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If you build Web sites for a living, you probably know who David Siegel is. Studio Verso, of which Siegel is a founding member, has become one of the best-known Web design firms, creating big-budget sites for clients such as Hewlett-Packard, Lucent and Giga Information Group. He has published two books, has written for numerous print and online publications, and publishes High Five, an online magazine that focuses on Web design issues.
SIEGEL'S EMPHASIS ON design isn't a whim. Before founding Verso two years ago, he designed fonts for a living, including the well-known Tekton typeface. But Siegel is perhaps best known for popularizing two HTML "tricks" that changed the face of the Web: the use of fixed-width tables and transparent GIFs to manipulate and control Web page layout. These tactics quickly became standard practice for designers who needed every trick at their disposal to create decent-looking pages. But they have also annoyed people who think Siegel's work has undermined the promise of HTML as a structural markup language.
Last year, Siegel penned Creating Killer Web Sites, which became the year's best-selling Internet title and the biggest seller to date for his publisher, Hayden Books. In Creating Killer Web Sites, Siegel coined the term "third-generation Web sites" to describe a new breed of sites that are "wrought by design, not technological competence." Some designers criticized the book as pedestrian, but it was big news to Web developers who had never learned the importance of design in the publishing process.
Siegel's new book, Secrets of Successful Web Sites, is a companion piece to his first work, focusing on real-life case studies and on project management as a key for successful Web developers (see review, page 7). Our west coast editor, Matt McKenzie, spoke with Siegel at his office in San Francisco on a variety of Web-related topics, including XML, style sheets, budget and produc- tion issues, and the state of the authoring tool market. Siegel speaks from a working developer's point of view, and his opinions-particularly those regard- ing the sorry state of Web "standards"-reflect this perspective.
Seybold Report on Internet Publishing: Where is the industry now on the design issue? Do you think most sites are still lagging behind on the importance of design to online publishing?
David Siegel: I think the top 200 sites are starting to figure it out, but I think we're also seeing some spectacular misses out there, with people either over-designing or under-designing. But I think content also is at quite a low level on the Web. People talk about archival content, content that is marked up once and stays around forever, but actually only 1% of it's worth keeping around for more than about a week.
I think a lot of people don't realize that among the top 100 sites, the average number of people behind the scenes is about 70 or 80; Amazon.com has more than 700 people running around behind the site. Just the sheer number of people it takes to keep the site fresh, people don't realize how much work it takes to keep a site alive.
Many clients who go to a Web design firm share a similar mindset: "Well, we've got our budget, we'll spend it, we'll have a site." Maybe you've got a start with that, but maybe you've got to double the budget just to do six or eight months' worth of operations, and it gets even more expensive from there.
SRIP: It seems that a lot of clients haven't learned that you can't create good Web sites on a shoestring budget, at least not anymore.
DS: Yeah, some of them still haven't learned, even in the top ten or definitely in the top 100 sites, but a lot of them now are professionally done. When you have a lot of competition, it really does push design standards higher. Clients are learning that design and content have to go hand in hand.
SRIP: How do you think a company should go about budgeting for the maintenance of a site?
DS: I think clients should work with firms like ours more carefully to begin with, on staff and budget. Staffing is hard, and it's something you've got to do right away. And clients often don't do that; they figure, "Well, when the time comes, we'll update it." I think a good rule is …