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Interface design, 2002: Industry Briefs

IX.2 March 2002
Page: 77
Digital Citation



back to top  Philosophy of Design

On its own, visual design seems to be well on its way to becoming merely a commodity, doomed to be only a thin veneer adhered to content that is nevertheless solely relied upon to "carry" a solution. Instead, Motivo's philosophy has always focused on the integration of all disciplines to craft solutions that are both user- and goal-centered and meet or exceed our clients' needs and expectations. We truly believe that empowering the user through interaction is the cornerstone of all successful, memorable online experiences. To rigorously apply this philosophy, we have structured our organization into project-focused teams comprising talented individuals from differing disciplines.

Our team structure ensures effective integration of all disciplines. By involving all team members at all phases of development, we believe that the solution becomes inherently stronger through a shared ownership in the success or failure of the entire project—not just "your part." Visual designers understand technology issues, technical developers understand visual priorities, and so forth. This seemingly simple notion results in greater sensitivity to the challenges and a more intense focus solving the problem.

We do not work for personal or professional glory, we create solutions for our clients that deliver measurable results—creating experiences that extend, empower, and enable.

back to top  Design Process

The phrase "creative excellence" is typically applied exclusively to visual design. We think creative excellence applies to all disciplines and is only fully realized when all are integrated seamlessly across a project.

To accomplish this, our design and development process is solidly rooted in discovery and definition and realized in the execution of informed, elegant solutions. When a client wants to communicate to its constituency, we involve them in discovering how to gain a clear understanding of those individuals, their goals, and how they want us to communicate with them. This wide survey of all aspects of the problem allows us to understand both the broad and finite concepts associated with the challenge at hand. Armed with that knowledge, our interaction designers document and define all details of how the solution will be organized and how the individual features will function. Although the purpose of the definition process is not to characterize the finished project, it is imperative at this point to validate assumptions and to identify solutions that will delight users. Building on this foundation of interaction design, our visual designers bring the interface to life.

Not merely a styling exercise, our visual designers seek to create meaning, clarity, and—in the appropriate places—emotion from the structure laid before them. We don't aim to gain industry recognition by creating work that is cool, trendy, or hip; we are able to obtain industry acknowledgement because our work is meaningful and good. Visual design, as with any of discipline, can make or break an interactive solution, because it is the obvious side of the solution with which users interact.

After interaction and visual design, the third and final design expertise that we apply to interactive solutions is technical design. One might not consider technical issues to be worthy of a "design" moniker, but we do. Creating robust solutions requires as much creativity in coding as it does in selecting typeface and color. Although robust technical design is invisible to end users, allowing them seamless ease in meeting their needs and goals, they would certainly notice if a solution was technically executed haphazardly or flippantly.

The process just outlined is not formal itself, although the framework within which it exists certainly is. We consider the process to be essentially a living member of the staff, growing and evolving with each project.

back to top  Sample Design Project


From traditional applications to Web-based services and mobile computing devices, Medscape, Inc. provides healthcare professionals and consumers with the leading digital health record service and the best online healthcare information in multiple formats. In 1995, Medscape launched its first health information Web site, medscape.com. The site offers cutting-edge, authoritative content that is otherwise unavailable on traditional consumer health sites. In 1999, motivated by the success of medscape.com, Medscape partnered with CBS to take consumer health information to a new level by launching CBS Health-Watch.

As more and more companies began to compete for online consumer traffic and advertising dollars, Medscape hired Motivo in 2000 to redesign the CBS HealthWatch site. (See Figure 1.) Organizational structure, visual design, and technical infrastructure changes were identified as potential liabilities in an increasingly volatile market.


Essentially a virtual medical library, CBS HealthWatch offers original articles, syndicated content, topic centers (see Figure 2), searching capabilities on a variety of databases, as well as interactive health tools, discussion boards, personalization features, and much more. The notion of including every option on the main page—as had been mandated in the past—had proved overwhelming to users.

Our goal was to present the resources in an immediate but intuitive way. Additionally, we sought to create an interaction and visual design system that was flexible enough to accommodate content requirements across medical disciplines as well as responsive enough to address user preferences and requests. Finally, we needed to identify and create additional advertising opportunities within strict, existing editorial guidelines.


In order to better leverage the editorial excellence of Medscape's content, Motivo's CBS HealthWatch project team—which included a medical librarian—worked closely with Medscape staff to develop a meta-tagging initiative that would strengthen the site's search capabilities. The navigational structure of the site allows these metadata to be used in "conceptual proximity" by presenting related content and features that are immediately relevant to the user. (See Figure 3.) The presentation of content is guided by both the user's interaction with the Web site and their specified preferences.

We focused on developing multiple access points to the content that accommodated the various browsing styles of the consumer health information seeker. We highlighted the robust sitewide search capabilities and unique Topic Centers in the global navigation, organizing the latter into three easily understandable categories. On interior pages, we included contextually relevant links to related content and resources.

The visual design team supported and enhanced the content architecture by first creating a tonal color palette that was sensitive to the largely female CBS HealthWatch target market. All type styles were re-vamped for readability, and type size was enlarged without causing visual clutter. Additionally, a system of icons was created that immediately indicated and underscored functional components.

