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Breaking Usability

By hyper_freak in Internet
Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:32:43 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

It seems that more and more often web designers forgo basic usability in designing even big name corporate web sites. Advances in web technology and features have allowed plenty of useful additions, and just as many annoying ones. This article was inspired by the ads from doubleclick which break the "back" button, forcing you to hit back multiple times before you really see the last page you visited. Why don't most designers/sites pay attention to basic usability?

There are plenty of resources on the web that talk about usability in respect to the web and how to avoid the most common pitfalls. One oft-repeated reason I hear for ignoring usability is for the appearance and consistency of the site. The web will not provide an identical layout and appearance for every user, and this is one of the problems many designers fail to realize. A webpage is not a magazine layout, many of the "tricks" I've learned in working with web design focus around trying to make the page look absolutely identical on all browsers and platforms.

I have my own personal list of annoyances for the web, but I'm sure everyone's are slightly different. What does the K5 readership think are the current worst sins of web design (or what annoys you the most) in trying to navigate through websites?

Along the same vein, many applications suffer from horrible UI (user interface) as well. Xerox and others did thousands of hours of UI research in the 80's and earlier, much of which is still ignored today. It doesn't seem to be a matter of lack of knowledge, but lack of realizing what the benefits are. Has anyone had any luck in convincing bosses or co-workers that UI design is something highly important? Or do you feel that it isn't important?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


What is the worst website sin?
o Breaking the 'back' button 12%
o Buzzword compliant 1%
o Excessive advertising 2%
o Popups 36%
o XY Browser and version only 33%
o Site 'reorganization' 0%
o Flash 10%
o No keyboard navigation 2%

Votes: 145
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by hyper_freak

Display: Sort:
Breaking Usability | 51 comments (51 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
The poll needs a new option! (3.00 / 14) (#1)
by vsync on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:30:52 PM EST

Microsoft "smartquotes"!

"The problem I had with the story, before I even finished reading, was the copious attribution of thoughts and ideas to vsync. What made it worse was the ones attributed to him were the only ones that made any sense whatsoever."
The missing option that is really needed. (2.14 / 7) (#2)
by Anonymous Commando on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:33:57 PM EST

Inoshiro. :-)
Sorry, I just couldn't help myself...
Corporate Jenga™: You take a blockhead from the bottom and you put him on top...
[ Parent ]
..or blink tags (3.00 / 5) (#5)
by Hillgiant on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:48:20 PM EST

That damn monkey (see amdzone) and other javascript ad-boxes.

<rant> Damn it. When I hit stop, I mean STOP. No scrolling text. No custom cursors. No MIDI muzak. No damn monkeys! </rant>

"It is impossible to say what I mean." -johnny
[ Parent ]

Flashin Banner Ads (3.23 / 13) (#3)
by unstable on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:35:38 PM EST

My pet peave is banner ads that Flash or "shake" I find it extreamly annoying and makes me want to not ever buy anything that that ad is selling. Also fscking banner ads that are bigger (Kb wise) that tht whole rest of the page.

But enough about satan spawn.. er banner ads

I think sites that use only flash, image maps, etc for navigation are the worst.. because they never seem to work right and the site is almost unusable becasue of it.

anyway, just my $0.02... I want the change dammit

Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

Gratuitous images and multimedia ... yech! (3.20 / 10) (#4)
by MoxFulder on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:37:55 PM EST

I think that one of the worst things you can do to a web page is load it up with lots of useless images, flash animations, midi songs, etc. These really make it hard to find the information buried in the glittery interface.

It used to be that only personal home pages and entertainment sites used these sorts of things, but now my favorite news sites even use them!

I don't mind an attractive layout with a few images used to spruce things up, but mindless bloat and clutter really bug me. I guess they are more annoying to me than popup windows or broken back buttons because most (legitimate) sites don't use these yet ...

"If good things lasted forever, would we realize how special they are?"
--Calvin and Hobbes

My personal list. (3.23 / 13) (#6)
by ksandstr on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:49:04 PM EST

Only one item, "violating the standards". By this I mean anything that goes against the original idea of HTML, to describe what you're putting up on the server instead of how it looks. We've got CSS for that. If you want your web site to look exactly the same across platforms, browsers and what-have-you, fucking use PDF. It allows for pixel-perfect output and even hyperlinks, not that anybody ever links outside their precious little web-universe (where your browser doesn't matter one bit, because the javascript embedded in the index page opens the web site in a window that fills the screen, replacing all browser-specific controls with mouse-over-ed bitmaps) these days. Oh, and don't forget to put in the noframes tag with something witty like "you need a browser with a version of at least 4 to view this page", with a meta-refresh instruction to the same page in 3 seconds.

It's all too often that the so-called "HTML programmers" (yeah right. learn a turing-complete non-markup language first, then call yourself a "programmer") forget that HTML was intended to make content viewable, not presentable.

