Interesting reading here, a 2001 article by Kurt Thumlert confronting the form / function aspect in web design, in the line of the Bauhaus inheritage.

He opposes two extremes : “las vegas” (form) vs. Guttenberg (function)

– Las Vegas Style :

In banners, we have all the kinetic neon of the Vegas Strip; in animated graphics, we have the shimmering of a rhinestone cape. From garish pop-up windows, disabled back-buttons, bloated pyrotechnics and indulgent flash to navigation that drives customers through color-crazed mazes, e-commerce web design often appears to mirror Vegas frenzy and immoderation. Even on the same corporate webpage, marketing messages compete violently for our attention, content seethes non-sequentially, and the pure density of text and links do little more than overwhelm. It’s casino e-commerce – or as Venturi calls it, ‘the kitsch of high capitalism.’ He ends with a nice quote: when form distorts function, then the medium does not become the message – it obscures it.

– Websites that mimic the printed media

The problem with copying print strategy is that while the layout might be reassuringly ‘retro’, the medium itself is all Internet, with it’s own implicit hypertextual conventions and practices. Though the Web is still primarily a text-driven medium, its rules are not the same as print, at once combining expanded ‘interactivity’ (endless possibility) with a shortened attention span imported from video-culture (want it all now). Both ‘print’ and ‘casino’ styled e-commerce sites risk choking interactivity and disrupting task-based goals like retrieving desired information or making a purchase.

For my own (selfish) use, i’ll just copy/paste here the conclusion i get from this article, so that i can read it back l8ter.

Understanding the User

Here, what’s essential is understanding the reflex level of user interactivity and then designing a task- analysis blueprint. Predicting reactions, reflexes, and how users respond to and interact with various web environments and stimuli is key. This means anticipating visitors needs, prioritizing your messages and tasks, predicting what user questions will be asked (in what order), and quickly providing the answers in a navigable, ‘scaffolded’ format that keeps your visitor oriented and engaged.

Scaffolding refers to an educational concept concerning how much information a user can assimilate in one stage – or on one webpage – and requires the designer to build sites that conform to learning mechanics. Hence, content, directions, and visuals should be ‘chunked’ or structured to guide the user through gradually more complex content towards an end-goal (while simultaneously providing clear navigation options so users can control the gradient of a learning/informating curve).