WEBSITES AS ARTEFACTS:

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Oct 31, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)

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WEBSITES AS ARTEFACT
S:

A New Model for Website Analysis

Ida Engholm

Danish Centre for Design Research, Royal Academy of Art, School of Architecture
,
Copenhagen, Denmark

ie@dcdr.dk



Lisbeth Klastrup

Digital Culture & Mobile Communication Research Grou
p, IT University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

klastrup@itu.dk

Keywords:

Web
site analysis, design theory, design analysis, material culture,
communication studies,

interactivity,

user experience
.

Abstract:

Until now, analyses of the internet, the we
b and various online activities have devoted little or no attention
to websites as autonomous study objects.

This
paper
introduces an approach to ‘websites as artefacts’
applying perspectives from design research, material culture and communication studies
.
The purpose is to
draw attention to websites as design objects in their own right and to the contextual aspects of development,
distribution and socio
-
cultural features that condition their use and consumption. The
paper

discusses how
to define websites
as analytical entities and then proposes a coherent analytical model with which to analyse
a website. It suggests that a website analysis considers purpose, technology, interaction and use, appearance,
experience and the socio
-
cultural use context.
F
ollowi
ng
,

t
he
applicability of the model
is demonstrated
through an analysis of
a brandingsite of Issey Miyake and a user profile on
Face
book.

1

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this paper is to present an artefactual
perspective on the definition and analysis of
w
ebsites, which emphasises the need to consider
websites from a design perspective; and as part of
this move, we argue for a broad understanding of
design as both a product and a use process, and for
the need to include also communication strategies
and use
r interaction framing in the analytical
approach to websites as objects of study.

As is, to this day,

most web
site

analyses have
been anchored in media theory and socio
-
cultural
studies. In these contexts, the main emphasis ha
ve

been on analyses of the int
ernet and the web as
media forms and on socio
-
cultural analyses of online
activities

and
there have been only sporadic efforts
to examine websites as analytical objects in their
own right.
Similarly

there are few attempts to deal
with the design aspects of

website

production and
use. Within the field of media studies the main
emphasis have traditionally been on studies on the
web as a whole
,
focus
ing

either

on the

analysis of
text and content aspects (e. g.
Benoit & Benoit,
2000; Bolter & Grusin,
1
999)
or o
n structural
dimensions such as construction and link structures
(e.g.
Mitra & Cohen, 1999; Park & Thelwall, 2003).
Socio
-
cultural and ethnographic oriented studies
have primarily
focus
ed

on strategic aspects of
production and online activity (e.g. Hine,
2000;
Howard, 2002).

The most elaborate attempts
to

introdu
ce

websites as analytical objects in their own right
can
be

found in

the work of

M. Schneider and Kirsten A.
Foot (2004) and Niels Brügger (2007). In their
article

The Web as an Object of Study

,

Schneider
and Foot propose a strategy for analysing and
recording websites for research use, which they call
‘web sphere analysis’ (pp. 188
-
19). The article
discusses characteristics of individual websites, but
the analytical object is defined in terms of

a broader
‘semantic object’, which is thematically oriented and
involves multiple sites and their interconnectedness;
it devotes little attention to what constitutes a
website in its own right.

Brügger

(2007,

2009)
, on the other hand, sets out
with the de
clared goal of
defining and
treating the


2

website as a unit of analysis.
His

work is anchored in
media theory, and his basic unit of analysis is
the
textual element
, that he defines as a coherent textual
unit, composed of one of the
following four

formats
o
f expression: written words, still images, moving
images, or sounds. According to Brügger, an
analysis of the
se

textual elements can unfold in two
dimensions:
the morphological

and
the syntactical
.
Morphological analysis focuses on the
characteristics of t
he individual element, including
its construction and the way that the interior
structure and coherence are established. Syntactical
analysis focuses on the rules governing the
combinations of elements as well as the functions of
these combinations, the re
lations between elements
and the combination of all types of elements in the
overall audio
-
visual composition (
Brügger, 2007,
p.
85
). In order to establish the overall coherence of a
website, the researcher should finally look at both
the semantic, formal
and physically performative
interrelations between units (Brügger, 2009, p. 122).

Though grounded in medium
-
theory, rather than
a design
-
oriented understanding, Brügger’s approach
is highly

relevant and commendable in that it points
to the need to conside
r both individual units of the
website as well as the strategies used to create
coherence across the website if we want to
understand how users come to perceive a website as
one

entity. Furthermore his introduction of the
concepts concerning interrelations

and coherence is
relevant in relation to the goal of this
paper.


2
WEBSITES AS ARTEFACT
S

Our
intention here is to apply design analysis to the
study of websites,
primarily drawing on perspectives
from the traditional object analyses in design studies
a
s well

as

communication studies, but also drawing
on insights from material cultural studies.

We
introduce an
approach to ‘websites as artefacts’ that
emphasises design aspects, but also recognises that
on the web, we cannot draw a clear boundary
between d
esign and communication. As a unique
subjective expression of both its producer, its time
and its genre, what we traditionally have understood
as “web design”, is in fact also an act of
communication; and all web communication needs
to be designed (graphic
ally, navigationally, socially
etc) in order to be effective. Therefore our
understanding of design aspects also include a study
of the communication on a website, however not
from a semiotic, content
-
focused perspective (
what

the website communicates), bu
t from a rhetorical
and formal perspective
:
how

the website
communicates, and how communication is
designed

for the users

to interact with
. Therefore by “design”
we understand both graphical design, content design,
interaction design and social design. Fol
lowing, in
our analysis we address both what we define as
technological and experiential aspects as well as
aspects concerning use and features of websites.

These aspects
in their totality constitute the
design

of a website, and
all these aspects
influenc
e the user
experience of a site
.
As a term, 'design' is
characterised by being both a noun and a verb, thus
referring both to the process and to the eventual
product. In the analytical model presented in this
paper, the main emphasis is on the product as i
t
appears to and is used by a user, as in traditional
design theory object analysis. However, the model
also implicitly
addresses
producer
-
determined
aspects of technology, use and features, which, as an
immanent manifestation of the process

that took
plac
e before the object was launched
, manifest
themselves to the user in a variety of ways in a given
context.

