Posts Tagged ‘design’

Site Building, Sample Content and Cultural Bias

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Recent work (in Moodle) has got me thinking about the role of sample content when developing online participatory sites/platforms. The inclusion of initial content (text, images, links, resources etc.) helps kick-start a new site – contextualising the functionality of specific components (such as a blog, a forum thread or a repository) and acting as exemplars for subsequent use. However, should we assume that what we choose to add, and how we add it, is neutral, or is it inherently biased? How much do we – intentionally or unintentionally – influence and potentially determine parameters for continued practice? It seems to me, there are a number of interrelated factors worth considering here:

Default vs. Bespoke
Platforms may incorporate default content added by the developer (think of a ‘sample post’ on a new blog), but creating bespoke sample content allows it to be relevant to the specific context of the site. However, it might sometimes be considered advantageous to fall back on ‘decontextualised’ content, to reduce risks associated with establishing cultural norms.

A single sample of content may be sufficient to demonstrate the functional role of any given component but fundamentally constrains the cultural diversity that multiple samples will enable. However, multiple samples that are similar or repetitive can serve to emphasise cultural norms by their uniformity.

The identity and the number of contributors is a related factor here. Sample content is often added to a new site by a single contributor, whereas multiple contributors will promote diversity. But how representative will they (choose to) be of the intended user group? This raises issues of authenticity. It is possible for a single contributor to fabricate multiple users and aliases.

If the site is intending to facilitate activities or resources that are replacing or updating current practice, sample content may be transferrable from existing sources.

As exemplars, sample content may be temporary; to be deleted at a further date in time once subsequent (and more contextually pertinent) content has been added.

The design and customisability of the platform will to an extent determine opportunities for creating sample content. Some platforms may have well-established norms of use that one may want to either reinforce or challenge. In addition, one has to be aware of the potential influence of participants’ familiarity with a specific platform – or with a similar site in another context – in engendering habitual practice.

There is a danger of launching and promoting a new site with minimal content and then sitting back and expecting things to happen. A more sustained timescale, in which sample content is added continually, might better create the appearance of an active, dynamic site.

Sample content is typically utilised in the components, processes and scenarios explored during prototyping or initial design stages, and helps facilitate decisions related to functionality, navigation and layout etc. Therefore the above factors are determined, to an extent, by the design process or framework one chooses to adopt. In particular, a participatory design model may involve participants in the selection and/or production of sample content. Indeed, beyond initial prototyping and the ‘launch’ of a new site, they may continue – either informally as ‘early adopters,’ or through formal ‘mentorship or stewardship’ roles – to be the principal content managers, maintaining the momentum of the site’s activity, and influencing cultural norms to the extent that they establish best practices.

World Cup Calendar

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

It’s a long tradition in the build-up to the Football World Cup to procure a half-decent wallchart to adorn a bedroom wall or the back of the kitchen door. Once the tournament is under way, the results, goal scorers and group standings are ritually inserted in the spaces provided (at least until England make their usual exit in the quarter finals, after which it all seems a bit pointless). Traditionally, these are newspaper or magazine freebies or, more recently, digital promos to download and print.

This year, those clever people at, the Spanish sports website, have created a fabulous Flash-based interactive calendar for the forthcoming tournament in South Africa. It’s available in both Spanish and English versions and can be viewed in glorious full-screen. I particularly like the cross-referencing by date, stadia, team and group / stage, and I assume it will be automatically updated as the matches take place.

Beyond the Pale

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

I’ve started a private war on web pages and blogs with white / pale text on black / dark backgrounds. I’m sure the temporary blindness you get from jumping back to a ‘normal’ web page (i.e. one with a light background) is not healthy. Most times I come across one, I click straight out again, no matter how good the content is. I’d like a browser that forewarns me when I’m opening such a page, or better still one that automatically inverts the colours (wouldn’t that be cool!). In the right context, ‘light-on-dark’ design can be great – particularly on visual sites with little text – but in most cases, it is used indiscriminately and unnecessarily. Unless you’re a goth, I can’t think of many reasons why you should even consider it – it’s not good design, it does not promote web accessibility, and it’s not good for my health.