Form and Function

For more than a decade form has been favoured over function on the web.  As the business community recognised the imperative of a web presence, graphic designers usurped the website development opportunities while desktop developers took a back seat.

The static nature of web pages and the initial limitations of browser scripting, coupled with the stateless nature of the medium, obscured the true potential of the web.  Even some of the most visionary of commentators dismissed the web as a passing fad and ushered the confused developers back around the desktop.

Initially, graphic designers simply transferred their clients’ printed glossy brochures onto the web.  Using their photographic design tools, they pushed the envelope for web page design to its absolute limit, producing spectacular visual results while underneath lurked messy hacks and awkward workarounds.

Small businesses in particular surrendered to this tempting approach because on the web, given the right glossy presentation, they could project an exaggerated corporate image far removed from their humble physical existence in basements, garages, spare bedrooms and serviced offices.

The vendors of graphic and multimedia design tools recognised the potential for financial gain early in the game and attempted to hijack the standards with proprietary plug-ins.  Some even preached reducing the browser to a mere frame around their plug-in.  These efforts have met with a modicum of success and the web is now saddled with millions of static web-pages rich in form and poor in function.

The arrival of Ajax techniques, dynamic web pages and the need for browser side computing has the bells now tolling for static web pages.  To use an old phrase “the jig is up!”  Photographic design tools are designed with the printed page in mind and treat a web page in a similar fashion.  Fixed positioning of elements on a canvas will not work in an Ajax environment where the concept of a page has a totally new meaning.  These tools cannot predict or control the runtime behaviour of a dynamic page at design time.

There are now two options going forward.  We should either turn the graphic designers into programmers or turn the programmers into graphic designers (or both! ok three options!).  But there is also another approach, namely developing a new class of professional IDEs which provide the programmer with graphic capabilities that, while visually striking, have a programmable behaviour.  These IDEs must also provide a set of coding, compiling, debugging, configuring, deployment and database management tools expected of any professional programming tool.

Morfik developed the plastic layout as an enabling technology to address the challenges that Ajax imposes on the presentation layer of web business applications.  We will have a closer look at this technology in our future blogs.

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