The material
-
cultural perspective of the
paper

is
evident in the fact that the analysis is not, as
traditional design analyses
exclusively

oriented
around
the
feature, form and use
aspects
of websites
;
it
also

addresses the contexts of production and use
that the artefacts spring from. The material
-
cultur
al
perspective is also
seen
in
the assumption that
websites
can be viewed as
material objects
, sim
ilar
to
physical objects. Their unique characteristic is
that they
are based on numerical representations of
data, and
they are
functionally unrivalled by other
tools. They are interactive, networked, and
multimodal and based on computer
-
mediated
interacti
on and as such,
immaterial

objects.

But

similar to objects in the physical world, websites are
created in specific social contexts and are socially
and culturally produced and consumed
, perhaps even
traded.

In that sense, websites have a symbolic
material
quality
, which is negotiated and consumed
in the cultural sphere
just like
physical objects
.
In
the following, we

will briefly discuss how we
delineate the website as object of study, and then
we
present our design and material
-
cultural analytical
model fo
r websites.

3

WEBSITES AS UNITS OF

ANALYSIS

A fundamental problem all researchers who want to
analyse a website need

to address is the questions of
how to identify the website as an autonomo
us and
coherent analytical unit
.
How do we delineate the
website a
s an object


where does it “stop” and the
rest of the web begin? One of the essential
differences between traditional material design
artefacts and websites as artefacts is that the website
is a dynamic object that
might
constantly change


3

(some remain pre
tty static)


so a related question is
that of the time of analysis; at which point in time
during the history of a website do we harvest and
dissect it? We propose that the website is to be
studied as a manifest entity, after the website has
been launched

or has been uploaded to a server
ready for distribution. It is at this point in time, we
can identify the website as the unified and agreed
upon sum of design decisions; and it is at this point
in time it is available for user engagement and thus
ready to

be acted upon
. However, as websites will
consistently be changed by both producers and
users, an analysis can always only be a description
of the website’s workings at one specific point in
time.


3.1

The website as

multidimensional

artefact

Applying our
broad understanding of the notion of
design (as defined in section 2
),
we furthermore
define the website as something that is, at one and
the same time,

1) a
designed artefact (the final result of a
number of design decisions),


2) an artefact situated in

the context of the web
(geographically located “somewhere”,
concretely on
a server
)

3) an artefact that it is in the making through the
process of use (an ongoing co
-
productive process
involving the
user), a thing that is performed.


Ad 1) As a completed

artefact,

we address the
website as something crafted by a designer/producer
and as such, the website can be conceived of as all
the pages and items, that the producer is able to
control. This includes the possibility to add, change
or remove pages, as we
ll as the producer’s use of a
set of tools that produces a unified website
appearance, or limits what it is possible to express
within the boundaries of the website. Examples can
be a cascading style sheet, a CMS
-
management
system such as that of a wordpre
ss
-
blog and its
affiliated template or the general content
-
uploading
framework of social network sites such as MySpace
or Facebook, which enables producers to keep a
rather uniform look across a website, despite the fact
that individual pages are produced
by users
themselves. In this sense, we are definitionally close
to media historian Niels Ole Finneman who defines
websites as “a well
-
defined editorial unit” gathered
under the auspices of a shared URL
-
address
(Finneman 2005, 171, our translation)


Ad

2)
B
y virtue of the URL (uniform re
source
allocator), we experience the website as having a
specific location

on” the web that we can visit. In
most cases, we will
almost intuitively

know by
looking at the URL whether we are still “on” the
website or somewher
e else; typically
,

all pages of
the web
site begin or end

with the main URL
(
www.myspace.com/xx or lisbeth.myspace.com
)
.
With this definition, we differ, for example, from
Foot and Schneider,
whose concept
“web

sphere”
define
s

something that is
distribu
ted
across multiple
URLs
,

and which is
define
d by
t
h
emat
ic
coheren
ce

or
“shared objects”.

From the user’s perspective, the
website is
there
somewhere in the solar system of
the web, most often experienced as a clearly
contained object to interact with, and
vis
it
.


Ad

3) As an artefact in the making, the
user
experience

of the website as a coherent entity is not
so
mething already given, but something that
emerges through the use of the website.
Thus, it is
only by navigati
ng

through the website
, and
interacting
with it in
the
ways
made
possible (e.g.
by uploading content, filling out forms, making
inquiries) that the user both
makes

and
discovers

the
graphical and semantic coherence of the site, its
artefactual nature. Thus the experience of coherence
of the

web
site
, the user’s understanding of it as
artefact, is performative as well as constative.


In the use of
a
website, the various element
s are
connected to form a
semanti
c

unit
.

Niels Brügger
(2007)
points out
that
websites
are not bound
together by a materia
l coherence, such as, e.g.
newspapers or books
,
but that this lack of
material
binding has a
te
x
tu
a
l
implication, “
since it has to be
compensated for by semantic, formal, and physically
performative means in order to create another kind
of

binding’” (p. 8
6)
.

Brügger
suggests that
the
coherence is created by textual means.
These may be

paratexts”, that is
,

small textual elements that serve
as a th
r
eshold to other signifying textual entities: the
headli
ne system, associated texts (e.
g. fact

boxes),
and list
s, bread crumbs
that indicate the position of a
web

page on a site, header/footer,
and
URL.
According to Brügger
,

the many pa
r
atexts on the
web are constantly creating and maintaining
coherence. Similarly, the graphic/corporate identity
(
including

colours
,

layout, font
s
,
etc.
)
helps facilitate
the formal and physical
’binding’.

Notably
, a few researchers and web

design
authors point
to

the importance of visual and graphic
elements and interface elements for the experience
of a website as a coherent unity, r
ather than
linguistic markers or text. Thus, Rudiger
Weingarden foregrounds screen page elements and
not linguistic markers as that which creates website
coherence (Weingarden, 1997, p. 16) and Steve
Krug in his
influential

book
Don’t make me Think

on
webs
ite usability foregrounds visual markers such as
the logo or the global menu (Krug, 2007
, p. 62
-
63
)


4

as
some of the

most important design elements
needed to make users feel that they are on the same
site. On a more abstract level, however, both text
and vis
ual elements can be considered as semantic
or semiotic resources, used to create the experience
of
coherence (the approach that Niels Brügger also
applies). Coherence is therefore ultimately produced
by the user through her interaction with and
interpreta
tion of the site.

