13.1192, Review: Applied Ling: van der Geest (2001) Web Design

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-13-1192. Tue Apr 30 2002. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 13.1192, Review: Applied Ling: van der Geest (2001) Web Design

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Date:  Sat, 27 Apr 2002 14:57:19 +0000
From:  Sophie Piron <sophiepiron at yahoo.com>
Subject:  van der Geest, Thea M. (2001) Web Site Design is Communication Design

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Sat, 27 Apr 2002 14:57:19 +0000
From:  Sophie Piron <sophiepiron at yahoo.com>
Subject:  van der Geest, Thea M. (2001) Web Site Design is Communication Design

van der Geest, Thea M. (2001) Web Site Design is Communication Design.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, paperback
ISBN 1-58811-010-9, vii+165pp, $34.95, Document Design Companion Series 2.
Book Announcement on Linguist:

Sophie Piron, Universite du Quebec a Montreal


This book focuses on information architecture and communication issues
within the process of designing web pages. The analysis is based on
case studies.

The book is divided into six chapters. In the first one, entitled
"From gadget to medium", the author insists on the fact that the web
has evolved from a technology show room to a communication medium. As
a matter of fact, nowadays people search the web in order to find
information. For this reason, the web has become an enormous field of
communication. Therefore a communication perspective must be taken
when comes the time of designing a web site. Both traditional and new
communication questions must be addressed for messages to be

Traditional communication questions concern the goals of the web site,
the audience's expectations, the site content, etc. In contrast, when
it comes to new communication questions, web designers have to think
about modes of presentation, kinds of interactions or transactions,
and also how to present the amount of information organizations
usually possess.

The book has two main orientations. The first one deals with the
process of decisions undertaken to achieve a communicative goal. The
other orientation provides communication-focused information through
case studies.

Chapter 2, "The web sites", presents the ten case studies on which the
book is based. The selection of these ten web sites has been carried
upon two issues : on one hand, the range of communicative functions
found in a web site (such as factual information, persuasive
information, transaction support, interaction support, instruction,
entertainment); on the other hand, the range of presentation modes
found in those sites (such as diagrams, images, animated images,
canned video, live video, canned sound, live sound).

There has been also a try for bringing diversity between the different
case studies. But as the author says, the selected cases are not
considered a sample from a much larger group. Instead they are studied
for their own. Two tables summarize the content of the web pages
chosen, taking the perspective of the communicative functions and the
presentation modes.

This chapter then describes the web sites chosen for the study. The
ten examples are based in the United States (in the Washington area)
and propose web pages of public services, local government, state
transport, but also local web giants such as Amazon and
Microsoft. Each of these sites is described through a unified
structure : what the site is about, how the site all started from, the
reasons for selection and the presentation of the organization members
interviewed. Finally, the author describes the kind of approach she
used for building up her fieldwork. She discusses the questions she
asked to her interviewers.

Chapter 3, "Why using the web?", is a review of the various motives
for organizations to start using the web. The analysis is based only
on the organizations pertaining to the case study. Each reason for
building up a web site is discussed and exemplified. Distributing a
large amount of information, updating information that changes
rapidly, reducing costs and efforts, improving customer relations,
etc. are some of these reasons.

Chapter 4, "The design process of web sites", proposes an analysis of
the design process web site designers and producers have to
follow. This process is defined as "the series of decisions, ranging
from global, strategic decisions in the early stages of the design
process to detailed production decisions when people are making pages
(...)" (p. 57). The existence of an ideal list of sequence of
decisions is "a myth" (p. 57). The situation-related factors make each
design process different. Still there is an underlying framework : the
one presented in the book is adapted from Siegel's model (Siegel
1997). This model is explained through the ten case studies.

