Jun Newsletter #1

By Joe Burns

*********************************************************** GOODIES TO GO! (tm) June 1, 1999 -- Newsletter #30 *********************************************************** Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com ***********************************************************

Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

This is Newsletter 30! Ah, the 20s were a blur...

Did you hear that...

You no longer have to be worried that readers of your page have their screen setting too small. Now you need to worry that their screen itself is too small. This week Inviso came out with a full color, 800X600 pixel display screen that measures one inch square. Write simply!

The first Netscape Navigator to wear the AOL seal of approval came out this week. Navigator 4.6 uses "SmartBrowsing" and claims to have over 100 known bugs repaired. Go get it, but bring something to read: It's a 15-megabyte download.

And now, on to today's topic...

Are any of you familiar with the name Jakob Nielsen?

If not, here's the scoop. Nielsen wrote a great article that was must-read material back in 1996. The title was "Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design." It was a great read for anyone wanting to create better Web pages. I hate to say it, but I saw my work in his words back then. I still do sometimes.

Well, yesterday I get an e-mail from the Webmaster at my University. Nielsen has revisited his Ten Items and updated them to reflect on whether the mistake were better, worse, or not so bad anymore.

I won't quote him here, his writing is good reading. You can get the details from him at http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html I'll simply list the ten things Nielsen lists as Web design mistakes and make some of my own comments. I'll even add a couple to the list.

So, here they are from number ten to number one:

10. Slow download times.
I could not agree more. However, it's not all design problems. Server techs need to add machines rather than continue putting more and more accounts on one machine. Especially now with so much streaming and media bandwidth getting smaller. Help your users. Go with a small amount of low byte images. Learn the value of understatement and remember that Content is King. No amount of graphic support will help a page with nothing to say.

9. Outdated Information
I am guilty of this one from time to time, but what Nielsen is talking about is blatantly out-of-date pages. Take them down or change them. Update and stay current. I hate when a page tells me something will be done by a certain date and I go back and that date just comes and goes with no mention on the page. I also believe the "under construction" images should be avoided like the plague. Don't give me a link and when I click I get that little guy shoveling in the yellow diamond.

8. Non-Standard Link Colors
Here here! I love the rollover color changes. I'm even warming up to links with no underlines, but let's stay with blue and purple. It's hard to "train" your audience to new things when they visit your pages. Let's go with blue. There. It's settled.

7. Lack of Navigation Support
In my tutorial on My Thoughts On A Home Page http://www.htmlgoodies.com/tutors/mythoughts.html I write that you, as an author, need to make things easy on me, the user. Get your links up high and make them obvious. I believe home pages should be very short pages with links on the first screen. If your links are all below the gatefold (the bottom of the visible browser window), then the page needs to be turned around. I'm not a fan of being clever with links. Be upfront, almost to a fault, as to where your links are and what they do.

6. Scrolling Navigation Pages
Oh man, am I guilty of this one. My hierarchy of HTML Goodies is solid (at least I think it is...), but I add a lot of stuff every month and the only way I can keep all of my navigation on one page is to start breaking down the pages. That means you have to click one more time before getting to the tutorial you want. Maybe because I'm guilty of this one, I'm not sure it's so bad. However, I do still think the home pages should be one, two at the outmost, screen long.

5. Orphan Pages
These are pages that have no reverse navigation. One you're there, you can't get back to the parent. I have "Back to the Goodies Home Page" at the bottom of every page on the site. Well, almost every page.

4. Complex URLs
I agree. Go with directory structures so the sections are all in their own place rather than subdirectory after subdirectory. This is especially important if you're your own domain. Make your URLs easy to remember. Also, go with words rather than shortened versions of words for directory names. My Script Tips directory is named "stips." I hate that. Every time I see it, it bothers me, but I know there are bookmarks out there so I'm stuck with it. The repair would cause more problems than the good it would do.

3. Scrolling Text and Animation
I'm not so against scrolling text if it isn't an important part of the page and the author has made the speed fast enough to get it through quickly and short enough to read at a glance. I'm also not overly upset by animation as long as it's used correctly. Animation should draw the eye. I have an animated "NEW" .gif on my home page. I want people to look at that to see the new page. What bugs me are the pages with multiple animations for what seems to be no good reason. I'm not quite with Nielsen on this one.

2. Bleeding-Edge Technology
This is rough to tell people because everyone wants to have the latest thing first. Well, the truth is that the average surfer doesn't care for it all. Remember that Content is King. I can only go "Oooooo!" at your page once. Then it starts to annoy me. Save pages with all the fancy stuff as a treat. Offer a link telling your users that the following page does backflips and give them the opportunity to go if they want to. Some will go. Most won't. I've heard it said that new technology is accepted by half of the user population after one year. Nielsen has the charts to pretty much back that up.

(Drum roll please...) 1. Frames
I agree. I think that since 1996 frames have become more accepted because browsers handle them better and modems have gotten bigger, but eh... I'm still not blown away. For me it has nothing to do with page layout and design. It's all speed. Yes, I know that there are times when frames are worth the effort, but why use them only for looks? If you can get your point across making one request of the server (one page), why then try to make the same point asking for three hits (the smallest frame page is the FRAMESET page and the two source pages)? Frames are clumsy and hard to bookmark. Yes, I know IE 5 will bookmark correctly, sometimes, but IE 5 is not an overly popular browser. All I'm saying is to think hard before going with a frame layout. And, no, the Goodies pages are not frames; they're table layouts.

Now, if I may, I'd like to offer my own Web-design concerns. I call them concerns rather than Nielsen's word, "mistakes," because I feel that everything is good if used correctly.

Inconsistent Pages/Backgrounds
Once I am in your site, it would be a good idea to have all your pages look somewhat the same so I know I'm still in your site. Uniformity in backgrounds is the easiest way to do this. Wildly differing backgrounds are strange and often slow the site because the images need to load.

Firewall Pages
These are the pages that come up simply as a logo. You're then asked to click to enter. Stop doing that. Just let me in.

Massive Preloads
Using JavaScript to preload images is good if those images are going to be used on the current page, but please don't make me sit through fifty downloads so I have every image on the site before moving along.

Embedded Music
I love getting e-mail from people asking how they can "force" someone to listen to an embedded sound file. If you need to "force" someone to listen, isn't that telling you that that person doesn't want to listen?

Browser-Specific Scripts
If I'm not using the browser you think I am, then I get an error. Make a point of using scripts that are understood by all browsers or use a browser detect script to not run the script on my browser.

There you go.

Please remember that these are just suggestions, at best. Web design is an art, I think so at least. The HTML Goodies site will continue to show you how to build and do just about anything in HTML whether I like the effect or not. I simply offer the tutorial. It's up to you how best to use the effect, if you use it at all.

I would never tell you what should or should not go on a page. I'm just a fan of good content and fast load. Get that down and you're well on the way to a great site.


And that's that. Again, I really appreciate that you take the time to read this.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: In 1920, William Potts, a Detroit police officer, set up a red, green, and yellow light system to control traffic in the same manner as the local railroad controlled trains. It was the first traffic light.

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