We can thus conclude that a website is thus
experienced (and thereby defined) as
the sum

of the
consistent design language and consistent design
choices that has determined how it came to be on the
web, the locational identity that define
s where it is to
be experienced and the performative use that
determines how it finally appears to, and is
experienced by, the individual user.

3

A MODEL FOR WEBSITE
ANALYSIS

Traditional design analyses often focus on
construction, function
,

and form when
defining an
object. These classical categories have roots in the
Roman architect Vitruvius’ architectural categories
of structure, function
,

and form (Vitruvius 2003
-
2008). It is also central in modern architectural and
design theory, which developed
along

with
industrialism and its new demands concerning
production, technology and standardisation

in
relation to
the construction, function
,

and form of
objects and buildings. Today, this interest in the
relationship between the various components of
design ob
ject
s

affects designers


approaches to
design processes; it also forms the point of departure
for the analysis of design objects in humani
ties
-
oriented descriptive design studies.
The latter often
involve

interpretations based on the classical
categories,
where construction is typically discussed
in relation to technical aspects and materials, e.g. the
technical components of a car or the material used
for the body and motor components.
Function is
related to aspects of use, e.g. the way the car drive
and h
andles

when driving, its driveability,
etc. Form
is related to external appearance, i.e. aesthetic,
emotional,
and
affective
qualities (see e.g. Miller,
1990)
.


These classical categories of construction/

structure, function
,

and form
are also
meaningful
i
nstruments for
the analysis of websites, but because
websites also contain certain media
-
specific aspects

concerning development and us
e we have expanded
the classical model with some additional aspects
,
which tries to take into account, amongst other
thin
gs, the importance of technology (software) for
the concrete experience of the artefact; and the co
-
constructive role of the user as discussed in the
previous section.

Th
is

expanded model
has
five parts: purpose,
technology/progr
amming, appearance, interac
tion
and
use
,

and experience (Figure 1).




Figure 1. A model for website analysis.


The

upper
part
of the pyramid shows
the three aspects that contribute
to the experience or perception of
a site. Th
e

base
of

the pyramid
relate
s

to the three features
(te
chnology, use, screen
app
earance
) that
go into
a
particular task/function


the
develop
ment

of
a particular type of
site, e.g. an entertainment or an
information oriented site.

The different elements reflect the fact that
websites



like tangible
design
ob
jects


can be
considered
an interdisciplinary
accomplishment that
requires
many areas of expertise

to develop,

and
which
communicat
es

with the user via a complex
ensemble of characteristics.

Purpose
refers to the purpose of a site and the
demands
that
the

site
should
meet. For example, the
main purpose of an entertainment site is to be
entertaining, while the key purpose of an
information site is to offer quick and easy access to
information
.
Purpose is linked to the genre of the
site, as decisions on tech
nology, use and appearance
involve considerations concerning conventions and
‘accords’ between producers and users of certain
types of website.
Genres are based on repetition and
thus have an expectation
-
generating function for
both producers and users. It

is procesually
constituted by the expectations,

requirements and
wishes that affect the way i
n which the website is
designed and taken into use (see also Doering, 2000;
Engholm, 2003, 2008).

From a strategic perspective,


5

the purpose of for instance a corp
orate website
might be to enforce or change the corporation’s
brand identity
. From a tactical perspective, this
objective can in part be fullfilled by following genre
conventions, and designing the website so that it is
immediately recognised as a corporat
e website.

Thus, purpose relates to the content, industry and
function of a site, both on a short
-
term (which
function and user needs does it meet here and now?)
and long
-
term basis (what are the producer’s
strategic intentions with the website?). When the

producers and site designers want to meet the
purpose, the development of the site has to consider
technology/programming, use, and screen appear
-
ance as well as the expected experience that the site
should provide the user.

The choices made regarding
the
se aspects are implicit and cannot be known to
the analysand who looks only at the website.

The
present model invites a descriptive approach, but the
analysis could be expanded to

include interviews
with producers and designers with
the purpose

of

explor
in
g

the producers’ actual considerations and
choices
1


.

The analysis of
technology/programming

should consider

the web
-
specific
material

that the
site is constructed of and the technical features
that
determine the distribution
and appearance of the site
on

the user’s screen. The website material is
determined by programming features: design by
numbers, html, CSS, xml, flash, databases, etc.
Furthermore, transmission speed, computer capacity,
screen features
,

and browser version affect the
transmission and a
ppearance of the site on the user’s
screen. Unlike constructions in the physical world,
where the technology is inherent and ’objectively’
tied to the objects, the construction of a website
depends on the technological context that it enters
into
;
thus
, it

is determined
both
by designer
and
user.

The analysis of
i
nteraction/use

should consider

the different uses of a site
.

This use is

determined by
the navigational and interactive acts that the user(
s)
is encouraged and enabled to carry out

on the
website
.
Interaction and use can be measured on a
range from simple interaction such as navigating the
website by clicking on links and buttons (controlling
the sequence of presentation), to gradually more
complex interaction such as communicating with the
site pro
ducers by filling out forms or inquiry fields
or purchasing items (transmitting information
);
creating a profile (adding simple content to the
website); commenting on or rating content already
on the site (evaluating content); playing with avatars

or objec
ts inside the site (simulating physical
action); socially interacting with other users through
comments and chat (simulating/reproducing face
-
to
-
face interaction). Finally, the most expanded form of
interaction, is the possibility to upload self
-
produced
m
aterial such as videos or pictures (co
-
producing the
website) or extending the functionality of the site by
adding applications or code (co
-
programming the
website).
From a general perspective, the u
se

of a
site

depends on what the user demands, where the
users

wants to go,

his or hers personal interest in
contributing to the site (when possible),
and his or
her level of user competence.

Therefore, the
interaction is inherently contextual, since it is
always
expressed in the relationship with a specific use
r,
who,
based on individual
intentions
,

may potentially
execute
’actions’ enabled by the functions
that were
built in by the designer
,
but may also choose not to
partake of them.

