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Published in IT World
May 23, 2006

Men are from Mars

I am not an anthropologist but I would guess that the male of our species is less concerned with sartorial diversity than the female of our species. In the western world at any rate, the standard issue corporate male needs a 2-3 good suits and a wardrobe full of shirts and neckties. That covers a lot of ground both in business and social settings. For females, things are different. In corporate settings, a handful of suits will also suffice but for social settings (weddings, restaurants etc.) it is all about diversity.

Take my wife for example. She has a photographic memory for clothing. She can remember exactly what she wore to every wedding we have ever attended. (I just tag along to these things wearing a suit like all the other males.) Not only that, she can also remember exactly what all the other ladies at these events wear. This prodigious memory appears to be necessary to (a) avoid ever wearing the same outfit *twice* and (b) to catch out any other ladies who are re-using outfits across distinct social events.

Re-use of what a boring analytic mind might refer to as "presentation artifacts" appears to be a complete social faux pas. For us males, life is so much simpler...except that is, when we build web sites.

As soon as males get involved in building a web site, a distinct lurch from Mars to Venus appears to take place. All of a sudden, the most important things in the world appear to be the presentation artifacts. The tried and trusted trick of putting on a suit and tie just won't cut it in cyberspace. No, the new web site must be *different*. Different from anybody else's web site. Different from any web site ever built before.

Moreover, males building web sites can be heard to snicker "look at what XYZ did for their web site, they just *re-used* ABC design!" It is as if the concept of re-use -- a desirable attribute in most aspects of software engineering -- suddenly becomes anathema -- a social faux pas amongst web site designers.

Take Plone[1] for example. Plone is an excellent application for getting an interactive web site up and running very quickly indeed. Out of the box, it has most of the stuff you probably want and the large set of available plug-ins most likely covers the rest.

Plone sites that are deployed out-of-the-box, have a distinct look and feel to them. Navigation appears down the left hand side. Content appears in the middle. Tab appear across the top. It is all very clean and tidy. The web site equivalent of a standard business suit.

One would think that putting a custom logo in the top left hand corner would be sufficient for most folks. After all, this is largely what we do with word processor documents, presentation slides and so on. We do not try to hide the fact that we are using standard templates/applications for these things.

Not so for web sites it seems. Plone can be made to look radically different from out-of-the-box Plone. The same is true for most web applications/frameworks. There are times when this is exactly what you want of course. What amazes me is that it seems to be exactly what we want, all the time.

Men may be from Mars but web site design happens on Venus.

[1] http://plone.org/