Thursday, June 12, 2008

In the wilderness

So there were a couple of raging debates over at 37signals recently, first about skipping Photoshop for design comps then expecting web designers to know not only user-centric design, but also CSS/XHTML. Those conversations, posts plus commentary, have brought me to a really interesting dilemma .

Are my designs hindered by the fact that I'm always thinking of how they'll be implemented online (even though I have a fair working knowledge of CSS intricacies)?

I recently applied for a position in California because I always think it's a great idea to keep one's resume and personal site/portfolio up-to-date and interviewing skills are good to keep fresh. But it occurred to me that my designs might not be diverse or compelling enough for the company. With my current full-time work, the site designs I create will always be in a bit of a box to fit that constituency. That's just the nature of the beast doing commercial work I think.

It doesn't really push me to expand my artistic abilities or expression, however. So I'm left pondering, what do other artists do? I've always looked at the term design "inspiration" being more in the camp of influence: I see something in a magazine and I want to create a similar effect in say Photoshop or Illustrator, but that doesn't speak to what the subject matter should be. Where does that direction come from?

I just wish I had a bit wider readership so I could toss these questions out to see what the broader consensus is. ;)

Monday, June 9, 2008

The state of the e-state?

So recently, there was a paper published by the Princeton's Information Technology Policy Center (will appear in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology, Fall 2008), basically stating that government should abandon costly individual sites in favor of raw, public information in structured, XML feeds, such as RSS. This idea has brought about a good amount of discussion among state web developers that I've had conversations with and I heartily approve of the idea in theory.

The basis of any site or service that government offers should have a foundation based on well-formed, XML data that is valid and properly structured. That data should be made available to the public, as well as used for internal and publicly available applications and agency sites. Kirk Keller talks about this over on Common Nature.org, along with some of the advantages that are gained from such an approach.

But what about programs that the private sector might deem unimportant and chooses to not promote?

For instance, within the Missouri Department of Conservation there is a program promoting the importance of the various ecosystems and diverse habitat across the state. This project considers both the importance of the wildlife, as well as the habitats that such wildlife lives in. Excellent goals regardless of whether you're engaged in consumptive or non-consumptive activities.

What if the Department of Conservation simply made available the information regarding the habitats in the state, the various "Opportunity Areas" that the public can get involved with, as well as the wildlife that these areas affect? All of these various pieces of information are great in and of themselves. The problem is, there is no guarantee that a public interest will magically spring up and tie these elements together from their disparate systems.

I don't believe that we can just turn off public facing web sites for .gov, but I do think we should expect more from our e-government efforts in the form of valid, well-formed XML data that's publicly available. What do you think? Should we simply expect government to be the providers of raw information or should they also be expected to provide an accessible and usable, forward-facing sites to the public?