Web Application Design Solutions

by Luke Wroblewski March 7, 2005

As the Web continues to lengthen its reach into our daily lives, an increasing number of our interactions will happen online. The practical implication of this for interface designers is lots of Web application projects that cover everything from filing taxes to sharing photos.

“The fundamental purpose of Web applications is to facilitate the completion of one or more tasks” (Bob Baxley, 2003).

But depending on the type and complexity of the tasks involved, different technical solutions may be better suited to enable the interactions each product requires. Flash, Java applets, DHTML, Active X, Smart Clients, Java Web Start, SVG- what do you choose and why? What types of interactivity and visual presentation does each technology enable? What does each limit?

LukeW Interface Designs and Ramirez Design set out to answer these questions and more by documenting the opportunities and limitations found in some of the popular Web application front-end solutions available today. We looked at HTML, DHTML (with iFrames & with XMLhttpRequest) Flash (with Flex & Laszlo), Java Applets, Java WebCream, Java Web Start, PDF, SVG, Active X, XUL, XSLT, and more then compared each by:

  • Deployment & Reach -How can users access the application? Do they need plug-ins, specific browsers, platforms, or local applications? How large is the reach?
  • User Interactions -What UI techniques are possible? (drag and drop, animation, auto-saving, real-time validation, etc.)
  • Local vs. Remote Processing -How much application logic can reside on the client-side? What type of action requires a trip to the server? What is the impact to the UI for a server request?
  • Interface Components & Customization -Does the front-end solution feature a library of UI elements? Are they customizable? Can the interface be easily transformed for different devices (i.e. mobile)?
  • Back-end Integration -What back-end technologies enable this front-end solution? What is required on the back-end?
  • Unique Features- Security, Offline Interactions, Performance, Client-side Integration, Cost of Implementation, Future Proofing, and more.

The end result is a white paper that helps designers, product managers, and business owners make a practical decision for their Web application’s front-end technology. We compare each solution by the criteria above and provide an overview, set of examples, and references for each. The full paper will be available at the end of this month.