The analysis of
a
ppearance

should consider the

graphic, sensory ’tactile’ ele
ments

of the website
,
including page layout, typography, colours, graphic
features, spatiality (some sites are presented in 2D or
3D) and the ambience created by music and sound.
This is the ’physical’ appearance of the interface,
which both users and rese
archers tend to think of
primarily in terms of its visual aesthetics, but which
we would like to emphasise also includes the
perception of sound and space. These dimensions
are also contextually conditioned and rely not only
on site
-
specific characteristic
s but also on the user’s
experience.

The analysis of
experience

should consider and
reflect on

the user’s overall experience of a site; it is
determined by technology, interaction,
and

screen
appearance. Technical and us
e
-
related

function
ality

is
expresse
d, for example, i
f

a site is based on Flash,
which adds a particular ’digital finish’ to the graphic
elements and a certain ’mo
tion
tactility’ to the
interactive elements. Screen appearance aspects are
communicated through the site’s graphic and
symbolic d
imension, which
is culturally meaningful

to
the user in various ways. Overall, the experience
is contextually conditioned, as it is subject to the
user

s individual interpretation. A website is not as
consistent in form as, for example, a cup or a chair
;

i
nstead
, it is

conditioned by the
sum
of website
characteristics.
Here too genre conventions come in
as a convention
-
created ’frame work’, which
through joint ’accords’ links senders and users and
which for the users determines how the site is taken
into us
e through knowledge and experience gained
from other corresponding sites.

This analysis can also here be expanded to
include interviews with users to exploring actual
contexts of use. Because users are typically free to
explore a website in their own order

of presentation
and might therefore for instance never experience
the intended entry page of the website, and because
users come to websites with varying genre


6

experiences and expectations, user experiences of
the same website are bound to vary substantia
lly.
.

Finally, web design cannot be discussed in
isolation from the contexts of development and use,
and
hence we believe that an analytical model
should also include

a
socio
-
cultural
dimension. This
dimension is conditioned by the cultural and
institution
al context, which affects the development
and experience of the site, including the specific
situated context of the site. For example: Is the user
at home, alone, or together with others in a café, a
classroom? Is the user an experien
ced user or a
“newbie
”?
Are the website itself following or
breaking genre conventions for representation and
content and what are the ramifications, if it is the
first time a user
encounters
a website of this kin
d? Is
it likely that the user is influenced by for instance.
the

attention of media or legal institutions to the
website or website genre in question?

These and
similar questions (pending on the website at hand)
are all questions a thorough analysis of a website
need to take into consideration, in order to fully
unders
tand how it as an artefact is embedded in
contemporary context of use practices and
expectations.

4

THE MODEL IN PRACTIC
E:
TWO ILLUSTRATIVE
ANALYSES

In principle, our analytical model can be applied to
all types of websites. We thus believe that this
mode
l is equally suited to analyse
what has
popularly been coined

“web 1.0” and “web 2.0”
websites.
In what follows, we demonstrate how our
model of analysis can by applied in practice by
analysing two websites: a more traditional “web
1.0” information and li
festyle
website for the fashion
company Issey Miyake
,

and a personal
profile
website that is part of the social meeting place

and
profile community

Facebook
, a website often
associated with the
social media and
web 2.0
wave
.


4
.1. Issey Miyake


a brandin
g site

Issey Miyake is a Japanese fashion designer known
for his clothing designs, exhibitions and fragrances.
He established the Miyake Design Studio in 1970
and began to present his line at the Paris Collections
in 1973. Today, Issey Miyake is an interna
tional
company and a brand with many clothing collection
lines and perfumes for both men and women.


Purpose.
The

Issey Miyake’s website

(www.isseymiyake.com)

can be
characterized

as a
branding site. The purpose of the web
site
is to brand
the company and
its products throughout the world.
The site content is structured around a presentation
of the company’s main and sub brands with an
emphasis on the latest collections and videos from
fashion shows. The site also includes a corporate
presentation as well a
s information about the
company’s international stores. The prioritisation of
content and design demonstrate
s

an intention of
creating an attractive setting for the products, which
supports the unique characteristics and exclusivity of
the brand.
The empha
sis is less on conveying factual
information than on creating a stage
-

setting and
aestheticising design that creates an ’aura’ around
the products and the company. Through an
atmosphere
-
building and aesthetic design universe,
the company aims to strengthe
n the consumers’
fascination with the products and the
ir relationship
with the brand.



Figure 2. Branding site of Issey Miyake with five
animated main menu items on the first content
page.


Technology
.
Tec
h
nologically, the site is based on
Flash software
, which allows for the implementation
of animation, interactive films and a dynamic
presentation of content and graphic elements. The
special feature of this program is that it is based on
vector graphics, i.e. it is mathematically coded rather
than pixel
-
based and thus
requires
relatively little
space
. In addition, it is capable of streaming
animations, which means that the playback begins as
soon as the first information is received
; this
reduc
es

waiting time
,
and was particularly useful

in the early
web
days with lower transmission speeds. Since the
advance of Flash in the late 1990s, the program has
been applied in the construction of entire sites as
well as
individual
site elements. In terms of
appearance, there is no major difference in the
graphic exp
ression
of
Flash and, e.g., simple html
-
sites as judged on the basis of a screenshot. The
difference lies in the
feel
of the site navigation,
where Flash contributes to a high degree of ‘flow’
and ‘motion feel’.



7

Issey Miyake’s website is consistently dynam
ic,
and this
is apparent already
o
n the opening page.
When the user enters the site,

there is a fade to
black, then a light grey gradually appears, and
finally a white page emerges. A soft
-
tone graphic
representation of the website address floats in the
ba
ckground. Next, the user has to go through yet
another loading page, which offers access to the site
menus, which are also animated, and to the similarly
dynamic content of pictures and videos. The Flash
-
based approach also makes it possible to accompany
t
he site with music. The fact that the site is Flash
-
based means that Issey Miyake is only addressing
users with
updated
web equipment
and, to some
extent,
updated skills and user competences, as
just

viewing
the site requires that the user has a
Flash
-
play
er installed
to
present the Flash
-
files.

