, in so many ways, was very different than Brook.
He was a vast improvement.

Looking back over the Elon iMedia program, reinvention stands out as the most common theme. The 36 of us each came from some degree of academic and/or professional success. But no one made it through the year with sheer curiosity as the primary motivator. Everyone was seeking a way to reshape their talents and redirect their career trajectories. You arrived as one thing, and left with a whole extra dimension.

Need some evidence? As exhibit A I present my only pre-iMedia attempt at building a website. As my college roommate aptly put it — it’s like a clown threw up a rainbow.

Yet less than two-thirds of the way through the program, I had already learned how to compile html code without sacrificing design in the process. The OI Panama website I designed along with one other classmate dialed down the color, spotlighted the content of my group’s winter term project, and eclipsed in one page the sum of all my previous web work combined.
By the program’s end, I was flying solo on multimedia, creating on my own an Interactive website and video to promote an upcoming biological field guide. Along the way were numerous projects that served as mile-markers in the development: •interactive research presentations on the digital divide, public opinion on the environment, and location-based information.
•photographing an image that’s now framed inside Elon’s Powell Hall
•managing the production of videos featured on an educational DVD being distributed to journalism schools.
•working with a group to create a media kit and promotional video for a multimillion dollar fundraising campaign.

The media milestones weren’t limited to classwork. The skills I learned translated to a number of successful projects completed on my own time, from building a freelance website for an economic development campaign to shooting a Yoplait commercial with a group that was purchased by the company to documenting the exploits of my pet cat for entertainment’s sake.

These are not things Brook could have ever pulled off. Bruce was in a different league.

My classmates underwent similar transformations. Take a look at the gallery of their capstone projects and the results are evident, especially since many came in with little to no multimedia experience. That’s not even counting some of the program’s best projects, including multimedia websites for small businesses, commercial brands, non-profit organizations, and universities.

The iMedia program was far from perfect, with flaws that manifested themselves mostly when assignments lost direction. But when focused, its curriculum serves as a testament to the power of interactive media to reinvent communications professionals. Technological advancements have lowered the learning curve, and even those with no experience can quickly harness the digital tools with a little dedication, desire to learn, and a willingness to become someone new.

National identities on the web

As kids we identified far-off countries by flags. As teens we picked them out based on geographic shape and location.

But as adults, our identifying image for a country overseas could soon become its homepage. We already instinctively seek official websites for companies, organizations and individuals. Nations surely aren’t far behind.

So what are they showing us?

It’s quite a mixed bag, and the results are interesting enough that they were the basis of some really insightful research by one of my best professors this semester.

They’re also fodder for some much-deserved criticism by web designers. This immensely entertaining blog post got me thinking about the topic, as it lines up government websites from around the world and scrutinizes the flaws of each. There are some really puzzling examples. Why is it always fall in Cypress? Must people be blurry in Greece? Do the French really think red and purple make a good color scheme?

But there’s more to analyze here than just aesthetic design. Approach the sites from a public relations standpoint, and you can see how different nations have very different goals for their web portals. Nations like Poland, Denmark, Israel, and Singapore have appealing sites that seem aimed at attracting new visitors and outside investment.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have sites where informing native residents appears the primary goal. This can be done with style like in Belgium and Australia or with visual clutter like in Mexico or Cameroon. You could even be like the United Kingdom and come up with a color scheme and design that has no visual connection to your actual country.

There’s also something to be said for simplicity. It’s easy to criticize nations like Ireland, Thailand and South Africa for their bare-bones design. But keep in mind that these nations have large rural populations. A simple site may be uninteresting, but at least it properly loads on old browsers or dial-up connections. Argentina even found a way to make simple look stylish.

What’s most important is that the site have a public relations purpose, whether that’s attracting outside attention or informing the taxpayers. Effective design only comes about when the nation is clear on this goal.

Otherwise you can turn up some pretty ghastly results even in relatively wealthy countries. For all their oil money, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia still can’t seem to buy a website that doesn’t make them look like third-world nations in cyberspace.

Flash vs. Dreamweaver: let the debate begin

At the start of my iMedia graduate program, web design was introduced via the sole conduit of Adobe Dreamweaver, the highly detailed but somewhat clunky (at least to the uninitiated) industry standard for building websites.

As those of us new to the task stumbled through mismanaged div tags, misplaced folders and just general mishaps, the web designer veterans promised something better was one the way. Something called Flash.

Three months later, Flash is here in all its smooth, dynamic and easy-to-grasp glory. Sure, some of its intricacies can be tricky, but you won’t gum up the whole project because you misnamed a file or tagged the wrong item back in the beginning. Everything is stored in a single document, compared to the mess of folders and assets that must be properly tracked through Dreamweaver.

Put it this way. It took me several days to create this somewhat flawed site in Dreamweaver. But it took just a night to create some satisfying pieces in Flash like this festival promotional piece, these web banners or this slideshow.

So the verdict is in right? Dreamweaver is relegated to hard drive exile in favor of its hipper cousin in the Adobe Creative Suite.

Not really. Rather than embrace Flash, my program is doubling back to Dreamweaver, with a reboot of lessons on the program’s detailed interface in my two production classes. It’s become apparent that for all of Flash’s pizzaz, it does a poor job at presenting large quantities of information. And sometimes its fancy graphics aren’t needed as much as a more clean-cut organization of content.

Learning more about Dreamweaver is a good thing, because in my three theory classes I’ve got at least four major website projects on the horizon. In interactive media, it’s not enough to simply write a report on a topic, you’ve got to visually demonstrate your research online.

For each project, I’ll have to make the choice of Flash or Dreamweaver as my program of choice. It’s a good debate to start having now, because companies and organizations are constantly evaluating which of the many software tools best gets their message across.

In the book Groundswell (a bible of sorts for the theory component of this program), one of the key warnings is not to employ technology just for the sake of using it. Even great software or fantastic social media platform falls flat if its function doesn’t fit with the strategy at hand (assuming you even have a strategy to begin with).

So as I get more proficient in both Flash and Dreamweaver through the next couple of months I’ll be taking notes not just on how to make the software work, but also what kinds of projects each is best suited for. By semester’s end, I expect every one of my web projects to have a little bit of both.