the best of global site design
Bis / Thames & Hudson, 1997
When a large group of people share a certain interest or activity, or consider it to be necessary for the benefit of all, a framework is organized to bring together the interested individuals and those who can provide the demanded activity. The framework is called 'Institution'. The activities can be manifold. Parliament is an institution, and the local art centre is an institution. They all share the task of informing a broad interested public of what they are doing - that's what they were made for in the first place; their raison d'être is their public base.
This high priority of informing their audiences reflects on the communication policy of institutions: they use any means necessary. So it is not surprising that institutions, especially educational and cultural institutions, were among the first extensive users of the World Wide Web. There are not many universities or museums or government institutions who by now do not have their own Website.
The possibilities of on-line media for communicating an institution's activities are great, considering the types and categories of information that an institution can provide to the public: policy statements, programs, events calendars, archives, data bases, search services, information on participants or staff, faq's, admission information, related activities, feedback possibilities (e-mail, 'chat with like minds!', newsgroups, mailing lists). A well developed institutional site provides all of these informational entrances. Which puts a lot of responsibility on the graphic design of the interfaces for these sites. The visitor has to be led step by step through a complex maze of interconnected data. And the data have to be organized in ways that make them accessible from a lot of different angles.
So in the design for institutional Websites, structure is paramount. These sites are probably the most frame-intensive sites around, and more often than not, they are heavy in default text and lean in images - information comes before entertainment. The most conspicuous elements in these designs are the pictograms and buttons that structure the navigation. Sometimes these are simply hotwords, grouped in frames or on differently colored backgrounds, sometimes they are elaborate images that visually organize the complex structure behind them. And often there will be a clickable ground plan of the institution's building, with the endless corridors that characterize them as the bureaucratic organizations that they are. But in most cases there is a choice of interfaces and navigational tools, text or image based, to make the institution a truly open space; Despite its bureaucratic structure, a well designed institution is a tool in the hands of the public.