by Lon Barfield
Like many other design disciplines user interface design revolves around a dynamic mix of theory and practice. In academic environments, like CWI, the balance is tipped heavily toward the theory side. This was made clear to me when someone once asked me how many user interfaces I had actually designed, and I suddenly realised that, although I had studied the theory and was continually criticising other people's interfaces, I had designed precious few real interfaces in use by real users.
This was one of the reasons that Eddy Boeve, Dirk Soede and myself took the decision to set up a small user interface design company in 1994. All three of us had been involved in user interface research and development at CWI and now the goal was to start a company specialising in the design and technical side of user interfaces for software, multi-media and the Internet. It quickly became apparent that the world wide web was our main source of work, combining as it did a mix of technical know-how and good user interface design, and we now specialise in offering none-stop Internet solutions; concept, design, implementation, launching, hardware and software.
All three of us had had experience at designing home pages for the Web, but the gulf between that and bringing a company onto the Web is a huge one involving many considerations and steps and a considerable exchange of information between us and the client, the client must learn about the possibilities of the Web and we must learn about the client.
The types of projects we have been involved in range from simple, brochure-type web sites to complex database-driven publishing projects where all the Web pages are generated on demand from database requests. Our clients include names such as Mercedes, Silicon Graphics, Addison-Wesley, Planet Internet and the Dutch telephone company.
As well as design and implementation projects General Design is regularly involved in organising and submitting research proposals, several of which have involved CWI. Finally we are involved in courses for user interface design and Web design, our activities here run from one-off courses for software companies and advertising bureaux to full-term lecture courses at universities and the Utrecht school of the Arts.
Too many chiefs and not enough Indians
Keeping a small company on course and above water is a challenging task, but the future looks promising. General Design is packaging its Internet activities up into a daughter company Blue Wire and there are now eight full-time staff and a pool of freelance specialists hired in on a project basis.
It is often said that in the Internet world there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians; too many big companies saying they can do it and not enough people doing it. We have the advantage that we have many Indians and one or two chiefs. The result is that we regularly get other chiefs knocking at our door in search of our Indians.
Lon Barfield - General Design
Tel: +31 20 560 8416