If usability and accessibility are fundamental elements in any web design, is it the role of the designer, to dictate to the user how to use a website, or is there role, one of a provider, in which they provide options that users can utilise?
This is a fundamental question that arises from web design. There are in effect two ways to approach this question. The first works on the basis, that the designer will try and anticipate the needs of a user, and will tailor the web design accordingly. This method of design, or fixed design, has advantages in respects that it can push a user down a certain path, or hold the users hand. Click here, click this, for example. This is good for users who may be new to the web. The problems arise however, if the user want to do something different than follow the path, or follow the “easy” links.
Another problem arises, if the user cannot modify the site to their needs. What if they have a problem with manual dexterity and need bigger buttons, or more space between a field. What happens if someone needs to download to a page reader, or needs bigger text? Then if we take it one step further, what if people just want some parts of a web page and not others. Fixed design, has its strengths, but it comes with lots of weaknesses too. Fixed design will never please all the people.
So, is the answer, user created design? Could this be the right path. Where users simply select various options to suit their needs and tastes. It sounds good doesn’t it. Users simply switching options on and off, specifying how big they want their font and image sizes. Why were we not doing this before?
Well one reason could be, is where do you start? Do you select these options before the page loads, as a precursor to the home page? Or are these options built in, so they are there when you want them? If so, how do you convey information to the user in a fast, concise way to avoid boredom, or impatience. Like fixed design, limitations to this user created utopia, are creeping in already. Which way is forwards?
Web design, to dictate, or not to dictate? Perhaps the best way is to follow the golden rule of retail. The customer is always right, and apply this to to web design. So if customers want the ability to customise their website, well they should have the option, but they also should have the responsibility of learning how to do it too. This would naturally lead to websites developing universally, so how to change a text size on one site, would apply to the another.
At the same time, the design of a site would also have a rather dictatorial element to it. So it would lead a user down a path, to fulfil the aim of a site, as well as hold a new users hand. In other words the better sites would incorporate the best of both worlds.
As time has gone by, web design has moved in this direction, albeit tentatively. The W3 or World Wide Web Consortium, has made some progress in bringing uniformity to web design, and together with laws that have been passed, has managed to provide better accessibility for everyone that uses the web. Languages and tools such as CSS have also incorporated features, that makes tailoring websites to peoples needs, and wants, simpler.
Perhaps, the only way forward is a best of both worlds scenario. This way we can avoid asking the questions like web design, to dictate, or not to dictate?