Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Unkempt Kitchen

In Clay Shirky's book Cognitive Surplus he draws an analogy between website designs and kitchens. Looking at sites that promote user interaction (and specifically Grobanites For Charity) he noted that they tended to be more amateurish than the professionally produced corporate websites interested in acting as billboards for products, services and brands ( say). Shirky makes the point that if you walk into a designer kitchen, with marble tops and meticulous design, where everything is layed out with surgical precision and everything has its place, you may admire it but you will not feel comfortable assisting anyone who happens to be working in it. Were you to walk into a kitchen small and cluttered, then you are more likely to feel confident in beating a few eggs if required.

If skepticism is about engagement then that is a lesson we need to take on board. Many of the homeopathic sites fall very much into the latter category; many (though admittedly not all) skeptic and science sites fall into the former. It's not hard to see why; there is likely a good deal of overlapping between those who are itnerested in rational discourse, science and activism and the kind of skills that will allow one to create an all singing all dancing website.

Swain made the point that you should be posing arguments in a way that would convince, or at least inform, your mother. This goes far beyond just the words we use, but how we present both ourselves and the skeptic movement as a whole. Websites and blogs should be places where people who are not dyed in the wool skeptics should feel comfortable enough to discuss their ideas without fear of being browbeaten. The first step of that ought to be in web design; not necessarily to create deliberately poorly designed sites, but to at least look at the aesthetics of CAM sites, understand what they are achieving in their marketing by having their sites designed that way, and feed that into your own site design.

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