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[P]
'Themed' or 'Skinned' websites

By GiTm in Internet
Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 06:24:42 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

The responses to the recent change in the Kuro5hin layout show that you can't please all of the people all of the time. To me, a solution would be to have a number of different layouts (or themes) available so each user can pick the one they prefer to work with.

Recently I started developing a web site and I wanted to have these options available - but it seems as though the technology is not quite there yet. Anyone else had much success in developing a site with these capabilities and is it worth the extra effort involved?


I don't mean the simple 'changes the colors and the pretty pictures' type of theme but a complete re-work of the UI as well - the work involved in doing that would give you the visual changes as well.

So far I've looked at a number of possible solutions including ...

  • using XML/XSL for turning content into layout (but I couldn't find any generators/parsers for Unix systems)
  • using style sheets - but this only gives you control over the visual appearance and not so much over the navigation.
  • ECMA/Java Script and DHTML. This has a few downsides - the page downloaded to the client machine is much larger than it should be and there are a number of compatibility issues across browsers.

The most promising scenario (which works well for the nature of the particular site I'm working on) is a CGI application which pulls together a number of HTML snippets and glues them together into the final output page (much like Scoop or Slash). This still has the major downside of being a pain in the neck to administer/maintain and seeing as I want to bundle the site as a set of examples for a software distribution (for the eMeme discussion engine) that is not a good thing.

So what are other people doing? Has anyone out there successfully solved this problem? Is it worth the effort? IMHO if it makes it easier for more people to use the site I would see that as being worth the effort.

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Poll
Should sites be skinnable?
o Yes! I want every site to look like Kuro5hin. 10%
o Yes - I want to be able to choose. 37%
o No - It's a waste of time and I'd just use the default anyway. 25%
o I really don't care. 26%

Votes: 78
Results | Other Polls

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Display: Sort:
'Themed' or 'Skinned' websites | 29 comments (29 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Complex. (4.00 / 2) (#1)
by Seumas on Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 11:56:48 PM EST

The idea is great, for some sites. I wouldn't mind employing something like that for my auction site. Aside from the probable complexity of updating the site consistantly, imagine the nightmare that writing a FAQ/Help section would be and the trouble of offering support to users. I get enough email from people who don't know what they're doing (they would if they read the instructions) but, imagine if I had to say "Click on the BlahBlah button, which is under the little orange thingy by the rectangle, above the drop down list -- unless you're in the XYZ theme, in which case it's on the right side under the advertisements and inside the purple box, unless of course the ABC theme is what you're using in which case it's at the very bottom of the page, or if you're using the JKL theme, in the very center between the two huge buttons and the tiny picture of Jim Henson.


--
I just read K5 for the articles.

re: Complex. (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by eMBee on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:18:48 AM EST

why?
if you can skin the whole site, then that includes the help pages as well.

greetings, eMBee.
--
Gnu is Not Unix / Linux Is Not UniX
[ Parent ]

Oh yeah. Duh (2.00 / 1) (#21)
by Seumas on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 10:10:21 AM EST

Hey, good point. That didn't really cross my mind, although it should have been obvious. I guess that's why I'm not in the business of creating professional user interfaces, huh? ;)
--
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]
Also, K5 (4.00 / 3) (#2)
by Seumas on Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 11:59:01 PM EST

Also, I was just thinking about it this morning -- I really wish there were some more configurable options to K5. The site is really attractive, but sometimes it would be nice to have some more color to it to make things distinguishable or to move some items around a bit as is my preference. Complex and time consuming, certainly -- but I think many of us would appreciate it.
--
I just read K5 for the articles.
Hell yeah! (4.50 / 2) (#3)
by pb on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:05:19 AM EST

If you want to see it done on a website, look at half-empty; they've made their site somewhat skinnable, (not completely customizable, mind you, but they offer a few different looks) and they're using Java Servelets.

There are two things that I think we can do to help this process. First, I want all my applications to be skinnable, at least in UNIX for starters. This would require a wrapper for all the major widget sets that ties into a completely customizable widget set. We could interface athena, lesstif, gtk and QT on top of another widget set, (probably gtk or QT) and customize everything with that. I'm sure this would be a huge amount of work, and unfortunately I know very little about X programming at the moment. But I'm sure it's doable.

