DISCLAIMER: This is a transcript of the Barnes and Noble chat. When Barnes and Noble decides to archive its chats with authors, I will take down this page and link to the original source instead. In the meantime, enjoy this transcript of Roger discussing design with the masses. The chat begins at the END of the page and finishes at the top. People asked a lot of good questions, and there's one about this Web site too. Oh, and be sure to buy Roger's new book, Web Sites That Work.

Roger Black: Web Sites That Work
Author of Web Sites That Work.

BarnesandNoble.com from NYC: Thank you so much, Roger Black! And thank you all for participating! Shay Youngblood, author of SOUL KISS, will be with us tonight at 9PM ET.
RB: And thanks to everyone who joined. Got a lot out of it. And, remember, if you just tell ten of your friends to buy Web Sites That Work . . . .

ZSharon from Seattle: I'm of the opinion that the interactivity of a site could very well determine its value -- or maybe I'm saying that because I'm a chat junky. What say you?
RB: Different strokes for different folks. Some people never go on chat. But I've enjoyed this one enormously, and agree that chat and e-mail define the Net as an interactive medium unlike anything we've had before.

Bonnie from Redwood City, CA: Is there a retro aspect to Web design that's disappeared that you wish
would come back? (i.e. refesh screens, blink tag, rainbow horizontal lines)?
RB: Yah. Bring back the blinkers!

Red Cahssai from Sacramento: Why in the world did Discovery.com redo the design you did for them? :-) It was shocking.
RB: My own explanation is that they entered the 3rd Stage of Web Development. (1st stage: enormous enthusiasm; 2nd stage: bone-crushing hard work; 3rd stage: utter bewildermnet.

Russ from Kansas City: Where do you think on-line communities are going? Do you think it is possible to actually maintain communities of correspondence long term without seeing and touching real people?
RB: Yes. Because the net puts you in touch with people you want to know who are too far away to touch.

Il Duce from San Francisco: Roger:
You designed the @Home website. What is the biggest difference between designing for broadband and for narrowband?
RB: @Home (a team effort if there ever was one) made me understand that bandwidth is finite, no matter how much more you get. Richard Gingras, who heads the content staff there, taught me that the "only acceptable download delay is no delay". The tendency at @Home was to load up the pages. There is a fond memory of 15-meg spinning @-ball that I insisted on. Even with cable-modem speeds, people don't like waiting 10 seconds for a content-less graphic. It's not enough to be cool, but people will wait for a video to start streaming--if it is a good video.

Alex R. from Minneapolis, MN: Are there any types of sites that you would NOT commit to working on?
RB: Won't do anything that is evil or purposeless. But have done some good things for free.


Roger Black will be answering questions for the next ten minutes. Thank you for participating! The book WEBSITES THAT WORK is available for purchase by clicking on the icon above. Enjoy the chat.

Jill from LA: In your opinion what are some of the best designed sites on the web now?
RB: Another question that is hard for me, since I am cranky about what is good. But check out my current favorite, superbad.com

Patty from San Francisco: Do you think value-addes technology like Firefly's rating and recommending technology adds to a website or is gimmicky?
RB: Firefly is terrfic, but it's just part of the personalization picture. The big potential of the Net is to individual communication, and we need an entire suite of technology to enable it.

John from CT: Which of the web sites that you have worked on has presented the
greatest challenge?

RB: They're just getting more and more complex.But over all, the first big site we worked on, Discovery Channel Online (not the current site), was hardest because it was our first big site, and the Web was still very primitive. It's success was do the hard work in large part of the Dsicovery team, led by John Sanford, but the whole thing was really a giant guess. I think I have a better fix on where things are going. Ten years from now there will be a lot of formats and conventions, and we'll yearn of the days when nothing was nailed down.