Hmmm (3.60 / 5) (#8)
by Simon Kinahan on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:56:35 PM EST

I'm all in favour of trying to do semantic mark-up rather than layout, but frankly current versions of HTML don't exactly encourage it, do they ? What with scripting support and DOM models, not to mention horizontal rules, hard line breaks, tables, frames, gifs, and well, almost everything post-HTML 1.0.


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Javascript (3.46 / 13) (#7)
by sugarman on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:53:12 PM EST

This is the big one for me. Whenever I happen across a funnction that pisses me off, it seems to be related to Javascript. From JS-only navigation buttons, to pop-up images, to multiple-spawning windows, Javascript pisses me off.

Oh yeah, drop-down lists that are script enabled as well. Is there a problem with putting a little "Go" button next to the list? Christ.


You got it... (3.41 / 12) (#9)
by atom on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:57:56 PM EST

First of all, add a poll option, <blink> and <marquee> :]

Now, I agree with your article. I design webpages that are as compatible as possible with most old browsers. I refuse to use javascript, flash and other technology that might prevent people from viewing the page. After all, the goal of most pages is to be viewed by as many people as possible (okay, the goal for a lot of webpages - maybe not all). Rarely is client-side scripting necessary. I guess sometimes it's pleasant to see a bunch of circles trail your mouse inside a browser window, but I really don't care much for that kind of crap.

Worst sins of web design? If it doesn't run in Lynx, it's not up to par. I'm not saying everyone should USE lynx or other text only browsers, but it's a good rule of thumb. <blink>, <marquee>, excessive javascript, infinite popups, and pages that say "Best run in XXX browser" (aka, if you run it in any other browser, it crashes). Breaking the back button doesn't bother me too much, any decently literate web user can figure out how to get around that. Advertising - unless it's REALLY excessive - it's just capitalism; if there were no ads then the web would be a lot smaller. I'm not sure what you mean by "site reorganization" but if it means changing the layout at the possible expense of making users adapt to the new system, I disagree with your qualms against it. Change and innovation is nice, and reorganization is usually for the better. Regular visitors to my websites know that I'm always scraping existing designs and starting over from scratch :) Flash is interesting - when I first saw Flash 3.0 I thought it would be the future of the web. I still haven't given up hope for that. It's fine and encouraged by me AS LONG AS the page is accessible without it. An intro that can be skipped or an enhancement that could be worked around are fine by me.

dotcomma.org - Resource for programmers
Text browser (3.46 / 13) (#10)
by shrub34 on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:01:13 PM EST


I believe one of the worst offences is making a site unreadable with a text browser.

Most ppl don't use them but I like the simplity of them and the speed of no graphics. If people would follow the standards, I know that my browsing experince would be much improved.

A simple layout always makes my day happier.


It's good to see the BSD community forking and execing so many child processes.

  • Comment about editor of Daemon News not attending BSDcon 2000

  • Quite the contrary (2.85 / 7) (#14)
    by darthaya on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:18:49 PM EST

    Well, look at all the good and ugly websites out there. A lot of "readable-by-lynx" websites are ugly as hell, for example, GNU

    A large part of the website design involves a level of javascript, simple java applets, flash, etc, technologies that can't be rendered on a text based browser. Adopting your standard would simply kill the creativity of the webdesigner.

    Besides, web surfing is not to merely obtain information. At the same time, you would like to have a pleasant time "surfing". Looking at lines and lines of texts without graphics at all is painful to most of the regular folks.

    [ Parent ]

    Re: Quite the contrary (3.50 / 4) (#17)
    by ksandstr on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:39:00 PM EST

    I'd call the GNU.org website content-oriented, as opposed to layout-oriented like most of the "high-profile" web sites seem to be these days.

    [ Parent ]
    Exactly! (2.33 / 3) (#31)
    by Chakotay on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:41:28 AM EST

    When I created my site, the content was what mattered, and I set out to make that content available to as many people as possible. Sure, the graphics may not look too nice in 256 colours, and the mouse-overs may not work if you don't have (proper) javascript or CSS support, or you may not see the pictures at all if you switch them off or if you're using a text-only browser, but you can still navigate the site easily, and you can still read the content. And if you look at it in NS or IE 4+ it even looks pretty nice.

    Yes, this too is a shameless plug. So sue me.

    Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

    [ Parent ]

    Good Design != Ugly Design (4.60 / 5) (#19)
    by ScottBrady on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 06:51:53 PM EST

    "Well, look at all the good and ugly websites out there. A lot of "readable-by-lynx" websites are ugly as hell, for example, GNU"

    Accessible, standards compliant websites do not have to be ugly. A webauthor can use tables, CSS, frames, images etc. and still have a website that is accessible and readable by Lynx.

    It's all a matter of implementation.

