My version of evolution theory With a web industry focus Plus a few family snaps and a small pop quiz along the way Unlike Charles Darwin, I’m not starting my theory millions of years ago… but in…
… 1978 Why 1978? It was the year I was born – and I’m standing here presenting myself as a member of an outdated internet generation I am Neanderthal Web Man Thought it worth giving an indication of how long ago 1978 was… The kids were listing to Abba. They were cool the first time around. And to listen to them you’d have to pop one of these on your record player Don’t worry though, Apple were making computers back then… here’s the Apple 2 Perhaps not with quite the same style and finesse as in more recent times though However, there were no computers in the Lassam house at this stage. I used to fill my childhood days with crazy things like playing outside and breathing fresh air. Yep, old skool.
Let’s skip forward a few years This is 1985 and here I am sporting the latest in bowl haircuts. The cool kids were listening to…. Dire Straits And if they were lucky they’d be doing so on a new fangled compact disc player Big news though. The Lassam family have entered the computer age and bought themselves a Commodore 64. To be honest though, as a 7 year old, I didn’t see much point in the computer. It didn’t have many games and those we did have were on cassette and took about 3 hours to load. By which time I was back outside doing something else There didn’t seem to be much else worth using the computer for.
A big leap forwards in time now. 1997 – you don’t need to witness my difficult teenage years. By now, the really cool kids are listening to… Hanson And some of them were unlucky enough to have been duped into buying a Mini Disc Player. In hindsight, not the best technology investment I’ve made Crucially, by this stage I had a job in an exciting new company designing and building web sites Apple has just narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to a $150m investment from Microsoft (no, I’m not making this up) They’re busy making some fine looking portable computers like the Powerbook 500. Mmm… still not looking great, are they? And, for those of us in the industry at this time, we fondly remember the nightmare of getting web sites to lay out correctly in the TWO mainstream web browsers – Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Navigator 2.
Skip ahead to 2003 and I’m still in the web industry, but the dotcom bubble has well and truly burst by this point. By now, the truly cool kids are listening to… Busted. But, crucially, they’re likely to be listening on their first generation iPod. Music has done digital. And, hold up – there’s another way to browse the web too. WAP phones are on the market. Suddenly, the web industry has two content platforms that we need to think about. In reality, WAP sites were a waste of space – a set of glorified linked text messages – but a watershed moment for web designers Also of note at this time is the increasing popularity of social networking sites like Friends Reunited and MySpace. By 2005, Friends Reunited had over 15 million members and sold for £120m MySpace started up in 2003 and had 100 million members at one point – selling for £375m just two years after it started. All of a sudden, social networking was big business Consumer devices are being created which exploit the benefits of the internet User behaviour change is evident Audiences are starting to adopt new ways of consuming and sharing information
And so to the present day… A lot has changed in the past 11 years For example, you can now listen to the songs that are truly cool with the kids today… Maroon5… on Your phone Your tablet Your laptop Your desktop Or on your Smart TV All of these devices were unheard of 10 years ago They’re all linked – by user accounts, apps, the manufacturer’s own eco-systems And user behaviour has evolved rapidly as they have emerged Mobile device growth has been stratospheric Web browsing from mobile devices is expected to overtake desktop devices early in 2013 Mobile commerce is expected to grow by 500% between 2011 and 2016 Great news for our industry… but it presents some challenges as well Each of these devices uses a different screen resolution – web sites display differently on each of them The advent of HTML5 & CSS3 helps us deal with some of the user interface challenges But, there are four mainstream browsers now… each with multiple versions… and not all natively support HTML5 & CSS3 And there are multiple operating systems for the different mobile devices… ... which we can develop apps for… but these need to be maintained too… … and the advance of mobile has put a rocket under social networking with massive growth in the number of platforms and usage levels… No wonder we’re busy?!
All of this change means our audiences have changed too. They’ve evolved. They are Stone Age Web Man, maybe? The current group of school leaves are the first generation to have grown up with the internet a constant presence in their lives. They don’t know of a time before the internet, where playing outside and breathing fresh air was worthwhile. They’re programmed to use the web and, as a result, the way they use it differs from earlier audiences. The BBC did some research last year with a group of teenagers. They monitored the way they used computers by video capturing their usage behaviour over a period of a few weeks. Some things haven’t changed from when I was at school – the teenagers were given homework. But… They did it on their computers. Whilst they were doing it they were online with their friends. Chatting and posting on Facebook. Chatting on Skype. Researching their homework on Wikipedia Sharing YouTube videos and useful resources. Not unusual? Perhaps, but certainly different to how I do my ‘homework’. No email No Google Equally interesting was the fact that all of this is done on those large screen resolutions we were looking at earlier, but with each application visible in a smaller window. Monitoring multiple windows simultaneously So, as web designers we think we’ve got ever increasing screen real estate to play with… but not if audiences aren’t going to maximise their windows A generation of information hunters… not information retainers.
But we’re not done yet either… I have two young daughters aged 4 & 1 who will be part of the next audience evolution They are already interacting with iPhones and iPads They already expect every device to be touch screen It’s learned behaviour which cannot be ignored – by us or by device manufacturers I came across a video which sums this up pretty well…
So, our audiences are evolving and as an industry we need to evolve with them. I’ve worked in this industry for over 15 years now and I truly believe this is the most challenging period for agencies, web designers and developers. HTML5 & CSS3 is a double-edged sword On one hand it allows us to improve UI for the multitude of devices we now have to cater for But this in turn requires more effort (and investment) to be put into interface planning, design and development This extra effort is largely invisible to clients Responsive design (which I know Maria is going to talk about in a moment) is perhaps one answer But how far can it be taken before it starts to impinge on the user experience, the design or client requirements? The volume of touch screen devices are going to increase, which means we need to approach ‘traditional’ web design differently. Will we witness the death of the hover state within the next few years? Clients and agencies need to consider which solutions they need to invest in. Web sites won’t ever become unnecessary, but their importance to commercial organisations is being diluted. How do organisations embrace social networks in a sustainable and profitable manner? Apps are relevant to some organisations, but are they worth the investment? And, if a client opts to invest in a web site, social networking and apps, how do they juggle the impact this has on code and content? The effort and cost of maintaining this is not insignificant Balancing client requirements and budgets is increasingly difficult. Challenges and opportunities for agencies like us in equal measure. I certainly look back at those days when our biggest challenge was getting a site to lay out correctly in IE4 and Netscape 2 with rose-tinted glasses.
Evolution of Mankind
An Updated Evolution Theory (with apologies to Charles Darwin)