If you like (or dislike) the design of this or any Web page, you can view the source code and see just how our designers created it—the option is under the “Tools” menu of many browsers. This openness is one of the best things about the Web, says Scott Klemmer, a professor at Stanford University who runs the Human Computer Interaction group. But he adds that unless you are an experienced Web designer or coder, it’s difficult to figure out which part of the code does what. Klemmer’s lab creates tools that help novice and experienced designers alike take advantage of such existing Web content to improve and adapt their designs more quickly.
The best way to develop a user-friendly design that pleases coder, designer, and customer is to come up with a lot of prototypes, most of which will be thrown out. But retooling a design by trial and error takes a long time, so Klemmer is trying to automate the process. Many of his tools can be downloaded free from his lab or from partners, including Adobe. Thousands of people have downloaded a tool called Blueprint, which is now available as a plug-in for Adobe’s Flash and Flex Builder tools. Through Blueprint, designers coding a page can search for examples of code without having to click through pages of results generated by conventional search engines. Experiments by Klemmer’s group showed that professional programmers using Blueprint completed tasks 28 percent faster and wrote higher-rated code than those using traditional Web search engines.
Another tool, Bricolage, which Klemmer and his student Ranjitha Kumar developed a few months ago, can take any Web page and re-render it in the style of another, thanks to an algorithm that separates a page’s content from its stylistic templates. The idea is not to enable people to copy designs wholesale, but to facilitate brainstorming. “As opposed to taking hours to make each new mock-up of a page, you can see if a particular direction is interesting,” he says. Bricolage can also be used to rapidly redesign a page for display on different devices, such as a desktop computer, an Android phone, or an iPad.