    Let's say you have a dropdown list on your page that works as a navigation bar. The user opens the list to view the pages on the site and when he or she selects an option a JavaScript handle automagically takes the user to the page represented by that option. Unfortunately, your handy little navbar is broken in any user agent that does not support JS or has JS disabled. How do you fix the problem? Put a submit button! The JS kicks in if enabled and if not the user can still use the button.

    (I'm not going to go into any of the issues of using forms for navigation.)

    "A large part of the website design involves a level of javascript, simple java applets, flash,"

    <rant> Since when? If we were talking about entertainment websites I might partially agree with you but to apply that statement to the entire web as a whole is reckless. You can't seriously believe that a large part of an effective information website requires the use of "javascript, simple java applets, and flash?" </rant>


    Scott Brady
    "We didn't lie to you... the truth just changed."
    [ Parent ]

    Readable by Lynx (2.66 / 3) (#28)
    by Chakotay on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:31:21 AM EST

    Check out <a href=http://voyager.student.utwente.nl>my site. It's readable by lynx, yet it doesn't look too bland, if I may say so myself. I simply filled out all those alt tags and made sure the links lined out nicely. Especially for text browsers I also put a "back" button all the way at the bottom that makes it warp back to the top for navigation, though it turns out to be a nice feature for graphical browsers too :)

    Yes, this is a shameless plug. So what? :)

    Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

    [ Parent ]

    Readable by Lynx (take 2) (3.00 / 3) (#29)
    by Chakotay on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:32:31 AM EST

    Check out my site. It's readable by lynx, yet it doesn't look too bland, if I may say so myself. I simply filled out all those alt tags and made sure the links lined out nicely. Especially for text browsers I also put a "back" button all the way at the bottom that makes it warp back to the top for navigation, though it turns out to be a nice feature for graphical browsers too :)

    Yes, this is a shameless plug. So what? :)

    Now why does Kuro5hin demand quotes around the URL? Not one single browser I've ever seen requires those, but Kuro5hin does :)

    Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

    [ Parent ]

    gnomon (4.00 / 1) (#42)
    by gnomon on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 01:25:12 PM EST

    Kuro5hin probably enforces quotes around the "href" element of the "a" tag because it claims to be compliant with the HTML 4.0 (transitional) spec (read the DTD if you're curious). This specification states that unquoted URLs may only contain:

    • a-z and A-Z
    • 0-9
    • hyphens (ASCII 45 (decimal))
    • periods (ASCII 46)
    • underscores (ASCII 95)
    • colons (ASCII 58)

    These are artifacts of the SGML spec upon which HTML is based. It is reccomended that all attributes be quoted, even when unnecessary, for the sake of consistency. In this case, however, according to the specification, URIs must be quoted because they contain forward-slash characters, which disallow that attribute value from being unquoted.

    So, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't". Kuro5hin is just making sure that it displays valid HTML code. Especially in this thread, such an effort should be lauded!

    [ Parent ]
    Elegance and taste, the forgotten concepts (3.00 / 1) (#39)
    by YellowBook on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 11:16:49 AM EST

    Okay, it's a plug, but look at my web page for an example of how you can make a website simple, attractive, and friendly to text browsers. Admittedly, it uses tables, but in a way that degrades fairly cleanly on Lynx.

    If it weren't for Netscape 4, I'd be able to make this page even more Lynx-friendly by doing all the layout with CSS absolute positioning rather than tables. Netscape makes a hash of that, though.

    [ Parent ]
    flame (4.00 / 1) (#46)
    by kubalaa on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 05:05:09 PM EST

    I want all would be web-designers to repeat after me:
    <li>"Designers" have no business designing websites that people will actually be using. Go back to your brouchures if that's what you enjoy!</li>
    <li>It is not a web designer's job to be artistically creative. If you want to be an artist, paint.</li>
    <li>"Looking at lines and lines of texts without graphics at all is painful to most of the regular folks." I guess you don't read many books, do you?</li>
    <li>"A large part of the website design involves a level of javascript, simple java applets, flash." Actually. NO. These are not related to website design. They are accessory technologies. If you were talking about cars, what you just said would translate to "A large part of automotive manufacturing involves upholstery, a nice stereo system, and built-in GPS."</li>
    <p>It has been PROVEN that in the hands of most designers, these tools HURT the user experience. That is, they get in the way of letting people simply use the damn website.
    <p>I might have sympathy if people paid attention to the more fundamental aspects of web design before rushing to thoughtlessly apply the latest buzzwords. For example, information architecture, good copywriting, browser compatibility, ease of use, navigability.

    [ Parent ]
    oops (none / 0) (#47)
    by kubalaa on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 05:06:02 PM EST

    Ha ha, that'll teach me to use the preview button. I guess the intent is obvious enough.

    [ Parent ]
    Control (3.40 / 10) (#11)
    by ism on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:02:53 PM EST

    A designer may have no control over banner ads. The spec may require a frame or space for the ad, but other than that, the designer can't do a thing about it. This is an issue for whoever authorized the ads, but I doubt usability is worth more than the (perceived) loss of revenue to them.

