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August 15, 2005

5 Questions For Alexander Younger - President, MGT

Alexander Younger is the founder of MGT Communications, whose client list includes some of Canada’s most recognized brands ranging from large financial and retail organizations to museums, television shows and artists. It holds a number of awards to its credit including a Gemini Award for Most Popular Website for Room Service, a people's choice award for designer Sarah Richardson's website and Best Investor Relations website for RBC Insurance. Alexander's expertise includes leveraging technology to gain business efficiency; web site design, strategy; and online communications. He has been featured in the National Post, City TV, Globetechnology.com and Profit magazine and is an accomplished speaker.

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One Degree: The sites MGT builds are gorgeous, but they break all kinds of usability guidelines and best practices.  For example, you have splash pages (generally considered the height of poor design) on most of your client sites.  What gives?

We have high regard for usability experts like Nielsen, but we also believe that 'usability' has evolved as the technology has evolved. Usability started as a way of making old technology (crummy browsers, slow connection speeds) work better for the majority.

We incorporate usability testing (which we conduct in our designated, in-house MGT Lab) into our experience-based designs, ensuring that a highly usable website is wedded with the complete brand experience. All of our sites are tested on real users to get their feedback, understand what they need to get to and to uncover ways we can make our sites better. Creating experiences is what good design is about today - and the technology (bandwidth, browsers) is now there to support it on the web. Designers are going to be able to do more and more to create experience-driven sites without sacrificing on ease of use and access to information.

I agree that splash pages were a horribly overused (and in those cases with bad animation and tinny cloying music, overused horribly!) ‘trend’ that thankfully dissipated due to user outcry.  However, for brands that rely on a strong visual component and in some (and I stress some) cases, a splash page can be an elegant introduction to a site if done properly.

One Degree: I really thought that Jakob Nielsen, Jeffrey Zeldman, Dan Cederholm, Joe Clark, 37 Signals, and others had done a really good job of explaining why it was crucial that we design using web standards instead of sticking with table-based design. Doing a "view source" on sites you've built shows your crew is still coding like it's 1999.  Do companies demand this or are you just sticking with what you know?

We're not overly fond of tables ourselves and I'm sure many others can relate to the fact that there are some things a client demands just aren't up for negotiation for one reason or another (client technical "rules" etc.). Again, good design is about balance, starting with what the client wants/needs and moving them steadily in the right direction towards good design practices.

One Degree: I did a Google search for some of the copy on this page from the Holt Renfrew site and it didn't show up.  Shouldn't you be coding your pages to be more search-engine friendly?

Our pages are designed to be search engine optimized.  The page being referred to is a pop-up window. It would be bad practice to have it appear in a web search – the user is presented with a window that has no navigation or branding. The parent to that page however does appear in Google.

One Degree: One of your sites (roomservice.ca) won a Gemini for Most Popular Website. Congrats on that.  Did the award have an impact on business?

Thanks! It has had a positive impact on both our business and also on the roomservice.ca website's traffic (and also on Sarah Richardson's new show's website, designinc.ca). We're thrilled we won it for "Most Popular Website - that award shows that the site is popular among users and not just industry people (much as we love industry people!). The great thing about a Gemini (unlike the other web based awards) is its recognizability and that has definitely had an impact.

One Degree: What do you see as the major trends that will impact site design over the next few years?

A focus on experience based sites and how to push the experience further. Higher connection speeds, maturing web technologies and better browsers will dramatically improve both designers' and developers' abilities to create both useful and useable websites that deliver value. We're not just building websites anymore - we're building information resources that need to be deployed across multiple channels - web, text, mobile video, but that's another Five Questions in itself!

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Comments

I'd love to know if Alexander Young got up from his seat and slugged Ken Schafer during these five questions.

I know I certainly would have.

Even if it were against any usability guidelines.

No bruises yet Allen, but Alexander and I are having lunch later this week, so I'll report back if there is an altercation!

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