Final deliverables included visual build files and a series of templates for Medscape's newly deployed content management system. Each deliverable included detailed documentation so that in-house staff could assume ongoing and future development tasks.


CBSHealthWatch.com was successfully relaunched early in 2001 and remains a leading Web resource for consumers seeking timely, relevant, and authoritative healthcare information. Medscape found that after relaunching CBS HealthWatch, the site was considerably more flexible from a visual standpoint and enjoyed improved accessibility from mainstream search engines. With higher consumer traffic and the ability to offer more customization to its users, Medscape expects to see a growing number of page views and higher CPM (cost per thousand ad impressions). Additionally, total registered users increased four percent during the first quarter to nearly 3.4 million.

For its achievement and excellence in producing CBSHealthWatch.com, Medscape recently presented with the Bronze Award for Best Healthcare Portal at the eHealthcare World Awards Ceremony in New York In February 2001. CBSHealthWatch.com was named one of the Top 100 Internet sites by PC Magazine.

Revenue for CBSHealthWatch.com increased modestly during the first quarter of 2001 as many portals continued to experience revenue erosion. Medscape executives take this as a strong indication of the value their portals provide to the medical and consumer communities. Based on the success of the development and relaunch of the CBS HealthWatch Web site, Motivo was retained to assist Medscape with a redesign and relaunch of its professional portal site, Medscape.com.

back to top  Sidebar: Company Snapshot

To ensure the development of robust solutions for our clients and partners, we have organized our company according to a team structure. Rather than navigating through a maze of departments that don't communicate with each other, our organization is divided into project teams—each team of 10 to 12 individuals consists of a director, project producers, visual designers, interaction designers, and technical developers. While nimble enough to solve nearly any problem placed before them and large enough to tackle any execution, small teams do not have the luxury of a full staff covering a dozen specialized disciplines. To mitigate this, we have ensured that a focus on supporting and foundational disciplines (including user experience, information architecture, usability, content creation, and testing) exists by educating all of our team members so they are both comfortable and qualified in these areas. In addition to fostering creative excellence in problem solving, giving individual team members the resources to focus on areas beyond their traditional craft ensures a more rewarding and growth-oriented experience for each of them individually. Motivo comprises three such teams—two based in Columbus, Ohio, and one in New York City. At the executive level, Motivo relies on the leadership of three individuals—Robert Abbott, Joe Madia, and Patti Ziegler—whose focal concentration on visual design, technical development, and marketing, respectively, mirrors the core of our strategic offering. This relatively small and flat management structure, combined with our team-based approach to development, ensures focus on complete solutions. This core group guarantees that the level of quality and innovation within each of the disciplines at Motivo is both maintained and challenged daily.

back to top  Authors

Robert Abbott

Chief Creative Officer and Cofounder

Bill Litfin

Interaction Design Director

250 Civic Center Drive, Suite 500
Columbus, OH 43215
Phone: +1 (614) 224-7400
Fax: +1 (614) 224-7472

Robert serves as chief creative officer of Motivo, directing the visual design of the company's teams in New York, Seattle, and Columbus. He is a 20-year veteran of the graphic design field, migrating to the digital side of the business 10 years ago to focus on developing interactive solutions for cultural, educational and corporate clients. Since founding Motivo in 1992, Robert has directed the design of more than 300 interactive projects that have received numerous national and international awards from organizations including the New York Art Directors Club, Communication Arts Interactive Annual, Print magazine, I.D. magazine, The ADDY Award, MILIA, and Macromedia's Site of the Day.

Before joining Motivo in early 1997, Bill was a visual interface designer and founding member of the Advanced Interactive Strategies group at Resource, designing award-winning user interfaces of large-scale online communities for CompuServe and CMGI (the world's leading Internet development and operating company). With the diversity and depth of his 10-year background in the creative and interactive services industry, Bill is uniquely suited to lead our interaction design development, ensuring that usability and ease-of-use are "baked" into every interactive experience we create. To this end, Bill works tirelessly with our entire staff to evangelize on the conceptual modeling, information architecture, and goal-centered design.

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. Robert Abbott, Bill Litfin

F1Figure 1. CBS HealthWatch home page

F2Figure 2. CBS HealthWatch Topic Center

F3Figure 3. CBS HealthWatch Search Results

back to top  Sidebar: Practitioner's Workbench


  1. Freire, P.. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum, 2000 (originally published 1970).
  2. McCloud, S. Understanding Comics. HarperCollins, 1994.
  3. Mijksenaar, P. and Westendorp, P. Open Here: The Art of Instructional Design. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Inc., 1999.
  4. Norman, D. Design of Everyday Things. Doubleday, 1990.
  5. Vonnegut, K. Player Piano. Delta, 1999 (originally published 1952).
  6. Ware, C. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Pantheon Books, 2000.


Pencil and paper, whiteboard

Sources of inspiration

Product design, German automotive design, architecture, film

Favorite quotations

"Whoever does not know how to hit the nail on the head should be asked not to hit it at all." (Friedrich Nietzsche)

"Never mistake motion for action." (Ernest Hemingway)

"Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced." (Søren Kierkegaard)

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©2002 ACM  1072-5220/02/0300  $5.00

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2002 ACM, Inc.

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