    THe Doubleclick frame ads are defnitely annoying (filter them out at the DNS or proxy level!). There was a time when hitting the back button would cause a different behavior, bringing you back to the page that loaded before the frameset. That was changed for logical navigation (clicking a link is forward, so back should go to the previous page, even if it's in a frame). The only solution I can see to this (while retaining the Doubleclick ads) is if Doubleclick did a server push for their ads (when was the last time you saw that? 1993?)

    Maybe a new feature in browsers, navigate current frame, would be useful. History navigation is localized to a particular frame.

    As for the worst offenses, my personal list is as follows:

  • unintuitive navigation - I dig cybertext aesthetics as much as the next guy, but the coolness factor can't get in the way of the purpose. Users do not want to learn a new UI.
  • x browser required - totally defeats the cross-platform nature of the web, and bastardizes the standard spec. Even worse when the site doesn't even tell you it needs a particular browser.
  • popups - It eats up GUI resources the user may not want to expend. It breaks the history navigation. It's usually set to a fixed size that is either too small or too big. For newbie surfers, if the popup obscures the parent window, they might get confused (why doesn't back work? where did that other page go?).

  • Popups and Opera (3.30 / 13) (#12)
    by ucblockhead on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:04:37 PM EST

    Popups are a pet peeve of mine because of their behavior in a browser I use a fair amount. Opera is a rather nice browser, but it differs from almost all others in being a MDI application rather than an SDI application. I've heard lots of people rag on it for that, but I quite like that behavior as it keeps my desktop from being cluttered with lots of browser windows.

    The trouble is that I typically run it with the inner windows maximized. If I hit a site with a popup (like any geocities site), this invariably maximizes the ad and shoves it in front of the window I'm trying to actually look at. Annoying as hell.

    This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

    You can tell Opera not to do that. (2.50 / 4) (#30)
    by Perianwyr on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:35:41 AM EST

    Can't remember where in its preferences, but you can tell Opera to keep the popups appearing in the MDI bar and not the active window.

    Much more fun.

    [ Parent ]
    how to get rid of popups in Opera (3.50 / 4) (#32)
    by esonik on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 09:17:38 AM EST

    In Opera 4 you can disable popup windows by unchecking "Allow documents to create windows" in the Windows category of the Preferences. Unfortunately some sites rely on popup windows, so I leave them enabled.

    To filter out popups you can use Proxomitron, a proxy with "a powerful HTML text matching engine able to dynamically alter web pages on the fly". I didn't have the time to try it myself, though.

    [ Parent ]
    Lynx (3.07 / 13) (#13)
    by BoredByPolitics on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:16:25 PM EST

    Most of my browsing is done with Lynx - no, I'm not a luddite, I just tend to spend most of my recreational browsing time in front of an ancient 386 laptop running mskermit.

    Consequently I get really annoyed when I need to access a site which is impossible to use without javascript - I mean, what's the idea with using it as the only means of navigation?

    Hrumph, glad I got that off my chest.


    "Every contract has a sanity clause", "Sanity clause! Sanity clause! You can't fool me, there's no such thing as Sanity Claus"

    Bless me Father for I have sinned (4.40 / 25) (#15)
    by Global-Lightning on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:25:46 PM EST

    From the poll I will rate the sins:
    XY Browser and version only: Rating - Cardinal sin. Discrimination is wrong, even online. Imagine if you walked into a store and they chased you out saying, "sorry, we don't serve your kind here". Father says: three entire rosaries and force html compliance.

    Popups: Rating - Mortal sin. Not only are they annoying, but they glutonously devour system resources. Systems with slower CPUs or insufficient memory usually crash. Father says: be kind to the poor and shut off the javascript.

    Excessive advertising: Rating - Mortal sin. Paying your hosting bill is one thing, excessive greed is another. Bandwidth shouldn't be squandered. Father says: ten Hail Marys and and disable automatic image loading.

    Site 'reorganization'. Rating - Mortal sin. Damning your audience to wander the maze of broken links is a no-no. Father says: one Act of Contrition and work offline.

    Flash: Rating - Venial sin. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and Flash. Simplicity will lead to happiness. Father says: one Our Father and don't do it again!

    Breaking the 'back' button: - Rating - Venial sin. The Prodigal Son returned home, so should your users. Father says: Go light a candle for the lost souls.

    Buzzword compliant: Rating - Venial sin. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's stuff. Today's buzzword is tomorrow's broken promise. Father says: wash your mouth out with soap.

    No keyboard navigation: Rating - down there with eating hotdogs on Good Friday. Mice are the carriers of disease and death. Father says: Flog yourself for using that preloaded browser and get Opera.

    Browser specific (3.50 / 12) (#16)
    by dreamfish on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:30:14 PM EST

    I think the absolute worst is demanding a certain type of browser (usually IE). This isn't just 'optimised for...' but deliberately detecting your browser and displaying a page saying This site only works with IE5.0 - we don't support Netscape.

