Forum Follows Function

AIGA Design ForumIf you have something to say about design and you’re looking for a place to say it online, you now have the added option of saying it at the new AIGA Design Forum, which just launched today and is vastly improved and much easier to use. At least, that’s my humble opinion, as it’s yet another project from your friends over at Behavior. I first alluded to this major undertaking about a month ago, which is some indication of how long I’ve been excited about getting it launched. We actually started talking with the good folks at the AIGA about this when the weather was still warm and before the leaves completely abandoned the trees, so it has a relatively long history. A little bit of which I’ll go into here.

AIGA Design Forum

In essence, we set out to create a harmonious co-existence of two kinds of design writing that the AIGA, uniquely, can make possible. The first is familiar to the remarkably active community over at Speak Up and similar venues. It’s what might be called “chatter,” or spontaneous, timely, unedited postings about virtually any subject remotely connected to the art, practice and business of design. It’s also something that the AIGA wasn’t doing such a good job of generating at its Design Forum in its previous incarnation, and this shortcoming was one of the prime motivators behind an overhaul of the Forum.

What the AIGA has always been much more adept at generating is what might be called “conventional editorial content;” full-length feature articles written by notable design practitioners. This sort of content generally has a greater time-to-market (for lack of a better term) in which the ideas are shepherded through a traditional editorial process. In decades past, this content has had its most prominent showcase in the organization’s well-respected AIGA Design Journal, a much respected periodical that became too expensive and laborious to continue producing in the digital age. (And we’ve even tried to preserve that tradition by piggybacking a resurrected Journal on the Design Forums)

Above: Talk amongst yourselves. The new AIGA Design Forum is up!

Chocolate, Meet Peanut Butter

So we knew right away that we had to represent both these styles of writing on the new Design Forums. Take a quick look and you’ll see that the site is composed of articles, which represent the conventional editorial content, and discussions, which represent the chatter. The articles, by their nature, must be submitted to an editorial process, but anyone who registers on the site can go ahead and start a discussion with no editorial screening. Both articles and discussions are then organized into the AIGA’s main topics hierarchy, which breaks down the design field into broad categories that are moderated by experts in those fields.

In order to bridge these two worlds we enabled commenting, and not just on the discussions — everything is commentable. This is the principle that allows the two types of content to be bridged; in effect, the chatter can exist everywhere in the form of comments, which in turn, hopefully, can influence the discussions to be lengthier, more thoughtful and of a higher editorial quality — even if, or perhaps thanks to the fact that there are no editors involved. This is the theory, anyway. Hopefully it will bear out.

Shout Outs

Anyway, that’s enough of the conceptual theory. I’ve got a whole lot of notes on the thoughts behind the visual design of the Forum — why it looks the way it looks — but I’m not so sure that it makes a lot of sense to throw those out there. Suffice it to say, we were looking to create something “beautifully neutral.” If we succeeded at all, it’s thanks — in no small way — to two parties: Flat, who provided the redesign of AIGA.org, and thereby the basic grid, type specifications and foundation aesthetic from which we began our designs, and especially to Naz at Weightshift, who worked with us through many, many rounds of conceptual comprehensives, trying to nail down the way this thing should look.

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7 Comments

  1. Looks great, but the ColdFusion seems to be already c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g. Wonder who decided CF was a good way for AIGA to go, my experience is that it scales very poorly.

  2. Khoi and Behavior did a fantastic job. They stuck with us from concept to launch, working with us to develop the architecture and then going through several rounds of design directions. Thank you Behavior!

  3. This issue of balance between focused discussions and chatter is an interesting one. And one we thought a lot about when developing the AIGA Los Angeles chapter site… One of our goals for our site was to encourage the development of an online community. The fear was, as a chapter with virtually no previous online presence, and a membership of mostly offline designers, our members wouldn’t know what to do with free-form forum/chatter software tools. (ie. they wouldn’t know how to start a community from scratch. and we were reluctant to become forum moderators, trying to trigger discussions.) Instead, we felt that our members would need a fair amount of structure to help jump-start this community. And so, instead of just putting-up an online forum, we decided that by attaching discussions to editorial content, we would give focus to member discussions; people could post comments to the articles, and hopefully start discussions. — To date, our experience has been only moderately successful. Some articles have started discussions, but we’ve noticed that people who are not used to the informal nature of online discussions are reluctant to post comments – thinking of them as more serious and permanent than they really are. We’ve also had some feedback that the formality of editorial content discourages discussion — but I think that’s more, again, an unfamiliarity with the online/bloggy medium, and fear of speaking-up. — I guess, as with all design, it’s a matter of understanding who your audience is, and adapting the design as things go. It’ll be interesting to watch if/how the aiga.org community develops, and what tweaks need to be made later on. (As a side note, if anyone is interested, much of the development process of the AIGA LA site was done online at http://www.aigalosangeles.org/webdev)

  4. David W., thanks for the kind comments! And David Y., thanks for that overview, it was very helpful. I’m not sure how the community will shape up at the Design Forums, but I obviously have high hopes. One of the things that the AIGA has going for it is a cadre of design luminaries from across the nation willing to post not just articles but to start discussions — I hope we are able to leverage that soon and frequently — but that in and of itself doesn’t necessarily make a community. Your lessons in ‘moderate success’ are very insightful.

  5. I think the reach of the National AIGA site may help it reach the critical mass necessary to sustain a real community, but there are also difficulties in overly broad, impersonal comment chains — it’s interesting, but like the real world, community really happens when a group – not too big, not too small – start to know each other and feel comfortably enough to start interaction. Most successful ‘community’ sites are powered by groups of small e-friends who maintain ongoing dialogs with each other, while the 90+% lurkers listen in.

  6. I sent David W a mail with screen grabs — you might want to check the forum behavior on Safari vs IE PC. I’m seeing a lot fewer articles on Safari — it’s a bit bizarre.

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