The design process of web sites can be divided into four phases.  In
phase 1 (strategy and tactics) web designers must evaluate how the web
strategy fits into the overall business strategy.  In phase 2
(creative decisions) people generate ideas about what the site will be
at the end. At this stage, there is no html writing at all. What is
done is a definition of the look, the content, the possibility of
different kinds of interactions with customers (transactions for
instance), the technical infrastructure and the project planning.
Phase 3 (production process) is the execution of the preceding
phase. Written content is produced, as well as sound and images. At
this stage, technical checks and testings are performed. And approval
must be given on the achievement of global goals (intended purposes,
communication policy of the organization, etc.).  Finally, phase 4
(launch and maintenance) focuses on an important aspect when
publishing on the web : directing the intended audiences to the new
web site. This can be achieved by several means like advertising the
site, making it retrievable by search engines, and also creating
incoming links to the site. Another aspect that must be taken into
account when launching a web site is its maintenance. Organizations
usually face content explosion and as a consequence have to plan
re-design quite rapidly. The author insists on the important fact (too
often forgotten) that a web site changes the organization itself
because it changes the way the organization deals with communication.

Chapter 5, "Evaluating effects", is about assessing the site once it
is presented to the public. The goals of such an evaluation are
reviewed, as well as the different kinds of evaluations that can be
performed (formative versus summative evaluation).

The author gives four topics that should be submitted to
evaluation. These are effectiveness (is the site found by search
engines, with visitors' own words?), appreciation (is the content
attractive both visually and verbally?), usefulness (are visitors
satisfied with the content?) and functionality (are intended functions

The chapter then summarizes the methods that were used for the
evaluation by the ten web sites in the study. These methods include
visitor feedback, online surveys, focus groups and collection of
various types of data (number of hits, pages viewed, visits, etc.).

The final chapter, "Web site design is communication design", presents
five checklists which make clear what kinds of decisions have to be
made in the design process. Each checklist contains the people who
should be involved in that part of the process, a series of important
issues to be considered for each decision and possible questions to
these issues with their answers.

These checklists are process-oriented and go beyond the sum of
activities and issues reported by the organizations under study.
Checklist 1 is called "strategic and tactical decisions". It covers
topics such as goals, audiences, audiences' expectations, effect on
the organization, strategic requirements.  Checklist 2, "creative
decisions and project planning", is mostly about leading ideas, main
content, interaction and transaction facilities, multimedia, technical
infrastructure.  Checklist 3, "production decisions", considers issues
on html templates, production team, review meetings, quality of the
structure, content, multimedia, interactions.  Checklist 4 verifies
several items like "approval, launch and maintenance decisions".
Finally, checklist 5, "evaluation and re-design decisions", asks
questions about re-design planning, conditions for effectiveness of
the site, cost-effectiveness of the site, ease of use and visitors'


This work is an academic analysis of case studies, in the sense that
the report is constructed directly from the fieldwork and conducted by
a progressive reflexion. The choice of the case studies is justified
and amply explained. The following chapters go beyond the simple
presentation of results by proposing a mix of theoretical reflections
and practical examples.

The subdivision of each chapter into many thematic sections and the
reproduction of print screens make the book readable and pleasant. It
also gives a visual counterpart of the explanations proposed. Moreover
the case study approach makes the reader enter a very realistic
discussion. It allows to point out unpredictable effects carried by a
web site. But it is important to insist that the reader must not
expect to find a generic communication design to be applied instantly
on particular web sites. First of all because such a thing does not
exist. Every case is different from each other. Another reason is that
the practical side of a communication design is far from being unique.

The communication design the author presents in the last chapter is
the culmination of her work. Up to chapter 6 everything has always
been related to case studies and this last chapter overpasses this
style of writing. The checklists proposed are the conclusions of the
fieldwork (i.e. the theory learned from practical examples). It is not
about technical information at all, but instead it is aimed at guiding
the management of a web project. These checklists provide a way to
deal with the long-run task of constructing a web site. It makes this
study suitable for management professionals. It opens them a whole
horizon of strategic decisions.

The main reflexion to draw from this book is that building up a web
site is not just a matter of technical details. Behind the technical
matters, there is a process of decisions on content and diffusion of


Siegel, David (1997) Secrets of successful web sites. Project
management on the World Wide Web. Indianapolis: Hayden Books.


Sophie Piron is a PhD student in cognitive science and computer
science at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal. She is a research
assistant at the department of linguistics. She is also currently
doing some research at the Computer Service of this university with
the aim of re-designing web pages to make them more customer-oriented.


If you buy this book please tell the publisher or author
that you saw it reviewed on the LINGUIST list.

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