WML design concepts

"Form follows function" is a term coined by the Bauhaus
of the 20's and 30's to describe how a building or object's
appearance (such as a chair) should be dictated by its purpose.
Although the Bauhaus philosophy of design has had many
successes and some dramatic failures, its application to web
design has been more conceptual than applied. In other words,
most web authors prefer to design with their creation's
aesthetics in mind and not just it's function.

If you are an ardent disciple of the Bauhaus you will probably
adapt well to using WML to design for Wireless devices. If
not, you adaptation to WML design may be more painful.

Web designers that were trained in a different medium will
have already undergone this process once. Designing a web
page that looks good on your monitor is only a part of the
battle. You then have to adapt the design to ensure that it
works well on many other people's monitors with different
font settings, different color depths and different resolutions

If it is difficult to adapt a design to work well as a Web Page,
it will be almost impossible to adapt it to a Wireless Device.
Not only is a Wireless screen significantly smaller in size,
resolution and color, there is also a considerably greater
variation in existing and yet to be Wireless devices. Some cell
phones can only display a few lines of text while PDA's can
display larger more complex designs. Designing a Page for a
Wireless device is consequently misleading and in fact, the
term 'Page' is not used.

So how do you design for a Wireless device?

Designing for a Wireless device's limited capabilities and non-
standard display requires a new approach.  WML (Wireless
Markup Language) does this by providing limited design

First, WML provides limited graphic capabilities in the form
of monochrome bitmaps. There is no support for animated
GIF's or streaming video. It is just as well. Wireless devices
have very low bandwidth. No matter how good you think it is,
a cell phone user would be likely to get upset if they thought it
was taking longer and costing more in phone charges to view
your multimedia extravaganza than to watch the latest
Spielburg blockbuster.

Next, WML replaces a Web Page with the concept of a Deck
of Cards. A Web Page is equivalent to the deck but you can
only view it one card at a time. This provides the ability to
transfer a common set of information while buffering and
displaying it in manageable chunks.

I have seen a couple of references that suggest that you can
not design for Wireless devices because of these limitations.
In fact I think the opposite is true. You will need people with a
lot of skill if you want your WML designs to be effective.

Where do you start?

The first step is to get yourself a good WML emulator.
Although WML is designed to work on a Cell Phone, a cell
phone is not a good design tool. It can also be expensive if at
this stage you are only interested in exploring WAP and its

Nokia provides a good free emulator at:
http://www.forum.nokia.com/developers/wap/wap.html and
Phone.com at:
They are both free but you will be required to sign up.

Next week I will try my hand at actually designing a WML
deck. In the mean time, if you are looking for additional
information try the following two links:


The Waptastic site is full of useful information, links and
articles. The WAP Forum is equivalent to the W3C and also
contains a lot of valuable information and help.

"IMS Web Tips" ISSN 1488-7088
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1999-2000 Virtual Mechanics

"IMS Web Tips" is a weekly news letter for all web site managers regardless of experience who are looking for detailed information on creating, maintaining and promoting their web sites.
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