Steven R. MacLaughlin from steve@web-presence.com: Mr. Black. I read your book cover to cover and it's refocused my companies
design work tremendously. What is your opinion on some of the outrageous prices
some companies have paid to have sites done. When our company, Web Presence Networking,
is in the proposal process we're always worried about giving an honest
estimate to a client. Sometimes they are way below other quotes and sometimes they are
higher than what they expected. What's a good way to deal with this problem?
RB: Wow. Please refer to IAB any clients who want to pay too much. (Kidding.) But as for pricing, I imagine it will be all over the map for sometime to come. It's the market. One offer we make is to cut the price in half if the client will just take our best idea and not demand revisions!

david from nyc: The most frustrating aspect of the web for me as a designer is the poor implementation of type. We seem to have discarded 500+ years of typographic evolution. I like to think there'll be a light at the end of the tunnel--with the advent of style sheets, embedded fonts, and hi-res displays. Would you like to make a prediction?
RB: Right on! We're about two years out from getting the typographic controls we need on the Web: the ability to choose typefaces, and a greater variety of fonts that have been tuned for screen resolution. Open Type will, I think, be part of the answer. The current Netscape solution doesn't embed the "hints" needed tho make fonts work well on the screen.

Robert from Long Island: You are widely recognized as one of the world's leading publication designers. Do you find that people tend to categorize you as such, or do they see that you are doing some pretty cool stuff on the internet as well and see that work as part of your palette as a designer?

RB: Thank you. I like to hear that I am still known as publication designer, since I'm a partner in a number of firms that just do that, and some potential clients may think I've quit print to do the Net. But that, for me, would be like quitting reading newspapers when TV appeared.A lot of designers have room for more than one medium, and I find that what we're doing on the Net is improving our print design.

Niki from Wilson, NC: Do you think that there will be a backlash against the internet, now that web site addresses are on just about everything you see?
RB: We've already seen a backlash--in the market. (Dare I mention Amazon?) There will always be backlashing. But I don't worry about the Web being a passing phase. It will grow and morp into something bigger; it's just the beginning of a general use of the Internet.

Michelle B. from New York: What is the one aspect of design that you feel you do well that everyone else does poorly?
RB: Afraid that's a question for others to answer . . . .

Marcus from San Diego, perhaps: A handful of authors have appeared on this site already that have had a hand in either Web design, prediction, or commentary- Robert Reid, David Shenk, Michael Dertouzos. Have you read nay of these writer's books, or heard their philosophies? Mr. Dertouzos spoke of how the greatest advantage of Internet technology in the Information Age will be to teach "ancient humans" to play and learn with sophisticated technological tools. Your company seems to be concerned with the presentation of data, but what about content itself? How does the IAB ultimately help people to learn from the Internet?
RB: I've got some of these books, but haven't caught up on my reading . . . . It seems that there is an underlying and essentially radical theory held by many Net pundits and the "digerati," which is that the Internet will ultimately be a great force for freedom and equality by allowing a free flow of information. This could happen, but it is useful to think about what happened with Marist-Leninism. Human nature is just too broad to be fit into one model. Even a subset of behavior--like the global economy--cannot be easily defined. So I think, as the Internet is everything that can be digitized--all information and all entertainment, it has the potential to set people free, but it also has the potential to sell a lot of sneakers. . . . . At IAB, we are really working on content, not data, either for media clients like MSNBC, which we're helping redesigning now, or for corporate clients, like IBM, with whom we rebuilt a knowledge-sharing intranet. Even Barnes & Noble, a frankly commercial site, has more content every day. This chat is an example.

Foxy@rockstar.net from cyber plains: Mr. Black, I have heard that the average user on the Internet gives eight seconds to a website that they haven't been too before before passing judgement, as to whether or not to stay. How do you grab those users? What grabs a user best from the front page?
RB: Eight seconds is plenty of time to get content across, and that is the key. Many items on the nightly broadcast news are read in eight seconds. . . . If true, that is a great statistic, and if more web developers knew it the Web would get a lot more fun, and a lot more focussed.

Neil from neil@home.net: Roger, speaking of committees building sites by consensus... you're missing our 5:00 committee meeting.

RB: One more reason do on-line chat!


Roger Black is currently in our auditorium, answering your questions. To read what has been said so far, without the page automatically reloading, click "freeze page." When you are done, click "freeze page" again, and the chat will resume in real time. Submit questions! Enjoy the chat.

Betsy from Cardiff, CA: I read that you were the art director at ROLLING STONE and THE NEW YORK TIMES...how much does art diection from print media carry over to electronic media?
RB: For me, a lot has carried over. I think it depends on what your experience is. Since it is all so new, you have to bring what you've got. And since the Net is still mostly text (which to a designer means "type"), the print experience has been useful. But . . . it can be a trap, and web sites won't work if they're just canned publications.

