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Lesson 2 Effective signs and metaphors
Objective Importance of signs and metaphors for engaging users.
Signs and metaphors are crucial components of a Web interaction, serving as the interface between Web users and the content and systems of the Web site.
Signs and metaphors include the following:
  1. Words (editorial content)
  2. Symbols
  3. Icons
  4. Labels
  5. Frames
  6. Colors
  7. Animation


Metaphors use familiar frameworks
Metaphors make it easy for us to understand new ideas, by putting them in the framework of aspects of life we are already familiar with. Even the process of creating a Web site is presented using the metaphor of building a house: we speak of the information architect, and the architecture of the site.
Focus on end users
The model of the Web as a sign-based system is based on the idea of users as interpreters. Users interpret signs and metaphors in a variety of ways. Their interpretations can be influenced by a variety of factors such as cultural background and location of Web use. Therefore, successful design of signs and metaphors always needs to start with an understanding how end users interpret and make meaning.
Focus on users
You can have the best back-end technology and the best content that money can buy, but it is all useless if the intended audience does not understand or relate to what they see on the screen. Meaning is created by the users when they understand and can interpret the signs and metaphors on their screen. Signs and metaphors constitute the interface between Web users and the systems that store and deliver information. If the users can easily interpret the meanings of your signs and metaphors, you are opening the door for them to use the site effectively and repeatedly.
Clarity is key
The idea of users as interpreters should be fundamental to your process for two reasons: first, it keeps the user as the focus of the design process; second, it emphasizes the importance of signs and metaphors as the attention-getters and signposts of your site. If users are unable to interpret the information they perceive, your overall site design has failed. This failure will negatively affect your client's business objectives and your team's reputation. The meaning of your signs and metaphors must be clear.
In the next lesson, individuals whose responsibilities cover the design of signs and metaphors will be discussed.