Websites are like machines in the sense they are constantly emerging, and designers are building more and more functions into them. Arguably, machines such as stereos and applications such as Photoshop and MS Office, have more and more features built into them with each new version. Is this a true step forward, or do the products become less usable as a result?
Can it be argued that web design is mirroring this trend? Well with the development of new web technologies such as CSS and WordPress, the reverse effect seems to be true. Both are praised at how easy they are to use, and to update. This is an element that makes them so appealing to users. Also, they are both well supported should any problems occur.
These though, are not websites in themselves, and CSS among other tools and applications, are making sites that are a lot more advanced in the sense of what they can do, than websites were ten years ago. The concept of web design has changed enormously over the last ten years, mainly as a result of these technologies.
This is in part due to lots more ways of displaying content, and advances in databasing the content. In short content management has advanced, and with this advance more features are now available.
This looks great on paper, as the more options the better the website, right? Well think about it this way, what if there were so many features on the site, that it was too busy, like websites of ten years ago, would it not be like having too many fonts, or colors?
Many machines now have so many features, that they designers have run out of button space, and have had to make one button do several tasks. On the surface this seems like no big deal, but when you need a thick manual to operate your car stereo, is this really a positive step? Apart from switching between CD and radio, adjusting the volume and station, what else do you really need? On/off maybe?
Websites, are encountering similar problems when it comes to displaying content. The way in which a user uses the mouse can dictate how the content will appear. In some cases, just by hovering the pointer over an object. Is this a clever way to present information to the user, or just a sign that we are running out of space on our websites?
It is important to remember though, that websites are less like machines, and more like shops and books. They either sell you something, or tell you about something. Many do both.
Maybe this is the key difference between a website and a car stereo, is that where as the stereo has more features with each new design, a website has more content. If you look at the new developments in web design, everything is or has become related to content, and where as the stereo designer has to work out how to make one button do four tasks, the web designer has to work out the best way to display four bits of related information to one product or feature of the website.
Sometimes, product design does not seem to feature the needs of the user, and as a result the product is awkward to use, and for many the frustrations caused by trying to use it, out weigh the pleasure of using it.
Perhaps it can be fair to say that the better web designers, like with fonts and colors, exercise restraint, common sense, and design websites with the user as priority, and this keeps the website tasteful.