I definitely think that, for the majority of sites out there, the user should have more control over how they use the site than the people who created it. For instance, I get annoyed by "news" sites that split a tiny amount of content over multiple pages in order to maximise ad revenue. What do I, and many other people, do when faced with sites like that? Look for the "print this article" button on the site. A lot of graphicaly intensive sites do this now, and it's a hell of a lot less annoying than the normal version. A fine example of a user choosing a non-default look to render the site more appealing.
This is, of course, specific to the type of webpage being created. If I create a webpage that is "gothic," then I don't want viewers to overwrite my dark, brooding colors with their own anymore than I want someone to be able to change the words I write or the images I create. In my opinion, that would go a large distance in altering the very point of the webpage's existence.
How would the point of the webpage's existence be altered for somebody who finds "dark, brooding colours" impossible to read? I usually have my monitor's brightness and contrast lower than most people prefer it, mainly because it's easier on the eyes after a few hours of coding. This renders a surprising amount of sites with dark color schemes unreadable. In some cases, design elements completely disappear from the screen.
I've received a lot of criticism from my techy friends that my pages are often "too artsy" or not utilitarian enough. The most stalwart and consistent piece of advice I've gotten from my peers is "keep it simple, stupid." Still, I hear even more from the general internet viewing public that my pages look very good, better than pages that limit themselves to a utilitarian philosophy of text with very little images or innovative layouts.
As for "innovative layouts", if a user doesn't know how to use a site, then the site is useless to that person. Standard design elements, such as navigation bars along the edge of the page, are immediately recognisable, and immediately usable. And if they are common across multiple sites, then end users should be able to set their browser to recognise that element, and render it as they see fit, because the user knows what they want better than you do.
In general, people who want certain specific information immediately tend to be frustrated by my designs, mostly because I tend to encourage a webpage as a more full experience rather than simply a vehicle for written information.
This is the point I am leading to. If a site is not a method of delivering information, then what use is it? As entertainment? Perhaps "a full experience" would suit entertainment pages, but for normal pages, the typical user is goal driven. They want something from the site other than to kill time or to be entertained. I have no doubt that some sites can get away with chucking usability out of the window, but those sites are the exception, not the rule.
The fact that Winamp (or XMMS or Mozilla...) is skinnable is great, because it has an extremely wide range of users and uses. Webpages are rarely so broad.
Are you sure? I know that certain areas (such as gaming) have fairly predicatable demographics in some respects, but I wouldn't have thought that it always (or even often) translated into predictable tastes, levels of expertise, or even predictable interests.
If Winamp was only for listening to one very pointed type of material, then it may have aided the creators of the program to define a strict way for the interface to look.
Yes. Specialisation in certain fields can create a better interface. But you do not have all of the available information to determine the most applicable design. And for public websites, you never will. However, your visitors will have a lot more information than you about what their tastes are, what things their computer (and connection) can handle best, and what their requirements from the site are. At best, you can get a rough idea of the average visitor's behaviour from site logs.
Just a thought. I am mainly cringing at the notion of users viewing one of my webpages with giant pink letters in their favorite bubble font, or changing the logo image of one of my pages on a serious subject to a big animated gif of Santa Claus. I'd rather just not please everyone.
Personally, I think that a lot of sites would improve from that treatment :).
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