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On Record 03/01/2001
Cheryl Bentsen
Darwin Magazine

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Creative Tension

Some Web designers push the medium. Others scorn the flashy stuff. We asked five leading designers where they stand in this budding religious war.

Clement Mok, 43

Chief Creative Officer, Sapient, San Francisco (

During his five years as creative director at Apple Computer, Mok helped develop much of the look and feel of today's desktop applications. He later founded Studio Archetype, which for more than a decade was a leader in blending design with technology. In August 1998, Studio Archetype merged with Sapient. Mok is also the author of Designing Business 2.0 (Adobe Press, 2000), a book about Web design.

Work, Learn, Play

Five years ago the Web was one-dimensional—very much about communication. We thought of it as a new medium, not a new economy. Now, we think of the Web in terms of financial or information transactions. But at the fundamental level, we're still altering every aspect of how we communicate, work, learn and play. These things are increasingly merging. At the same time, we're going through an intense phase of infrastructure building—voice recognition, wireless and broadband—trying to understand how these [new capabilities] will be relevant to our clients. It's amazing to me when I go to Japan and see how far they've gone. Their experience of the Internet is all with wireless devices, not the computer. There's nothing comparable in the United States. It's like cell phones and PDAs on steroids, and everything is elegant and beautiful from a design standpoint.

Beyond Clicking and Buying

We're moving beyond the idea of easy-to-use into a more rigorous period of thinking about usability—user-centeredness [leading to a clearer understanding of what users desire]. We've had exchanges of information with users, but very little bi-directional conversation. Interaction has meant getting someone to click the buttons and buy something. That's great, but it's not conversation. Conversation gives you context and the emotional bond and relevance to sustain a relationship over time. Until now we've measured performance by traffic, but that doesn't really help us understand usage. It's only through studying usage that you [learn] what is desirable to users and what's not. On that score, context interests me more than content.

Design is a Process

What excites me is sharpening my eyes and my brain to see new patterns relating to people, objects, and behavior. Being an expert is about your ability to spot those patterns quicker [than others can]. That's really what makes me tick. A designer never looks at the cup, but at the space around the cup—not only looking at the space in between, but also being able to rearticulate it and give it some form. That's what design is supposed to be. Design is a process [requiring] quality and rigor in order to mediate an idea and its expression. Good designers listen. Good designers can look at the problem from a different point of view [that considers] accessibility, usability and desirability. Good designers should be able to articulate the problem you need to solve.

Emotional Tug

There's a lot of talk about efficiency on the Web: If it's efficient, it must be good. I reject that black-and-white view. We are still missing the boat on the richness this medium could provide.... What's happened to the art of storytelling? Storytelling makes experience memorable. Soon, everything will be functioning identically and be really usable, but if you can't differentiate one site from the next, that's not going to cut the mustard either.... You've got to think beyond usability. You have to get at the emotional tugs. Increasingly, as technology and speed make it easy [to duplicate] features and functionality, the only thing that will differentiate yours from all the other products on the market is its emotional brand.

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