    I even found a site (I forget the URL) where the browser detection was screwed. It failed to recogise I was using NN4.72 and suggested I upgrade to Netscape 4.0! Of course it refused to be convinced otherwise and wouldn't let me in.

    Worst sin (3.00 / 8) (#18)
    by boxed on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:39:09 PM EST

    The worst sin in my mind is lack of structure. This goes for the HTML code and the rendered end result. Using <font size="x"> instead of <h1>, <h2> etc is bad. Displaying critical data as background color/picture in tables and no alt's on images is downright evil.

    h1, h2, h3, etc. (3.00 / 3) (#27)
    by Chakotay on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:16:33 AM EST

    The funny thing about h1, h2, etc. tags is that they can be very easily used in combination with CSS. You can use CSS to define font characteristics for them, and use those in the text. Personally, on my own site, I use that technique, redefining h1, h2 and h3 and using that in the text. Ofcourse, if you don't use CSS it won't look quite as well, but at least you'll still be able to notice the titles :)

    Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

    [ Parent ]
    exactly (2.50 / 2) (#36)
    by boxed on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:33:32 AM EST

    I know, that's why this thing pisses me off so bad. I've now actually managed to convert a web-designer friend of mine to the Righteous Road. (He used to just define a lot of classes of p.)

    [ Parent ]
    context (3.50 / 2) (#40)
    by micco on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 12:10:53 PM EST

    Defining different classes of p-tags is the "right" way to do it for many formatting tasks. Header tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.) should *only* be used in the context of actual headers (main headers in h1, subheadings in h2, etc.). This is an XML-like approach where the header tags actually carry more info than just formatting and would allow you to automatically extract a table of contents from a document by looking at the hierarchical structure of the header tags.

    Your original post mentioned "structure", so this is probably what you meant, but I thought I'd beat the horse a bit.

    [ Parent ]

    Organizational structure and tag classes (3.50 / 2) (#41)
    by gnomon on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 12:48:26 PM EST

    I agree that marking certain paragraphs with "class" tags is a good way to organize a site, but I find that individual tagging gets to be cumbersome when you're working with any kind of site that involves long stretches of text.

    On the one hand, you have (for example) a play, where it makes sense to class each spoken item according to the speaker; on the other hand, you have (for example) a site with a navigation bar, a section/subsection description, some body text and a footer. Within the body section, classed paragraphs make sense (especially if you want to be able to emphasize or otherwise partition an abstract, or a section of great interest), but in the infrastructure I find that classed "div" tags make a lot more sense.

    My current example is this: I'm building a website for my "beginners Japanese" class, and a classmate of mine is helping out with the graphic design and some of the site content (typing up class notes and the like). He's actually quite good with graphics, whereas they scare me (I routinely use Lynx and w3m, and I'm working on getting links to behave properly under win32. Mozilla and K-meleon are my favoured graphical environments). Since I can create multi-classed "div" elements (i.e. one div that belongs to the class "graphical" as well as the class "footer"), it's very simple to have a single document that contains both layouts which can be easily selected (one stylesheet that has "display: none;" set for the class of navigation aids that I do not want).

    This is admittedly not an ideal solution - it doesn't work tremendously well within browsers that don't support stylesheets at all because some navigation elements are duplicated (in retrospect, I should probably be more fine-grained in my classing - that is, class the individual images instead of an entire duplicated navigation section... interesting. I'll have to see what I can put together with that. At the very least it would be more friendly towards Lynx) - but it has definite benefits (if, for example, you want to print out last weeks notes without any of the navigational or site-specific content, you can simply select a stylesheet that hides everything except the "body" section).


    I think that structured information is one of the most powerful concepts imagined by humanity. It allows information to transcend individuals: books from hundreds of years ago can still educate, entertain and challenge people of today, and do so in the future as well; programs can be written and shared, made to run on multiple architectures in order to provide a consistent environement suite of tools to the user; the vast repository of information that is the internet can be navigated with the aid of programs that can parse partial meaning out of the soup of documents present online.

    This last example is flawed, however - programs can't aid our navigation of the internet as well as they ought to be able to, and the root of this is the glut of documents that have been written with no particular structure in mind. People need to understand that writing structured information (in this case, I'm arguing in favour of standards-compliant HTML, but a sufficiently-structured document should retain its structure in a cross-format fashion - if someone writes a text file in an organized, consistent fashion, it's usually a trivial matter to write a sed or awk script that transforms it into valid, structured HTML... and vice-versa) is not just a laudable goal but a practical necessity for information to be useful!