Interaction
.
The site invites
a
dynamic
,
yet
simple form of navigational

interaction, as all
navigational elements are mobile or
pulsate to get
the user’s attention. In terms of construction
, the site
is based on a l
ayered structure, where the
components of written information, pictures and film
are placed on top of each other as semi
-
transparent
layers or rolled out as horizontal ‘roller blinds’. The
main emphasis is on the brand and collection
presentations, which a
re represented by five
animated main menu items on the first content page
of the site, indicated by the company’s five brand
names. Mouse
-
over makes horizontal menu items
unroll, acting as film clips with images from the
various collections. Clicking on
an

image

activates a
player in a new layer; the user can flip through the
player with arrow
keys
.

The presentations of three of the company’s sub
brands also features a new menu item entitled
“Brand web site”, which provides access to videos
from the compan
y’s fashion shows. Furthermore,
under each sub brand there is access to a store
locator, which is activated in a new semi
-
transparent
layer featuring a (non
-
interactive)
map and, below it,

the names of
the
countries where the company is
represented. When t
he names are activated, they
change colour, and local
store

addresses appear. In
the top section of the site, there is a series of time
indications

that
stat
e

the current time, down
to

the
second, in the capitol cities where the Issey Miyake
brand is repre
sented.

On the menu front page of the site, the menu
item Company Information offers access to sub
items about the company’s Vision, Outline, History,
Network and Brands. This information is also rolled
out as a
separate
layer and is purely text
-
based.

O
n most of the sub
-
pages, the user can return to
the main menu either through a back
-
function or
through small vertical thumbnails; however, some
sub
-
pages are ‘dead ends’, forcing the user to reload
and start over from scratch to continue exploring the
sit
e.
The menu is typical for web 1.0 websites,
which only allow navigational interaction with the
site in order to let the user access further
information, but do not contain the possibility for,
for instance, content addition or social interaction


cf. the

range of interaction possibilities listed under
the “Interaction/use” element in our model. The site
communicates
to

the user, rather than
with

the user.



Figure 3. Product presentation of subbrands in
the portfolio of the Issey Myake brand.


Appearance
.
Th
e graphic design of the site is
simple and based on achromatic colours with a black
background, white text and grey fields. The
typography is based on Helvetica,
featuring as
upper
-
case lettering
in the brand names, while the
rest of the text is writte
n in lower case.

The site’s layered structure contributes to a
field
-
based
layout
,

known from classic prepress
modernism and
Swiss typography
, where a grid
provides a consistent
handling
of the montage of
graphics and images, contributing to an
asymmetric
al and airy layout that serves as a matrix
for the presentations. The
sober

colours
used for
the
background and the graphic elements
underscore
the
impression of an interface that serves as a ‘neutral
window’ to the collections. By contrast, the product
im
ages are colour photographs of photo models, and
the videos, also in colour, document new fashion
events with photo models posing on the podiums.
The dynamic interface and aestheticising graphics
are further emphasised by the accompanying music
in the form

of a rhythmic loop that loads when the
user enters the site. The music belongs to the lounge
electronic genre and keeps playing throughout the
site, creating an ambient ‘space’ around the
products, which also contributes to the image and
appeals to the us
er segments that Issey Miyake
wants to address.





8







Figure 4. Videos from the Issey Miyake’s latest
fashion shows create an ambient and aesthetic
setting for the company’s products and for the
promotion of the brand.


User experience
.
The initial impr
ession of Issey
Miyake’s site is that it is dynamic and pulsating and
that the graphic line attempts to create an aesthetic
and ambient atmosphere surrounding the products
. It
is a site that foregrounds visual, not verbal
information. In terms of navigatio
n, the site invites

an explorative approach; it is the product
experience
that is the central aspect of the design. The animated
navigation elements contribute to a relatively
seamless navigation, where a light touch is enough
to activate new layers. In te
rms of content and
structure, the navigational order is no
t important
; the
key goal is to spark curiosity
about
the collections.
The music further promotes the
user’s
sense of
visiting an exclusive design store or a fashion
show,
with

models pos
ing

in time

to the music.

However,

the same
music also causes disrup
-
tions in navigation, as loading
it causes delays
. This
occurs in the transition from the entrance page to the
menu page and from the front page to the sub brand
pages, and despite this particular
user’s high
-
speed
connection,
there were delays
.


Thus, the site requires a dedicated user
/consumer

who is willing to wait patiently and spend the time it
takes to get to the products. The music cannot be
disabled, so users who do not want the music will
h
ave to turn down the computer
sound volume
. It is
not possible to skip directly to the product
presentations; instead, one is obliged to wait for the
sound to load in the transition to any main page. The
site also
suffers from
the drawback

of

all Flash
-
si
tes, namely that the browser’s back
-
functions
cannot be used for
navigation. Since several sub
pages are not equipped with back
-
buttons, the user is
lost and has to start over from the entrance page with
language selection, loading, etc.

Socio
-
c
ultural us
e context
.
Naturally, the user
experience of Issey Miyake’s site depends on the
preferences of the user visiting the site and, not least,
the user’s computer equipment. Issey Miyake fans
and fashion enthusiasts probably have preferential
attachments to the

design universe and will therefore
show
patience in viewing the collections. The site’s
socio
-
cultural context is the fashion wor
ld

and
consumers of exclusive fashion clothes.

In a web history perspective, the design of the
Issey Miyake site does not app
ear
contemporary;
instead, it seems to emit

a late
-
1990s feel. This is not
least due to the site’s less than functional flash
gimmicks
,
something that
was popular in branding
sites in the late 1990s and early 00s. At that time,
Flash had become very widesp
read and was
particularly popular with companies that prioritised
graphics and aesthetics over user
-
friendliness and
quick access to information. The dot.com
-
crisis in
March 2000 and the later economic recession in the
wake of 9/11, the subprime lending cr
isis, etc., led to
an increased emphasis on user
-
friendliness in web
production, and Flash
-
effects and the use of effects
simply for show became unpopular. This trend
continues to characterise web design today, and
requirements for user
-
friendliness have r
emained
essential to most companies. In recent years, the
main trend seems to be verging on hyper
-
functionalism, where even companies in genres
that
prioritise the user experience aspect opt for web
solutions

as in
blogs with a one
-
sided
emphasis
on
text a
nd information dissemination or simple html
-
sites, where the graphic elements act as a neutral
platform for the content. In this light, Issey Miyake’s
site is out of step with the times. This creates an
ambient and classic
-
aesthetic setting for the
company
’s products, which
matches
the company’s
exclusive brand, but the experience is ‘choppy’ and
characterised by
unnecessary delays.

