Web Design Rant

The web is the greatest resource ever created by humankind and also the ultimate display of just how bad our taste can be -- and I'm not talking about naughty pictures.

Genuine content is rare enough as it is, given that most sites (and mine is no particular exception) are just collections of links to other sites in an endless display of self-referential coolness.

But to make matters worse, in my search for the best content on the web, I've become more and more annoyed at the proliferation of stuff that prevents me from reading that content.

Look, it's hard enough to read text on a computer screen. Cluttering it up with winky blinky trinkets turns it into a stress-inducing, positively unhealthy experience.

I will not link to sites that twitch, squirm, wiggle, continually push and shove, or assault my eyes with backgrounds that are engaged in battle with the text they're supposed to be making more pleasant to read. If that means my pages leave out some of the good content available, oh well. People can't read it in that context anyway.

Stuff I hate on the web

Animated icons. Look, there might be a reason to put an animated icon on your page that blinks, oh, say, once a minute, if you want to draw attention to something that's vitally important for the reader to notice.

But your mailing address is not that important. The fact that your page looks best in Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer is not that important. And nothing is so important that it should draw your reader's attention continually. You do want the reader to look at the rest of your page, right? You do realize that human beings are designed to be attracted by moving objects, no? (Our ancestors used to eat flying insects. They looked kind of like the Mozilla icon.)

Blinking highlights. Distracting. Hideous. The electronic equivalent of an electric barbed wire fence: an excellent way to say Keep Off My Web Site. If you want people to actually look your web site, then get rid of them. Now.

Frames. OK, I have occasionally, on maybe one out of one hundred pages, seen these well done -- where one frame contains a list of very short links, and the other frame has the real content. Otherwise, please, just don't. If the reader has to scroll either frame horizontally, you've got a problem. We don't want to see words disappearing off the edge of a window. If you've got it set up so that links to other sites show up within one of your frames, you've got a problem. All those other sites (including yours, right?) expect to be brought up in a full window. Frames within frames? Yecch!

Multiple font sizes/styles. OK, making a word or line bold is a way to get people's attention. Putting it in italic is a way of getting attention. Using a bigger font size, centering a line, or using capital letters are some other ways. Now, think about it. If you have some lines centered, with bold words in them, and other lines bigger, with italic capitalized words in them, is the reader going to know which lines and words are the most important? Or is the reader going to be as confused as a chicken confronted by a fox in one direction and a farmer hungry for dinner in another?

All the lines are important, you say? You want to make sure the reader looks at all of them? Then put them all at the left margin, with a bullet next to each, and choose a slightly larger size font, or a bold font. Centering and capital letters should be reserved for section headers.

Busy backgrounds. Yes, I'm a child of the psychedelic generation and I admit I am continually tempted by these sirens. And (unlike some) I think a tasteful, simple background can really improve a web page, make it easier and more fun to read. But the wrong background will drive people away from your website as quick as an aggressive panhandler outside your shop window.

Here's what not to do:

Don't use a background with shades close to your text color or with a wide range of shades mixed together.

If you do this, then no matter what color you make your text, one of the shades will closely match it, and the text will drop out. Oh, maybe people can still kind of figure out what that word is, but unless you're the next Shakespeare, believe me, they're not going to bother. (And come to think of it, even Shakespeare is complex enough to follow that missing bits of words are not going to help matters.)

Don't use complementary background and text colors.

Complementary colors are exact opposites of each other. Your eye is designed to see either one or the other, but not both at the same time. Show red text on a green background, and your readers will think they've been fed LSD. It literally vibrates. I presume you want to present information, not drive people insane.

Don't use a background with many small objects.

They'll compete with the text for your reader's attention. It's OK to use a background with a very subtle repeating texture, provided it follows the other rules.

Basically, a good rule to follow is this: If the background looks interesting by itself, it's going to look awful with text on it. If it looks boring by itself, it might be worth a try.

Chosen as site of the week of 1 March 1998 by Hippogryph Enterprises.

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Last updated: 02 Mar 98
Created by: Stef
Copyright 1996 Stef Maruch