    Is it so very hard to write simple, standards-compliant HTML? In my experience, at least, it is easier to write a simple, clean (well, in my case that would instead be rather Spartan) and streamlined HTML file that is compliant than a hard-to-navigate, graphics-laden, bandwidth-saturating monster of a page in any case. The code is more quickly finished; the page (and the surrounding site) is usually more navigable, pleasant and useful; the resulting collection of files is more easily modified "en masse". What I don't understand is that given all of these (admittedly anecdotal) incentives, why is there still such a profusion of montrosities out there? It's enough to make one weep.

    [ Parent ]
    Punishment and/or training (4.00 / 10) (#20)
    by Ummon on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 08:06:43 PM EST

    One of the requirements for becoming a website designer should be a mandatory 1 week stint using a pre 1.0 web browser on a 14.4K connection.

    Most of the people commiting these attrocities have never used the web as it was originally intended. And they tend to forget that once you get out of the big american cities the bandwidth drops off exponentially. The vast majority of web users in the world are on sub-56 connections.

    on 56k (3.60 / 5) (#25)
    by mikael_j on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 04:28:48 AM EST

    Most people I know are on 56k connections or faster, but when you visit some site just to get some info, and you have to wait for a 500k+ download, you go somewhere else (even when you are on DSL).
    Oh, how I long for the long lost days of text-only websites, but preferably with todays connection speeds...

    /mikael jacobson
    We give a bad name to the internet in general. - Rusty
    [ Parent ]
    Horizontal Scrolling (3.62 / 8) (#21)
    by paulv on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 12:13:10 AM EST

    I *really* hate it when I have to scroll horizontally for any reason. I usually run at 1024x768, so there shouldn't be any need for it. I have noticed it here a few times, but I use mozilla, so I may be asking for it.

    -- paulv

    Horizontal Scrolling (2.33 / 3) (#33)
    by zantispam on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 09:40:48 AM EST

    I've noticed it too (NN 6, believe it or not). I think I know why.

    /me digs around the site for a while

    Ah. here it is (WARNING: this is still in the submission queue and may not work if the story gets dumped). Apparently, typing in your entire post between <pre> tags will cause this, due to the fact that <pre> seems to hose the \n character. I don't know if this is a weird implementation or not, but IE is the only browser that doesn't exhibit this behaviour.


    Free Duxup!
    [ Parent ]
    Apache Mod URLrewrite (3.60 / 5) (#22)
    by Holloway on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 12:51:11 AM EST

    Long URLs with confusing and forgetable syntax to store script values and help the webmaster - not the audience. Example: /?op=comments&tool=post&sid=2000/11/28/162410/36#here

    When something like /2000/11/28/?post (or whatever) would be much cleaner.

    Also it's more logical to make use of this url structure in unintended ways, such as only having /2000/11 - and expecting to get a list of all stories in that time.

    == Human's wear pants, if they don't wear pants they stand out in a crowd. But if a monkey didn't wear pants it would be anonymous

    that, and hidden urls (3.00 / 2) (#37)
    by codemonkey_uk on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:53:25 AM EST

    Thats a good point.

    A similar peeve of mine is the websites (cough cough) that hide the current page URL (in the URL bar), so that no matter where you are on the site, the URL reads:


    How do I fwd a URL of an article to a friend, without clicking back, right click, copy url. Its a pain in the ass. Anywho. Spleen vented.

    "The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
    [ Parent ]
    Assumptions are the problem (4.76 / 13) (#23)
    by driptray on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 01:21:52 AM EST

    Q. What should the web designer assume about the user's environment?

    • The type of browser?
    • The window size?
    • The operating system?
    • Whether javascript is turned on?
    • Whether java is turned on?
    • Whether stylesheets are turned on?
    • Whether plugin X is installed?
    • The screen resolution?
    • The colour depth?
    • The default font size?
    • The default colours?
    • The absence of, or contents of, a user stylesheet?
    • The absence of, or configuration of, a proxy that alters the markup received by the browser?

    A. None of the above.

    And that is my answer to the "biggest annoyance" question - it's when a dezigner makes a wrong assumption about my browsing environment. Actually, it's often more than a wrong assumption, containing an implicit value judgment about what the "right" way to browse the web is, and therefore that my way is one of the wrong ways.

    Here's a true story...

    In Japan, PCs don't have anything like the penetration that they do in North America or Australia. But cellphones are an absolute phenomenon here, and most of them have web access built in. People tell me that they can only be used for specially modified sites (something like WML I guess), but I've used both NTT Do Co Mo and J-Phones to access my site (http://www.doco.net) and it works great despite having had no special effort to make it work within the limitations of a cellphone.

    This validated my "no assumptions" start position when designing my own site. However it is disappointing that I have great trouble in convincing people here that "yes, they can view my ordinary web site on their phone, and no, I don't have to have it converted to some other markup language".

    I'd also like to say that making no assumptions does not prevent you from using lots of fancy technology, or from having a visually stunning website in those browsers that can do that stuff. Go ahead and use javascript, java, flash, CSS, etc etc, but make sure that the site does not require it.