Issey Miayke is a typical example of a branding
site that prioritises the stage
-
setting of products
through an experience
-
ori
ented design, where the
context in which the products appear is as central to
the promotion efforts as the products themselves: the
staged fashion shows, the atmosphere on the site
created through music, the delicate motion feel of
the interactive menus an
d the aestheticising graphic
layout. In that sense, the site is, within its genre, a
rather traditional example of the branding site genre,
which is characterised by a high priority of
atmosphere
-
creating settings and image production
as tools for promotin
g products and companies. In
the Issey Miyake site, the use of Flash technology
helps create a brand universe where the various


9

levels interact and form a whole that encourages the
user to explore the site’s content.






4.2

Facebook


a
S
ocial
N
etwork

Site

The other

website we have chosen to analyse

represents a different gen
re, and is in many ways
typical of the genre of websites that is often referred
to as “social media” or “web 2.0” websites. Within
this broad category of websites, Facebook is a
ty
pical “social network” site.


Facebook was established in late 2003 as a
closed network for college students, and became
accessible to the general public in September 2006.
In April 2010, Facebook claims to have more than
400

millions users worldwide, a n
umber that makes
it one of the largest social network sites in history.

An analysis of social network and similar sites
poses an interesting challenge.
In
order to make the
analysis as meaningful as possible
,
it is necessary to
operate with two levels of
producers;
the
primary
producer
s

of the website
,

the Facebook

owners and
their development team;

and a secondary producer,
the “profile

owners”,
the individual
s creating and
contributing

content to profiles. It is
the

profile

section of Facebook
and the u
ser
-
producers
that we
have chosen to focus on

here, even though every
analysis of a website of this type should also take
into account the interplay between the two levels
2
.

Our object of analysis has, to fit within the scope
of this paper, been restricte
d to one personal profile,
available at

URL:
www.facebook.com/

profile.php
id=
715937470
.
The profile holder is a 40
year
-
old Danish man, who has consented to let us
use his profile as example.


Purpose.

As a social network site,
Facebook’s
overall
purpose
is to
facilitate
communication and social interaction among
its
users
.
As on other sites within the genre (Boyd &
Ellison 2007), users can set up a personal profile
page and on it display their network of friends also
present on the site. On their profile
page, they can
also display their current “status” (a short text about
what they are doing), share links and results of
quizzes, upload photos etc.

For the owners of Facebook, the primary
producers,
the strategic long
-
term goal

of the site is
to attract s
till more users, ideally in founder Mark
Zuckerbergs words “
to be used by everyone in the
world to share information seamlessly


(New York
Times
,

2008),

by making the site as easy and
attractive to use as possible.

For the profile producer/user,
t
he purpos
e of
having a
personal
profile
is
both to promote oneself
(as an interesting person and friend) and to interact
with others, that is to “
network.
So far, research
indicates that people primarily use Facebook to
maintain and re
-
establish contact with people

they
already have met offline (Boyd & Ellison 2007,
Danish National IT & Telecom Agency 2008,
Klastrup & Stald, 2009), which conversely indicate
that meeting
new
people is not the main goal for the
majority of users. Thus, the purpose of using
Facebook i
s rather “social grooming” (Dunbar 2004,
Tufcecki 2008), informal “gossiping” that makes it
possible for us as humans to exchange information
on and learn news about people in our immediate
social groups.












Figure 5.
The
Face Book profile page o
f a 40

year
-
old Danish male.


Our

selected profile represents a Facebook
-
user, a
funk
-

and jazz musician, that has been an active user
since 2007 and still in his profile presentation makes
use of several of the facilities that the site offers,
primarily
to promote himself as a musician. Initially
he also made use of the site to make new “friends”,
particularly of the opposite sex, the latter purpose
which could be deducted from his heavy use of
applications some of which are still visible under his
“boxe
s”
-
tab. Self
-
contributed content such as four
photo albums seem to aim at revealing positive
aspects of the secondary producers personality and
looks, profiling him as an attractive man, as
musician and father. Under his Info tab, he provides
a list of sev
eral websites where the visitor can learn
more about the musical projects, he is involved in.
Also, currently the majority of his status updates and
wall posts advertises band activities and his musical
performances. In general, through this collage of
ima
ges, basic information, updates and quiz results,
we thus get the impression of a person who expertly
uses his profile to promote himself as a “cool
musician”.


Technology
. On Facebook,
the
profile holder

has to comply with and interact within

Facebook
’s
p
re
-
defined framework of activities and interaction.
Facebook is a “closed source” application, and it


10

offers its profile users

only

a
second
-
degree content
management system, meaning that t
he
page layout
code is
off
-
limits to users (and researchers). This
means, that u
nlike
the competitor
MySpace,
the
Facebook developers do not let
users introduce
variations in the basic layout or graphics

on their
profile, such as colour or font.

For the user, t
he
standard profile
design is
therefore
restricted to
filling
out fields of
information which are represented on the profile
under the standard tabs “Info”, and uploading a
profile picture. The user’s activities on Facebook is
registered by the Facebook system under the “Wall”
tab, which is the first a visitor sees w
hen she enters
another person’s profile page; and as of March 2009
both the user’s own and her friends’ activities are
presented as a real time stream (the “news stream”)
on the “home” page, which is the first page the user
sees, when logging on to the sit
e.

In addition to its own content, Facebook allows
developers outside of Facebook to design
applications for the site. These applications are
developed on a dedicated platform, using
Facebook’s own markup language, FBML
(Facebook Markup Language), a custo
mised version
of HTML, which now also allows developers to add
their own custom tags.

Finally, by drawing on the user profile
database
,
Facebook makes it possible for advertisers to place
targeted banner

ads
on the right side column. These
ads can be tar
geted quite precisely, using the
demographic information about nationality, age,
gender, education and geographical location, that
users have themselves submitted to the site. Users
cannot chose to have these ads hidden, they are
automatically displayed an
d updated every time, the
user enters her homepage, and therefore an integral
part of the site experience.

Interaction
.
The
profile
producer
s/users

can
interact

on and with the website in various ways,
which we surmise are typical of a social network
site.

