Ritual is Power (and so is the Web!)

Applications for major research grants emphasize both the intellectual merit and the broader impact of a proposed project. While this is certainly an important consideration for scientists, foundations are now going a step farther to ask about how data will be shared and disseminated. Although data sharing seems like it is inherently part of the scientic method, a surprising number of scientists are reluctant to relinquish their data for fear of others stealing their research. However, I have always believed that new perspectives are only generated with fresh eyes and only through collaboration and sharing do we push the frontiers of science.

Many archaeologists have taken to web-based data mines such as Open Context, but project websites are becoming increasingly popular as well (see the PANC website for an example from the Field Museum). Since I am starting my own archaeological field project I have gone about creating a website. What I didn't know in the beginning was just how simple it was to CREATE a website, but how difficult it was to create a GOOD website. Enter my long-time friend Vivek Bhatia who happens to design websites in his spare time through his web design company called Pixelspring. He has shared with me these 5 Tips for Good Web Design:

1. Overall simplicity is critical. Keep the design as simple and functional as possible. A lot of times, people use technologies that are overkill for their purpose (e.g., having a Flash website when a regular, CSS-based website will do the job). Simplicity can also extend to things like using only one email address instead of four. Really think about what the user would need to receive your site's message, and avoid adding anything that doesn't serve a purpose.

2.  Before even sitting down to write code/web pages, make an "attention map" that tells you where you want to direct the user's attention, and in what order. In different sizes and layouts, draw boxes representing all the content you want on each page. Rank the boxes in order of importance (in terms of which is the most critical for your message), and adjust the layout accordingly. You are designing the site, so you can actually control how somebody perceives your site and what they actually take away from it.

3. Don't be afraid to use space. People have a tendency to cram as much content into their "real estate" on the screen as they can, so as to not "waste space." In reality, they are making the design more chaotic, and diluting their real message in the process. Put space around your pictures and text blocks so it is actually pleasant to read your site. It's like the difference between shopping for wallets at Walmart or Burberry - wallets at Walmart may be strewn about on a few shelves, whereas each wallet on display at Burberry will have a lot of space around it. While wallets at either place may not necessarily be better than the other, the spacious presentation gives the perception of luxury.

4. Break up long passages of text with headings. The web isn't like a journal article. People who are browsing do exactly that - they browse and skim. Making your long text blocks skimmable by breaking it up with headings make it easy for internet-folk to quickly absorb your content. This way, you allow the reader to make a choice about how much detail (s)he wants from your site, rather than forcing them to read every last word to understand what your message is. The latter often turns people off that they won't even give your content a chance.

5. Strive for uniformity. Since the internet is the fastest way to spread your brand, make sure your messaging and the overall feel of the site are kept the same (e.g., don't use a completely different color palette for different pages within a site). People will remember you more easily if you use consistent messaging.

After watching countless web tutorials on how to use Wordpress and conducting several long hours of Skype conversation I was able to put together something that I am happy with calling my own. Please check out my project website and understand not only that Ritual is Power, but also so is the Web! Perhaps with these tips you too can try your hand at web design to share with the world your thoughts, opinions, or your research.

"Look at the design of a lot of consumer products — they’re really complicated surfaces. We tried to make something much more holistic and simple. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there."

--Steve Jobs