Form Follows Function
“Form follows function” is a term coined by the Bauhaus of the 20’s and 30s to describe how a building or object’s appearance (such as a chair) should be dictated by its purpose. Although the Bauhaus philosophy of design has had many successes and some dramatic failures, its application to web design has been more conceptual than applied. In other words, most web authors prefer to design with their creation’s aesthetics in mind and not just it’s function.
If you are an ardent disciple of the Bauhaus you will probably adapt well to using WML to design for Wireless devices. If not, your adaptation to WML design may be more painful.
Web designers that were trained in a different medium will have already undergone this process once. Designing a web page that looks good on your monitor is only a part of the battle. You then have to adapt the design to ensure that it works well on many other people’s monitors with different font settings, different color depths and different resolutions.
If it is difficult to adapt a design to work well as a Web Page, it will be almost impossible to adapt it to a Wireless Device. Not only is a Wireless screen significantly smaller in size, resolution and color, there is also a considerably greater variation in existing and yet-to-be Wireless devices. Some cell phones can only display a few lines of text while PDAs can display larger more complex designs. Designing a page for a Wireless device is consequently misleading and in fact, the term ‘Page’ is not used.
So how do you design for a Wireless device?
Designing for a Wireless device’s limited capabilities and non-standard display requires a new approach. WML (Wireless Markup Language) does this by providing limited design support.
First, WML provides limited graphic capabilities in the form of monochrome bitmaps. There is no support for animated GIFs or streaming video.
It is just as well. Wireless devices have very low bandwidth. No matter how good you think it is, a cell phone user would be likely to get upset if they thought it was taking longer and costing more in phone charges to view your multimedia extravaganza than to watch the latest Spielberg blockbuster.
Next, WML replaces a Web Page with the concept of a deck of cards. A web page is equivalent to the deck but you can only view it one card at a time. This provides the ability to transfer a common set of information while buffering and displaying it in manageable chunks.
I have seen a couple of references that suggest that you cannot design for wireless devices because of these limitations. In fact, I think the opposite is true. You will need people with a lot of skill if you want your WML designs to be effective.
Where do you start?
The first step is to get yourself a good WML emulator. Although WML is designed to work on a cell phone, a cell phone is not a good design tool. It can also be expensive if at this stage you are only interested in exploring WAP and its potential.
They are both free but you will be required to sign up.
The Waptastic site is full of useful information, links and articles. The WAP Forum is equivalent to the W3C and also contains a lot of valuable information and help.
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