Second, you'd probably have to make some sort of standard web-page formatting guidelines. Making the widgets in the web browser customizable would help, and of course that could be controlled by a customizable widget set.

But as for the formatting of the page, the images, and the text colors, that would probably require something else. You could alter text colors easily enough, and maybe images too if you had a few standard names that were used to build a page. But as for the layout, then you'd probably want something like XML, or some sort of description language that gets parsed into a page.

Also, for a site like kuro5hin or slashdot, I'd really want some way to query the database myself, even if it were somewhat restricted. The problem there would be restricting what you can do for performance reasons, so it would probably also have to have a front end. And now we're back into some sort of braindead Model/View paradigm, and we're rewriting the web browser for a new format. *sigh*

Oh well. Anybody want to write an RFC? Don't publish until we have it working, and don't tell the lamers which port! ;)
---
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall

Programmatic interface to the database (none / 0) (#7)
by GiTm on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:15:22 AM EST

There are already solutions available - look at XML-RPC (nice and easy) or SOAP (more complicated but more 'component' like). Either solution wouldn't be 'too' hard to build into an engine like Scoop. It's a longer term goal of mine for the engine I'm working on at the moment so I'll let you know what 'too' hard means then ;-).

It would be nice to build my own native interface to K5 and add a few local storage methods to save articles/comments/stories that interest me (and still be able to go back to the site and pull down any new comments).
--- I have nothing funny to say here.
[ Parent ]
An example (4.00 / 2) (#4)
by ContinuousPark on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:08:05 AM EST

Bottomquark has several themes you can choose from. It's a skin change like in Winamp but I think a more profound change like in Sonique could be very interesting to see in a website.

Drop (4.50 / 2) (#5)
by Refrag on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:10:55 AM EST

Drop has support for multiple themes. Not only are the graphics changed, but the layouts are as well.

Refrag

Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches

Looks similar to (none / 0) (#10)
by ZanThrax on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:57:56 AM EST

skinz.org I haven't been there in many moons, but I remember playing around trying to find a skin that both looked nice, and was centered. (most weren't) Anyhow, I know they've been doing this for at least a couple years now, and I've seen other sites doing it. Naturally, I'm all for k5 being skinnable, since I'm all for customisation of any kind...

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

eGrail (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by mattyb77 on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:13:08 AM EST

Technology like this does exist, actually. I work for the Web hosting department of an ISP and we have a product that allows customers to edit their entire site within a Web browser.

They're able to edit specific elements which allow them to add content and graphics. The layout and design of their site is determined by a pre-generated template. The customer can choose which template they use and thus they can radically change the look and feel of their site. Unfortunately, most of the templates look the same, but they don't have to be.

Unfortunately, supporting this product has been a nightmare and more trouble than it is worth. None-the-less, I believe the idea is cool, especially for people that want a Web site, but don't want (or shouldn't) learn Web site design or pay a premium for a good designer.

--
"I bestow upon myself the `Doctorate of Cubicism', for educators are ignorant of Nature's Harmonic Time Cube Principle and cannot bestow the prestigious honor of wisdom upon the wisest human ever." -- Gene Ray, the wisest human ever
J'raxis.com, using PHP (4.60 / 5) (#9)
by J'raxis on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:21:10 AM EST

I do this on my website, using PHP, but it can be done with anything that supports A) variables, B) conditionals, and C) commands to include code from another file. This means you could also do it in CGI (Perl?), ASP, or even using basic SSI or XSSI.

The following steps are performed when a page is requested from my site (I'm generalizing here actually, my site uses a lot more complex variables and junk that's irrelevant to this topic):

  1. A main header file is included. This file contains the HEAD portion of the HTML and some other stuff. It calls on a "source.php" file which does most of the prelim work.
  2. source.php manipulates some variables (examines the query string for 'theme=' or looks for a cookie named theme) and returns to the main header.
  3. A header file in a directory with the theme name is then included before the document content.
  4. ...
  5. A main footer file is included.
  6. The main footer file calls on the theme footer file.

To see this in action, go to J'raxis.com and click "Print version" on any of the pages. You'll notice the document is rerequested with a query string of "theme=print." A cookie is also set, so the theme persists throughout your visit when you click any link within the print-themed document.

