Web Application Solutions: A Designer’s Guide

by Luke Wroblewski April 9, 2005

Web Application Solutions is a guide that helps designers, product managers, and business owners evaluate some of the most popular Web application presentation layer solutions available today. We compare each solution through consistent criteria (deployment & reach, user interactions, processing, interface components & customization, back-end integration, future proofing, staffing & cost, unique features) and provide an overview, set of examples, and references for each.

The full paper is now available: Web Application Solutions: A Designer’s Guide (PDF)

As the Web continues to extend 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”. But depending on the type and complexity of the tasks involved, different technical solutions may be better suited to enable the specific 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?

As Web application interface designers, these are questions we encounter time and time again. As a result, we decided to document what we’ve learned and research what we didn’t know about the opportunities and limitations that characterize some of the most popular Web application presentation layer solutions available today. We evaluated each solution against a consistent set of criteria and described it with a concise definition, set of examples, and references that enable further analysis. We also shared our findings with a team of expert reviewers to ensure we were on the right track. The end result is this designer’s guide.

For your convenience, each solution we’ve evaluated is presented on a single-page snapshot that helps designers, product managers, and business owners make an informed decision for their Web application’s front-end technology. Of course, this guide is not meant to be a substitute for consulting with knowledgeable programmers and system architects. We simply want to prepare you for those discussions.

The right Web application presentation layer needs to meet your specific business, user, and technology needs and multiple solutions can exist per business and per product. We hope this guide helps steer you in the right direction.

Frank Ramirez Principal, Ramirez Design LLC Luke Wroblewski Principal, LukeW Interface Designs