    We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
    Who uses 640x480? (3.12 / 8) (#24)
    by Niggle on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 03:51:21 AM EST

    My personal grudge (because
    I encounter it so often) is
    sites that are "optimised"
    for 640 pixel wide screens.

    The worst offenders then have
    a column of links down both

    So your actual content ends up
    about this wide and you have to
    scroll down about a dozen times
    to read a fairly small article.

    Laptops? Palmtops? (4.25 / 4) (#26)
    by Chakotay on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 07:52:13 AM EST

    Granted, I hate sites that are specifically set for a width of 640, but what I hate too is sites that forget that there are people out there browsing at only a width of 640 pixels, for example, people with laptops which often have a resolution of 640x480, or with handheld devices like the Psions which have generally a resolution of 640x240 or something similar.

    Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

    [ Parent ]
    Believe it or not, 640x840 is still used. (3.33 / 3) (#38)
    by Phaser777 on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:57:59 AM EST

    Actually, my school uses 640x480 on their computers. All of them. Regardless of monitor size. Well, there is one lab that runs at 800x600 on 17" monitors, but everything else is 640x480 @ 60hz. In addition to that, they run Windoze one everything (the new superintendant doesn't seem to like the relatively stable Macs we used to have, and now the entire network crashes weekly) and the scroll wheels on the mice don't work. About the only nice thing about their computers is the keyboards still have all the keys on them :)

    I've noticed newbies run at 640x480 a lot, simply because they don't know how to change it, or they don't know that they can. Or they use 15" monitors, and running at 1024x764 (or whatever high resolution) makes things too small or the monitor physically can't handle it.

    My personal grudge is with people that optimize their pages for any resolution, browser, or color depth, the exception being pages written for handheld computers and cellphones.
    My business plan:
    Obtain the patents for something (the more obvious and general the better)
    Wait until someone else adopts the idea and becomes rich off it.
    Sue them.
    [ Parent ]
    Some people don't browse fullscreen (3.50 / 2) (#43)
    by fluffy grue on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 01:28:50 PM EST

    I personally like having a lot of detached windows so I can actually pay attention to multiple things at once, rather than having one single application running fullscreen. I also happen to like having my browser window somewhat narrow, as vertical scanning of text is much easier than back-and-forth scanning. I'll resize my window depending on what sort of site I'm perusing, as well, but it's not rare for my window to be a mere 640 pixels wide.

    Of course, having a mouse with a wheel on it helps for the case you talk about.

    Also, last I checked, a large number of package computers still have 640x480 as the default resolution (most people who buy package computers wouldn't know how to change their displayed theme, much less resolution), and Macs still only do 640x480 on 14" monitors, and so forth. A lot of people also lower their resolution rather than raise their font size, because they don't realize that you can typically raise your font size to make things more readable (and even so, bigger fonts means that there's effectively the same resolution constraints).

    "Is not a quine" is not a quine.
    I have a master's degree in science!

    [ Hug Your Trikuare ]
    [ Parent ]

    Mac resolution error (2.50 / 2) (#49)
    by Phaser777 on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:07:07 PM EST

    Macs do not "still only do 640x480 on 14" monitors." Like a PC, they can do whatever resolution the monitor and the graphics chips can handle.

    True, most of the Macs that are connected to 14" monitors are too old to do anything better, but that doesn't mean all Macs have that limitation.
    My business plan:
    Obtain the patents for something (the more obvious and general the better)
    Wait until someone else adopts the idea and becomes rich off it.
    Sue them.
    [ Parent ]
    Hm? (3.00 / 2) (#50)
    by fluffy grue on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 12:23:55 AM EST

    I was under the impression that Mac 14" monitors still reported their maximum resolution as 640x480 (I know that Macs have always much better monitor PnP capability than PCs do), and I figured that it hasn't changed any since, IIRC, Apple hasn't manufactured 14" monitors in YEARS. :)

    I've used many Macs in the past which would happily do a (whopping) 1024x768 on a 21" monitor but when hooked up to a 14" monitor they'd only do 640x480, because that's what the monitor would report as its maximum resolution. I know that there've been hacks to force various monitors to report higher max resolutions and they'd go just fine, but what the monitors are hard-wired to report is just 640x480. And believe it or not, but there's still a lot of those floating around. Hell, even as recent as two years ago the CS department here got a "generous" donation of a dozen PowerMacs of some sort with 14" monitors which reported 640x480 as their maximum... and I know it wasn't the system, since one of the systems had a 17" monitor and it did 1024x768 just fine on that.
    "Is not a quine" is not a quine.
    I have a master's degree in science!

    [ Hug Your Trikuare ]
    [ Parent ]

    scanning (4.00 / 1) (#45)
    by kubalaa on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 04:48:55 PM EST

    The main reason this is done is not for compatibility. Your eyes can only scan text easily that's about 3" wide before you have to turn your head. Not to mention tracking the next line. Seriously, have you ever tried to read an article which fills the width of your monitor? Especially without frequent paragraphs. It sucks. Take a hint from newspapers.