Take a look at the code in these files to get an idea of how it works in PHP:

* Note my code is extremely messy and includes a lot of other processing; so I suggest you just use my algorithm as I described and try to write this yourself. You've been warned ;)

-- The PHP Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]

re: Using PHP (none / 0) (#12)
by GiTm on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 02:17:39 AM EST

Thanks,

This is quite useful. The algorithm is pretty much the same as what I'm using now (with some differences for implementation language etc) so it's nice to see I'm not way out on a limb in terms of solving the problem.

Are you finding that the whole thing becomes a little fragile though? That is - adding a new theme becomes a real pain in the proverbial or trying to fix a rendering issue with a particular browser/version/OS introduces three new ones somewhere else? This is the main problem I'm having at the moment and trying to write a HOWTO style guide to developing new themes is very, very difficult.
--- I have nothing funny to say here.
[ Parent ]
Adding a theme (none / 0) (#25)
by J'raxis on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 02:55:28 PM EST

Adding a theme is as simple as creating a new directory inside the theme directory (/sys/th/) with the appropriate name, and creating the appropriate header.php and footer.php files for it. Then the theme can be used by simply appending '?theme=[name]' to the URL, which does involve some manual editing (adding a link to the theme on each current theme file footer), but I may automate that sometime in the future. Create an include called "theme-menu.php" or something and just include that file in every theme footer.

Browser issues are another whole story, and I try to deal with them as best as possible.

My site is geared toward Internet Explorer 5.0, the only standards-compliant browser on Macintosh at the time of my site's themes' creation (2000-10-01). Thus, it also looks nearly perfect in Mozilla. Netscape 4.7 is "acceptible" -- the layout is fine but some odd stuff happens in bordered objects such as my H1 tags and that box of dates displayed in the footer of the page.

My Print theme, on the other hand, uses basic basic HTML, so rendering differences are irrelevant. So what if one browser interprets H1 as 24pt and not 18pt? As long as H2 is smaller, fine, and they're both bigger than Ps and LIs and the like, fine.

I actually learned about this setup from working at Harvard Law School in their systems department. I had been working on a massive redesign for my website at the time, and they have a "standardized template" system for their websites, where a user can put a couple of SSI tags in the document and it wraps the page in HLS's theme. Their setup doesn't allow theme-changing on-the-fly like mine does; their theme files are chosen by examining the server name or document URI and so on.

-- The standards-compliant Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]
[ Parent ]

XSLT processors for nix (4.00 / 3) (#11)
by Nick Wilcox on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 01:00:28 AM EST

I'm currently producing a website using mod_python. All the content is generated in XML from the individual modules of the application and then brought together and formatted as HTML using XSLT. The XSLT processor I'm using ATM is 4Suite from 4suite.org and I am planning on having two sets of XSLT templates - one for producing HTML 3.2 for older browsers and one for producing DHTML for the latest browsers. Most other XSLT processors I've seen are written in Java, but the Apache project have one written in C I think.

Watch the code develop (3.50 / 2) (#13)
by DigDug on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 03:19:58 AM EST

Hi, I'm currently writing yet-another-whateveritscalled. If you'd like to watch the code grow, check out geekissues.org/foo/ every few days.

--
Yavista - if you haven't found a nice homepage yet.

OSS solution in PHP (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by eries on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 03:20:02 AM EST

I've worked on an open source solution to this (and a few other) problems in PHP. it's called EnzymeTemplates and it's part of the Enzyme open source project.
Promoting open-source OO code reuse on the web: the Enzyme open-source project
Drop.org or drupal's theme system (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by Dries on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 04:42:26 AM EST

Take a look at drop.org: you'll have to create an account first to see the theme system in action.

Our theme system is simple, elegant, flexible and powerful. You can accommodate rather major changes in overall appearance and significant structural changes. Moreover, you control all aspects of your "drupal" site in terms of colors, mark-up, layout and even the position of most blocks (or boxes). You can leave blocks out, move them from right to left, up and down until it fits your needs.

In order to accomplish this, drupal uses a theme class that has a handful of functions. The drupal engine dynamically loads the correct theme class, instantiates it and then calls this class' functions where appropriate.

We recently discussed some theme related issues:

You can download the source code of this project named drupal for free here.