Michael Smith from Sacramento, CA: With the increasing complexity of HTML and the various browser implementations, do you find easier or harder to design compelling and useful websites?
RB: The work is harder, but the result is more flexible and more powerful.

Will Schroeer from St. Paul: Obviously Web authoring software is just a tool, but clearly some tools are better than others. Do you recommend a particular software package?
RB: Hate this question. We're still doing most of our HTML work long-hand, with the simplest of editors (like BBEdit). Some of our clients have adopted Page Mill. Some have turned to Future Tense Texture--which needs its own viewer, but can do things you can't do in HTML--like justified text. And the bigger sites are working with Vignette and NetObjects.

John from goecke@home.net: Do people mentioned in your book get a free copy?
RB: What, you didn't get your free copy?

Marc from Manhattan: Do you think that "Web Sites That Work" will need to be updated as new web technology becomes available?
RB: Absolutely. Since it was written, there has been a divergence in the browsers between 4.0 Navigator and Explorer. Perhaps more importantly, it's dawning on us that the Web is just part of the Net, and perhaps ultimately a small part.

ZSharon from Seattle: What will the new e-commerce look like? What models (besides the antiquated advertising models) do you see working?
RB: For a number of reasons, we seem to have latched onto a really primitive ad model--that of the billboard. The real business of the Net, I think, is transactions. We've begun to see some merger of the ideas--like the banner ads from First Virtual that lead directly to transactions. The Internet is the best direct response marketing vehicle ever imagined, but it's just started to understood. (Worst example of this: spam.)

David from Florida: Have you had to make compromises or sacrifices about a web pages'
design because of the sheer volume of information that needed to
be presented to the user?
RB: Yes. That may be the entire game. Sadly, most web developers don't seem to make the hard choices to get pages down to a level that a normal human being can absorb. Or, there's a committee trying to bu8ild a site by consensus!

Brian from Hoboken: I love Paul Rand, what do you think of his work? Who do you look to for inspiration?
RB: Rand was the master of classical modern design, and surely one of the best designers of this century. The tip-off is that his stuff still looks good. Not much design lasts a year, never mind 40. . . . My own inspiration tends to the be the book designers and typographers of the 1920s who revived the work of Renaissance printers, and gave it a little contemporary kick. Bruce Rogers, W.A. Dwiggins, T.M. Cleland. And one of their followers who gave me my first job, Robert Dothard.

Betty from burton@home.net: What do you think of your fan page on Grrl.com?
RB: It's the single most embarrassing thing in my entire life.

Mike Langley from Oklahoma City: Hi Roger ... How did you get the expericence necessary to head up a design company and well, ... to write a book like this? I want to get into web design but don't really know where to start. Any advice?
RB: Start small. At least it worked for me. The first magazine I designed was at college, and the best way to learn how to do web sites is make your own, starting with simply HTML. A great example is Kyle Shannon's urbandesiers.com, which was launched on a shoestring in 1994, and now he heads a company with a staff of 90!

Dave from Seattle, WA: Do you have specific "do nots" in the creation of a web site?
RB: Read the book! Heh heh. But there's a quick look at the companion web site which includes a list of "don'ts. See http://websitesthatwork.iab.com/nottodo.htm

amelia from north carolina: Is it true that you designed the Barnes & Noble website? What were your objectives in the beginning?
RB: Barnes & Noble has been a team effort. I've been involved from the beginning, but the chief designer is Robert Raines from Interative Bureau. Really most of the credit has to go to Steve Rigio and a whole crowd of designers, editors and techies. As the project developed, they did more and more of the work, until now they are doing it all.


Hello and welcome to barnesandnoble.com! Roger Black is now with us in the auditorium, to answer your questions about the Web, and his book, WEBSITES THAT WORK. "Submit Question" above, and enjoy the chat. Buy the book! Welcome Roger Black!


Welcome to BarnesandNoble.com's Live Events Auditorium! Tonight, at 7PM ET, we will be chatting with Roger Black, Director of the Interactive Bureau (IAB) in New York City, and author of the new book, WEBSITES THAT WORK. Mr. Black will be here to have a one-hour long discussion concerning website design, and the Web in general; he will answer your questions live online! Feel free to add your questions to the queue now, by clicking on the red SUBMIT QUESTION button on the left of your screen. Your questions will be answered! To purchase the book, click on the cover above. We look forward to having you with us at 7PM. Welcome!

Return to Roger Black In Person section