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Some Thoughts...

Does My Site “Sin”? (2001.01.05)

So the other day I came across Creating Killer Web Sites by David Siegel (www.killersites.com) in the office. Now, a few years ago when we were still starting out, this book was one of the best references for us. The book is subtitled “The Art of Third-Generation Site Design”, and in it Siegel talks about how “third-generation sites give visitors a complete experience, from entry to exit.” About using metaphor and good design to improve and heighten the quality and experience of Web sites and Web users. I began to look through this book to see how much things have changed since—since 1996 when this book was published! It’s been quite a few years and I wanted to see how much advice from the book is still usable in today’s Web environment (such as how the shift has been away from using single-pixel transparent gifs to create leading and to instead use style sheets (which Siegel even says he hopes one day for the use of style sheets instead of the gif trick)).

Anyways, looking through it I came across Siegel’s seven deadly sins of third-generation site design. I wanted to look at these, and see if I am “sinning” any with my new site.

Deadly Sin Number One: Blank Link Typography

“In second-generation typography, site designers use a blank line to add space between paragraphs. In third-generation typography, site designers use indents.”

I’m sinning here. But then I’m using the paragraph tags as is given by the W3C. It’s the browser that creates the blank line between each paragraph. Reading this one I thought about if I should make a style sheet design (since you can use which design to view my site in) which would remove these blank lines and create an indent for each paragraph. Granted I’m concerned about any browser bugs this might bring up (as I test each of my style sheet designs on multiple browsers first), but then again with having different designs, if it doesn’t work the visitor can always choose another.

But then I thought some more. About many discussions thrown across this Web medium any times. Near battles between graphic Web designers and usability experts. One of the common arguments by the usability experts is that the Web is not print. The Web is not TV. The Web is a whole new form of medium. One in which the user has more control of how they wish to see the information provided on the Web (look at all the preferences browsers provide). In this case, in that the Web is not print, I don’t find anything wrong with “blank line typography.” Currently, a printed page is still far easier on they eyes to read than a computer screen. Because of this, type on screen needs to be more legible. Such as sans-serif fonts when the type is medium or small, and “blank line typography” reduce the clutter of type on the screen and thus making it easier to read. In this case, I don’t think I’m sinning at all.

Deadly Sin Number Two: Horizontal Rules

Yup, I’m a sinner here, but I don’t know what else to use to be both graphically appealing and usability helpful. Yes, with style sheets you can “dress-up” a horizontal rule (although it’s still tough across some multiple browsers) and make it more attractive. But as for using a graphic or something, how do you make a graphical divider understandable to those without graphics capabilities? How do you create a content divider that is both structural and visually appealing?

Siegel says: “Horizontal rules are a weak substitute for proper hierarchy and organization of vertical space on Web pages.” Until I read further into the book to find out what he means, and until I can find an answer to the questions I’ve asked, I’ll have to stick with the horizontal rule for now.

Deadly Sin Number Three: Background Images That Interfere.

This sin is about background images that interfere with the ability to read the text over the background. I’ve been clear of this one since the last two versions of my site. Yes, this sin is definitely a deadly one. I still see it in use (usually on Geocities or Angelfire or those free Web sites make by Web design newbies), but I’m glad I got over it a few years ago. Although it could be said that I still do sin on this one because of my “starfield” design for this site (and maybe also my “fire” design where the bright colors can be harsh on the eyes), but then again those are user-selectable designs. The default design is black text on a white background. If a visitor wants to see stars in the background, that’s their choice.

Deadly Sin Number Four: The Slow Load

This is one of the worst sins, large images that take a long time to load. Although it’s not really a sin if your site is an art site meant to be viewed by fellow graphic designers with T1 connections, but you should give a warning before this so that modem users will know what to expect.

I’ve freed myself of this sin with this new site design. Not just this design but the multiple designs. The problem with having a user-chosen-design-site (which only changes the CSS between designs) is that you can’t use graphics on the site that will conflict with any of the other design styles. Because of this, my site is no longer built with graphics. It’s built with colors and text. Both fast loading (unless I decide to use a large graphic background for a design style, but I don’t think I’m going to do that).

Deadly Sin Number Five: Illegal Use of the Third Dimension

Here Siegel talks about excessive use of bevels and drop shadows. He gives examples of buttons on the Web that look like VCR buttons. He even says of beveled edges: “It makes buttons look clickable.” Um, yes, we do want buttons on the Web to look clickable so that people will know that this is what you’re supposed to click on. But yes, I know that you can use other effects (such as colors) to make buttons appear that they should be clicked on.

Anyways, I am only guilty of this on my frequently asked questions section where I use a standard form button. But then this is one of the sections I’ve got to touch-up on... or maybe remove since it doesn’t get any visitors.

Deadly Sin Number Six: Aliasing, Dithering, and Halos

“Aliasing means you can see jaggies [in the graphics].” This may be the one sin I am completely innocent of: I don’t use transparent images or images for graphical design on this site anymore. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Deadly Sin Number Seven: Paralysis

“Possibly one of the most difficult things to do on the Web is to make a single page as good as it can possibly be. You can always do something to make it better.”

Am I guilty of this? I hope not. It really depends on time. When I have free time and when I don’t. I’ve recently made the jokes section better by categorizing the jokes in it. I’m sure there’s more I can do to this site. But it’s always a question of finding and creating the time.

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