Apart from navigating the site by clicking on
tabs, friend names and links,

users can contribute
with, what we have previously described as simple
content (filling out info on the user profile); they can
comment on other people’s content (such as status
updates or photos) either by writing a comment or
clicking on a “I like this” icon; they can simulating
face
-
to
-
face interaction (by using Facebook’s in
-
built chat system) and they can help co
-
produce the
website (by adding photos and video). In its curren
t
version, comments on other user’s activity seem to
be one of the main activities that drives the site, and
based on our own observations a lot of users seem to
engage in this form of interaction. It is of course
voluntary if user wants to help co
-
produce

the
website by adding own content, however it seems as
several users do this:
according to Facebook’s own
statistics more than 3 billion photos and 5 billion
pieces of “content” are uploaded to the site on a
monthly basis (Facebook, Press Room, April 2010
).

Appearance
.
In terms of
appearance
, the site
has a
rather
neutral

and conservative

design. The
boxy design
relies on
a grid
-
based layout with three
vertical sections, each with a number of sub
-
sections. The background colour is white; the top
section
of

the site
consists of
the logo and
a
menu
bar in
Facebook
’s corporate blue.
The upper part of
the page is furthermore highlighted by a verticial
background field spanning the page in light blue.
This light
-
blue colour is also used as background
colour in t
he left
-
hand column box
-
headings on the
user’s “home” page, and in the extra menu spanning
the very bottom of the page. A third shade of
blue
colour, in between the menu
-
blue and the light blue,
is used in the names of the tabs and the names of
people who
is listed in the news stream
.
When
visting Facebook, n
othing interferes with this colour
scheme of white

and
shades of blue
;

except
the
colours in the
photos of
a random selection of
friends in a box
in the left side
,

the colours in the
banner ads on the r
ight side; and the colours of
videos and photos posted to the news stream or in
the form of select “highlights” in the lower right
-
hand side column.

There is no in
-
built music, nor
any Flash animations, or access to 2D or 3D
animations in the parts of the
site controlled by the
Facebook design team. However, if a user clicks on
an uploaded video in her personal news stream
(typically a YouTube video), it will launch and play
embedded in the stream, and in that way for the time
it lasts, add the experience
of movement and sound
to the site.
Also, some of the applications can be
quite colourful and may include sound (the popular
game Farmville being one example), but if (Flash)
animations are used they are quite simple , and
overall most interaction with appl
ications consists of
clicking buttons and making choices. The
appearance of applications is therefore also
relatively static.


Facebook
’s corporate blue

and rather static

appearance sparks
associations with established
genres such as corporate investment s
ites and
banking sites
on which,
in recent years, blue has
achieved almost global
recogni
tion as
the normative
colour. We have not
traced
the cultural

and
historical
roots of this convention but would like to draw
attention to its association with conserva
tism,
maleness (the “neutral” gender), reliability and trust.
Historically, blue has been associated with royalty,
limitless force (sea and sky), the Virgin Mary,
privilege, and, more recently, the uniforms and logos
of major institutions (Mollard
-
Desfour,

1998;
Engholm & Salamon, 2004). In computer and


11

internet history, the colour is also associated with
Microsoft’s hegemon
ic blue
.
The fact that Facebook
has chosen a
colour scheme
that is
so closely related
to
well
-
established
institutions seems to reflect

a
desire to
appear as
serious, reliable and

trustworthy,
and not too “flashy”.


E
xperience.

The first impression is
that
Facebook is in itself
a static and ‘quiet’ site
,
and that
the experience of possible “liveliness” is solely
dependent on the degree of

activities in the user’s
network.

The

user

producer
is active, but
all
the
activities take place within
the
well
-
defined
grid
system of columns and
boxes.
A
nything ‘above’
or
‘below the fold’ is controlled by the priorities of the
Facebook

layout, which e
nsures a calm and balanced
appearance
.

Unlike, for example, MySpace, where graphics
and sound support the
users’
self
-
promotion by
engaging a wider range of senses as soon as
one
enters the site,
Facebook is still mainly text
-
based,
although depending on a
ge, photos might also be
used extensively as a means of communication.


T
he site
layout
relies on the classic modernist
grid
, originating
from the print
-
based medium,
a
tradition of presentation
which
ensures a consistent

placement
of text and images. The
classic colours
applied,
with their historical references to
conservatism, reliability and power
,

support this
impression of a low
-
key site, where user activities
and interactivity take place within well
-
defined
territories.
In this way, Facebook

gives the

impression of
provid
ing

a
reliable
framework for the
users to generate their own content.
Therefore, its
design also
communicates

the producers’ wish to be
perceived as stable and trustworthy.

Ideally, in the print
-
based modernist tradition,
graphic ele
ments should
provide
neutral support for
the content and avoid attracting undue

attention to
themselves
. Simplicity
promotes
maximum effect;
“Less is More”, as the modernist architect and
furniture designer Mies van der Rohe famously
phrased it. In usabili
ty studies, the modernist ideals
and Rohe’s credo are promoted by Jacob Nielsen
(2000), who has used them as the basis for his
guidelines for website design, which
call for a
focus
on content and function
over
graphics. The
modernist focus on the aesthetic

aspects of function
is of no interest.

Although we have not carried out
research into the impact of usability studies on
website design, we want to point to the associations
between the
Facebook

layout and
the history of
neutral content
-
focused sites.

Th
e personal Facebook profile page, we have
studied, presents a still active user, who in his use of
the site has increasingly focused on branding himself
and broading his network (the user now has more
than 1700+ friends) through the contribution of his
own

content (status updates, shared videos and
photos); and his presentation in general seems both
self
-
conscious and serious.

In a phenomenological
sense, the site communicates mainly via text and
static photos; sound, music and personalising
graphic element
s are not part of the site, neither for
the main
producer
nor for the specific p
roducer
behind this section of the
Facebook

universe.

Socio
-
cultural use context
.
In Denmark, the
number of Danes with a Facebook profile has

within
the last couple of years

ex
ploded. In July 2007
, only
9.000 Danes had a profile on Facebook, at the time
of
writing (April 2010),

more than
2 million
Danes
have

created

a profile on the site (according to
Facebook’s own numbers).