-- Dries
-- Dries

wait (4.33 / 3) (#16)
by enterfornone on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 05:26:25 AM EST

Once it goes live (late feb i think) the engine that will drive the next version of the already very configurable themes.org will be going GPL. Currently it uses a seperate PHP file for each site theme but I think they might be going to XML for the next version (I'm supposedly on the dev team so I should know this but I haven't been paying that much attention lately).

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
CSS Templates (4.33 / 3) (#17)
by Holloway on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 06:09:44 AM EST

using style sheets - but this only gives you control over the visual appearance and not so much over the navigation.

I'm not sure what you mean by navigation here. It would be a little bit of a kludge, but a CSS template could be done by sending the client a full - almost bloated - navigation. Then with CSS hide selected elements {display:none}. The placement could be done with floating DIVs. It's not a perfect solution (there's no way to include items, only to hide them. So you do have to send the client every possible navigation or content item) but CSS can do it.

(no, I wouldn't want to see it either. My bandwidth is too precious.)


== 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

The oldfashioned way (4.00 / 3) (#18)
by fvw on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 06:14:38 AM EST

I still want something like just setting 'override text colour' in my netscape preferences.. This should of course be possible on a per-site basis, and there'd have to be lots more kinds of customisation for boxes etc, but it should be client side anyway.

How about sending the information to the client in XML (this would be only the data plus where it went), plus a 'default' theming. Client could then choose to ignore the default theme and do whatever it felt like with the data, including easy parsing for whatever you'd want. Not that the big companies would want you to be able to parse their sites easily, but we'll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Ugh, I said XML. I feel dirty.

re: the oldfashioned way (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by GiTm on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 06:39:50 AM EST

I see a few problems with this ...
  • It would require co-operation of the browser manufacturers (and probably inclusion in the W3 spec). This is highly unlikely and at the very least would take some time - which means you would have to use other methods to support older browsers.
  • It would require general consensus of the internet community - which again would take some time at the very least.
Even though a client side solution would be the 'best' in this situation it's certainly not something that would happen overnight. And alternative solutions would be required to support older browsers anyway.

Even though your comment is pretty general there is no proposed solution to the problem of layout - setting a collection of colors to use isn't actually that difficult, the biggest problem I found was setting the layout as well.
--- I have nothing funny to say here.
[ Parent ]
Quite (none / 0) (#27)
by fvw on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 08:35:29 AM EST

I'm not suggesting this will be quick, but it is the best, so that deserves the most effort, imho. And getting a good format for data transfer shouldn't be that hard, just something like 'this is a sidebox containing the following links', or 'this is a weblog-style news item, with this content'. A lot of work to get right, but certainly doable...

[ Parent ]
Cocoon - XML/XSL (4.00 / 2) (#20)
by farmerJohn on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 09:11:34 AM EST

The Apache XML Project has developed a system called Cocoon. Page content is created as XML. Then an XSL stylesheet is applied to the XML page to produce the final document. This is a complete separation of content and presentation and allows the same document to be rendered into many different formats such as WML and PDF. There is also a an XSP processor for producing dynamic content. The system is written as a Java Servlet. I have set it up and experimented with it briefly using Apache and JServ on Win32. It appears to be very powerful.

One drawback is that the system is complex and hard to learn to use. Also, the style transformations are complex and so the system may not scale well.

Surprised it isn't everywhere (4.50 / 4) (#22)
by flieghund on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 10:56:03 AM EST

Back in 1996, while I was a mere sophomore in college, I created this site. It was "just" a personal site, but it was my first attempt to offer some kind of content. (I got it right on the next try.)

In regards to your question, this is/was one of those "simple 'changes the colors and the pretty pictures' type of theme." It uses JavaScript and a horribly kludgy cookie system... but I did it 5 years ago, before CSS was supported, and a full year before I even knew what CSS was.

The point I'm trying to make here is, why hasn't something like this become widespread? The original point of HTML was to separate content from formatting (the ML in HTML means mark-up language, not "layout language"). In a bizarre fashion, CSS was built into the very first web browsers, applying a "standard" formatting to various tags like H1 and A... so it's not like the idea is all that recent. Is there simply not a demand for this kind of thing? Given the number of skins/themes available for things like WinAmp and various window managers, it seems like there should be a huge demand for customizable (skinnable) websites. Or is it that the average web user simply doesn't know what s/he is missing?

