December 22, 2008

Is it an Application or a Web Site?

Have you ever asked a client that? Have they been able to answer to your satisfaction? I’m sure this question is being asked and if it’s not, it should be, especially as we move more and more into the cloud we’ll come across this.

Is there a difference?

Let’s turn to our friend shall we?

They have web site defined as:

“a connected group of pages on the World Wide Web regarded as a single entity, usually maintained by one person or organization and devoted to a single topic or several closely related topics.”

And an application (program) defined as:

“a program used for a particular application”

So, when sketching out ideas, this difference should be forefront in your mind especially when it comes to wireframing out pages. If people arrive and are presented with a web site “design” (content, sections, and related topics), are they going to miss the fact you’ve actually built something to manage their finances?

But what if you have both, behind a login?

It is highly likely that you could have an application as part of web site, but they should be distinct. You should separate them with a different layout and design — reinforce the purpose and try not to make one fit the other for the sake of “keeping a certain look” or “limiting templates”.

Same users, different audience.

Ubiquitous 37Signals example

highrisehqWe all seen them mentioned a million times before but 37Signals do a great job of separating web sites from applications. I use Highrise to manage my contacts. It presents me with all the information in a way I recognize as an application. Everything from the layout to the design esthetic tells me I’m here to do a particular thing — Manage my contacts.

So next time you are presented with this, ask the question, then build accordingly. Your users will thank you for it.


Beth said...

Your users may thank you but maybe not the "governing body" of the site ;)

David Mead said...

Too true Beth.

But you should still "fight the good fight" on their behalf.