During this period,
Facebook has also received quite
a lot of media
attention from Danish TV and newspapers, which
have helped made the site even more popular. The
purpose and use of the profile we have

analysed

must be seen in the light of this development. For a
period, because of the media hype, it has be
en
considered “hip” to have a Facebook profile and
there has been a certain guarantee that one could
meet a lot of other Danes here; which have in turn
made it more interesting for people or companies
who want to brand or sell their product to be present
o
n the site
.

The popularity of the site in Denmark
demonstrates that within the rigid limits of personal
expression the Facebook profile framework
provides, people are using the site to serve their own
communicative purposes by consciously
designing

their o
wn identity profile

and by using the site as a
venue for both personal branding and “social
grooming”
.
Seen in

a
broader perspective,
our
representative

user’s use of Facebook might both

be

indicative of, as well as reflecting, general trends in
social net
work use within the context of Danish
culture specifically.

In general, the popularity of Facebook

have

partly
been
dependant on the
ir opening up to 3
rd

party developers, which has made it

possib
le for
users

to choose and use 3
rd

party applications
,
such
as quizzes or social games, w
hich both suit the
individual users’ wish for adoptable identity design
and afford informal social interaction between users
.
Most importantly, its broad appeal, we surmise,

is
directly related to the fact that

on Facebook,

the

visual design and layout of the site signals
“seriousness” to its grown
-
up users by lending

colour

schemes and design patterns which, as we
pointed out in the analysis, are closely related to

e.g.

the banking and corporate website genre.

Furthermore, the
uniform one
-
size
-
fits all profile
design, and “easy
-
to
-
get
-
started” user interface
makes it easy for everybody, disregarding their
technical skills or general web familiarity, to quickly


12

create a profile in a context, where from a design
perspective, every
body is equal.


5.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

In conclusion, our application of our model of
analysis on the Issey Miyake site demonstrated that
the site uses relatively traditional
means to brand the
company and its products. To a large extent, the
design idiom r
emediates the ‘brochure/magazine
look’ of the print media. Flash technology
contributes to a dynamic and relatively ‘seamless’
navigation but does not invite additional interaction.
Once the user has flipped through the content, there
is no possibility of
interacting with the site or its
senders. In this sense, the site is ’closed’ and sender
-
oriented and thus reflects the traditional means of
communication that defines web 1.0, where content
is generally determined and controlled by providers.
This is in c
ontrast to e.g. web 2.0 branding sites,
which involves co
-
producing users who
contextualise and categorise information, and where
meanings


and experiences


are created through
self
-
reflexive use and co
-
creating construction
.


Applying our model in an an
alysis of the
“web 2.0” site Facebook, led us to the conclusion
that the emergence of social software websites have
not, at least in this case, lead to new innovative
expressions or design paradigms. In this context, we
would like to point out, that

i
n lat
er years, a
tendency can be observed among the commercial
sectors of the internet

(of

which
a
professional web
2.0
-
sites
like

Facebook
can also be considered

a
subdivision
): here

websites are increasingly similar
to each other. One probable cause
is
the u
niform

adherence to

cultural, professional normativity.


Furthermore,
site
producers
,

as we have seen
,

seem to

calculate with the
effectiveness
of
well
-
established web
genre
s

in order to

increase the
efficiency of communication by providing a frame
of re
ference shared by senders and receivers. A
growing number of companies perform user tests on
their websites, and probably link these with cultural
standards and user segmentation. User tests and the
adaptation to user needs also privilege the choice of
low
est common denominators in user skills and
equipment, leading to stereotypical and conventional
results. These cultural considerations a
s well as the

increasing

user
-
orientation

lead to rather rigid or
orthodox norms for design
, also
of social
network
webs
ites
. Thus, the appearance of a site like
Facebook must

also
be ascribed to the inherent
conservative values of
some of the producers of
social network sites, which leads them to control
most aspects of the visual appearance of the
site.


Even

within this
new genre of websites and
web functionalities,

it seems that producers and
designers still draw on established norms and genres

of web design and appearance, both

in order to make
the new medium seem more familiar in its
expression
; and
because designers a
nd companies in
the professional part of the web respond to the
cultural norms already established in other fields.
We might even hypothesise that the almost global
use of the medium of web design seem
s

to
contribute to the spread of a norm and genre
conve
ntion traditionally associated with Western
marketing design
, both in relation to appearance and
user interaction.

We might therefore argue that both
in the context of social networks and in the context
of more traditional “web 1.0” design

like that of
Iss
ey Miyake
, the spread of the platforms

has
lead to
a restriction of expression
: a certain conservatism in
the way that users are allowed to
market themselves

through the design of their profiles
.

Finally, we would like to point out (as earlier
stated) that

our model is primarily intended to be an
analytical tool which can make it easier for
researchers and students to describe what a website
is; how it works as an artefact; and how it fits into
more general social
-
cultural design and use practices
of simila
r already existing websites. However, we do
believe that
our
model might also be used in a
practice
-
oriented context as a means to encapsulate
some of the existing demands for


and uses of


websites, including genre conventions and design
modules that th
e website might need to
employ
in
order to make sense to an average user. Obviously,
a producer can never fully control how a digital
media product like a website will be presented,
perceived and used, but by considering the different
aspects of the model
, producers will perhaps be able
to make more conscious design choices regarding
use of software, interaction, appearance etc. The
model, in this context, might thus be use as a
preparatory decision
-
making tool.

One future step in developing the model fur
ther
could be to engage with both producers and users in
order to find out if the model makes sense to them at
this point in time or if there are aspect of the website
experience our model does not yet capture. Websites
are artefacts that constantly change

both at an
individual basis
,

in the way they influence one
another; and in the way they play a role in our
culture. Just like them, the model will likely need to
be
changed
as new technological developments, new
design paradigms and new communicative genr
es
emerge.


NOTES

1.
This aspect of the model is partly inspired by
Jesse Garrett

(2002)
,

who lists “user needs” and “site
objectives” as

the elements
of
what he calls the


13

foundational

“strategy plane”. Site objectives, from
his perspective, includes“busin
ess goals” and “brand
identity”
-

he does not address genre

as such
.


2. One could even argue that in the case of
Facebook, one couldeven add a third order producer,
namely the producers of the 3
rd

party applic
ations
that many Facebook users

use.



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