Take a look at J'raxis' comment below. His algorithm is remarkably similar to the system I used to generate my "customizable" pages years ago. This tells me that the concept is at least valid -- it continues to be usable over time. That doesn't necessarily mean it's the right way to do it, buy hey, it's a good place to start. And when you figure out a better way, remember to pass the information along.


Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
Point... (none / 0) (#26)
by Matrix on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 03:26:13 PM EST

One could do this VERY simply using dynamic content stuff (Perl, PHP, what have you) and CSS. If you want the user to be able to choose from among a set of themes, just have the dynamic content stuff determine which CSS header to use based on their preferences. One could even let the user set up their own CSS classes and stuff...

Extend this even further. Since, as you said, browsers basically provide CSS in the way they render tags, why not let users theme web stuff at the browser level? Have tags rendered according to a default CSS file, so the user can render things in a way that makes sense to them. Underline <em> and bold-italicize <strong>, for example...


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

.NET? (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by mikpos on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 11:32:32 AM EST

Extend it a bit, and isn't this Microsoft's .NET? Instead of content providers (e.g. web sites) giving you an interface, they give you only content. Then you, with your magical applications (e.g. IE, Excel, Access) that all munch on XML, display them and manipulate them however you want. Sounds like a good idea to me (to some degree). The WWW is really the only Internet protocol that tries to force an interface on you, and that isn't working very well.

Yes, it's possible (4.33 / 3) (#24)
by Jim Dabell on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 01:56:52 PM EST

I'd definitely say that XML/XSLT is a way of doing what you want. For instance, on my site, I write the content in simple XML, and render it with an XSLT stylesheet. It's possible to tailor a site for different browsers, different users, or different methods of using the site (e.g. WAP/WML, SMIL, or voice/touchtone interface). Of course, I've just got an ugly XHTML default :), although the code is simple to understand, and is available for download, with an alternative stylesheet for Mozilla.



Should pages be skinnable in general? (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by Bensari on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 08:12:12 PM EST

Okay, this is a little off topic, and I apologize. Still, I think it's worth getting out.

I'm very skeptical that the point of webpages is "mark up"--a way of making content available to users who have full control over the presentation of that content. For me, design of a webpage is too important. It also doesn't really matter to me what the original intent was for HTML--the use of a thing must adapt. Many forms of written language were invented to keep records of money and financial exchanges, but that doesn't mean that the development of creative literature was bad.

On a webpage, meaning is expressed by content and layout, not just by text. A stylesheet expresses meaning. Whether you're dealing with fonts, font sizes, or colors. For instance, a website using a small Verdana font may very well communicate to the reader a sense that the site is somehow "modern" or "technical," whereas a website that uses a heavy serif font like Garamond or GoudyOldStyle will give the reader the feel that the text is somehow "old" or associated with a more "rustic" tone. Have you ever looked at a webpage in Courier and thought that it looks like the text of a typewriter? Or how about when one of my bosses told me that the Times font was an "internet convention" that defined what a webpage should be just because that was the default font of many browsers? These are examples of how fonts communicate ideas just as surely as words or images. Call me a control freak, but I think it is imperative for the designer of a webpage to maintain control over the style elements of the page. 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. 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. 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.

I concede that a web portal, or indeed any webpage with a very broad application and broad viewer base, could benefit from user customizable stylesheets, but a webpage with a very distinct and specific application should retain a certain amount of control. 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. 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. Kuro5hin is a good example of a page with a wide viewing base that could benefit from being skinnable. I just wanted to toss out my two cents on the idea that all of the style on the internet should be user-specified.

For an example of some of the pages that I have worked on that are often criticized for being to layout / image intensive, see Warren Wilson College's website.

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.

It depends on the objective (none / 0) (#29)
by Jim Dabell on Sun Jan 28, 2001 at 02:34:35 PM EST

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.

Of course if you add a few images a site will look nicer. But you don't have to ban images (and other things like Javascript, etc) in order to make your site easier to use or customise. It's all about graceful degradation. Use alt text, don't use javascript for vital functions of the site, and so on.

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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'Themed' or 'Skinned' websites | 29 comments (29 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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