    I still agree that optomizing for certain resolutions is bad, and not always necessary. (i.e. Long articles benefit from a fixed scan-width, but something like k5 with a more complex layout can be flexible without filling text across the entire window.)

    [ Parent ]

    Re: Who uses 640x480? (none / 0) (#51)
    by WWWWolf on Thu Nov 30, 2000 at 09:03:31 AM EST

    My personal grudge (because I encounter it so often) is sites that are "optimised" for 640 pixel wide screens.

    Yeah, people should use relative sizes.

    But again (re: your question on the subject), one would argue that it makes a lot of sense keep the windows small because that way you can either keep many pages at screen at the time or even (gasp!) do other stuff while browsing - For example, I use 1280x1024 resolution, but my windows are 640 pixels wide for this very reason. (2 K5 windows on screen at the moment... try it someday! =)

    -- Weyfour WWWWolf, a lupine technomancer from the cold north...

    [ Parent ]
    bad references (4.80 / 5) (#34)
    by micco on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 09:44:38 AM EST

    IMO, one of the causes of bad usability on the web is bad references on usability. There are a lot of people who write about usability who seem to think can==should when playing with shiny baubles. Also, some references seem to be written by absolutely clueless authors.

    I've actually seen GUI design manuals which recommended red-on-green color schemes for maximum contrast. Obviously, the author had zero knowledge about how the human visual system works. Even usability refs written by trained designers are often wrong or biased by subjective opinion. There are some objective, scientific studies in this field, but they're few and far between.

    There is some good stuff out there, like The Essentials of User Interface Design by Cooper and Tog on Software Design by Tognazzini. Many web designers ignore these references because they're ostensibly about GUI design in software applications rather than strict web design (i.e. you have to understand and extend rather than just being spoon fed web-based rules), but if every designer read Tog, the web would be a nicer place.

    the dos and don'ts of web design... (4.42 / 7) (#35)
    by Chakotay on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 09:54:17 AM EST

    First of all, I don't care about javascript, java applets, flash, CSS, frames, tables, pictures or any such things, as long as:
    a) it doesn't crash any browsers b) it doesn't break the site if it doesnt' work

    Using nice graphics? Fine by me, as long as there's not too much of them, as long as not too many of them are (annoyingly) animated, and as long as you specify width, height and alt in the img tag. Alt, ofcourse, so you can still see what it's supposed to be when the browser, for any reason, can't load or can't display the picture, and width and height so graphical browsers can already render the text before all the graphics are loaded.

    Using javascript and java applets? Again, fine by me, as long as you don't overdo it, as long as it doesn't crash browsers, and as long as the site's navigation or another vital part of the site doesn't completely depend on it.

    In short, do whatever you like, make the site as pretty as you want it to be, but if you make pretty frames and tables, please check it in other graphical browsers too, and if you use pretty javascript and flash, don't make your site depend on it.

    Ofcourse, in Utopia, all sites look exactly the same in all graphical browsers and all sites also work properly (though maybe not optimally) in older versions of those browsers and in text only browsers, because all browsers and all web designers follow the specifications.

    Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

    Illegibility. (4.00 / 4) (#44)
    by clarioke on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 02:39:49 PM EST

    Is that even a word?

    All right, so people who think that blink tags are still a pretty neat idea should be shot. But worse than the incessant *new* *new* *new* is text that can only be read by highlighting the whole page because the background, which may be a fantastic design, is just not appropriate for a background for text. Or the background is red and the text is green. Excuse me, I like my retinas, please don't fry them.

    Broken image links. Yes, I understand, you just forgot which directory you stuck that great picture, but when there's a caption, I'd like to see what you're talking about, thanks. That little broken-picture icon Netscape does or the X Explorer does just doesn't do it for me, sorry.

    Broken links, too. Broken relative links are almost acceptable; I can understand a few minutes while you trash an old file and upload a new one. But longer than few minutes I can't understand. And broken absolute links are obnoxious and makes me second-guess the validity of your site. If you can't even check to make sure you're sending your visitors somewhere. . .

    If everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized, and I'm going to go elsewhere. Just pick a damn theme and run with it, quit playing with all those neat graphics and different fonts. Keep it simple and elegant. Consistency is a definite plus, it keeps navigation simple. Consistency and simplicity == elegance.

    Back to my web design final project. :) Hence the rant.

    Kill evil javascript with javascript (3.50 / 2) (#48)
    by camadas on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:43:22 PM EST

    What I really hate is the "trick" some sites do to make your browser hostage in a chain of urls, opening new windows when you close one.
    I made little a button on the personal toolbar folder that says:


    I know bookmarks shouldn't have javascript, but why not use this, humm, "feature" ?

    Breaking Usability | 51 comments (51 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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