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The MAYA Stage

By Jake Gorst
Posted Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The word? Maya? may call to mind the peoples of Central America. One may think of ancient ruins and the bold stonework and murals of Mayan culture. Some may think of religion or colorful Mayan history. Most people do not think of design.

Raymond Loewy, an influential industrial designer listed by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century, coined the phrase? MAYA stage? early in his career. MAYA applies to any type of design - architectural, industrial, Internet, etc. What is it?

MAYA stands for? Most Advanced Yet Acceptable? Mass production of products and advertising materials by influential companies condition people into accepting certain methods of design as being the norm. Any design that drastically departs from the accepted norm amounts to a risk to the company. Therefore, the MAYA stage is the limit that society places on your design. Even though a design may be considered advanced, it may not be accepted.

In the world of e-commerce, the average shopper is accustomed to basic and generally accepted design elements. Take for example, the shopping cart. The user knows that after they select a product for purchase it goes into a shopping cart. They can then continue to shop for more products, or check out. What if the shopping cart was replaced by a counter top or a cash register? Because the user is so conditioned to a specific icon, any change in symbolism may result in confusion and loss of sale.

The MAYA stage comes into play to a greater degree when a designer chooses to use high-tech bells and whistles in an e-commerce web site. True, animation does enhance the appearance of a site, but if it results in a dramatic departure from the accepted norm the customer may be entertained, but lose interest in buying anything. If the customer has to reprogram their brain to use your site, you?ve done something wrong.

Demographics play a large role in the where the MAYA stage lies. If the products sold on your site appeal to an older generation, you probably should not try to push the envelope. A mature individual generally knows what they want to accomplish and doesn?t want to be bothered learning a new way to accomplish it.

Teenagers and Generation X?ers are more accepting. The MAYA stage is set very high for them. Feel free to experiment, but be willing to scale back if your sales are too low.

The MAYA stage will also be different according to geography. Something that is acceptable in New York City may not work in Chattahoochee, Florida. Know your demographics well.

As a designer you have the ability to push the bounds of design and influence the way people think. You must be aware of the MAYA stage limits however. Not understanding where the limits are could mean the failure of your e-commerce web site. A clear understanding can mean success!

About the Author
Jake Gorst is a writer, film maker, and president of Exploded View (http://www.explodedview.tv), a new media advertising and design company. He also is a frequent contributor to various trade publications on topics related to Web site and architectural design psychology and trends. Previously, Gorst served as Vice President and Chief Creative Officer for E-Media Publishing, Ltd. and as an Internet content developer for Citibank and other Long Island based corporations.