Article: Web Primer – Mistakes, I’ve made a few…

When I was four years old, I watched an older friend fix his bike.  He had it upside-down, the seat and handlebars forming a makeshift tripod.  Having reattached the chain, he turned the pedals by hand, causing the back wheel to spin rapidly.  It looked like fun, so I had a go, but somehow the middle finder of my right hand got caught in the chain, and the sprockets on the back wheel tore the end of the finger clean off.

Some things you learn the hard way.

As a web developer with nearly ten years experience – quite a lot in such an immature industry – I have made a number of mistakes, and learnt from other people’s.  I’d like to share the most common of those mistakes with you now, because if your site still makes them, you are handicapping yourself unnecessarily.

Splash screens

These are those screens, often animated, which you see before you get to the main website.  Somewhere between 10 and 60 seconds of wiggly lines; words like ‘experience’, ‘confidence’ and ‘specialist’ (why not add ‘onanist’?) fading in and out; quite possibly a drum n’ bass soundtrack. 

If you are not a student nightclub promoter, you have no excuse for annoying your visitors with this unnecessary garbage.  Tesco don’t force their customers to sit through a 20 second video about how they are ‘established market leaders’ when all they popped in for was a pint of milk and a flat screen telly, so neither should you.  Plus, it plays havoc with your search engine ranking.

Drop-down navigation

Sites which have many pages often resort to drop-down navigation, which is where you hover your pointer over the buttons, and more options appear below.  If your fine motor control is not brilliant, you may find this sort of navigation frustrating or even impossible to use, even is if it is implemented perfectly.  Most of the time the coding is far from perfect, so even users with perfect hand-eye coordination can struggle.

Add in the fact that other page elements (like Flash or video) can cover the dropped-down navigation, making it impossible to click on, and you would need a very good reason indeed to insist on drop-down navigation.

Internal scrolling

Fortunately this is less common now, but in the past people often had the idea that they wanted their site to fit inside a single screen, with no scrolling.  This meant that the pages couldn’t be too tall, which was a serious restriction on the amount that could be displayed.  When the text was too big to fit on the page they added scrollbars to the block of text alone,  not the page as a whole.

This is unpleasant for many reasons.  First of all it is counterproductive; if people don’t like scrolling down the main page, they will really hate scrolling through individual page elements.  Second, if you try to print a page with these internal scrollbars you will probably find that the text gets cut off.  Third, the usual keyboard shortcuts, which are a godsend for people with less-than-perfect fine motor skills, don’t work properly, and finally: web pages are documents.  They are designed to scroll. 

If your site still makes use of any of these techniques, it might be worth talking to your web developer to discuss alternative ways to achieve the same thing.  It needn’t be expensive or time-consuming, but your visitors will love you for it.

Friday, December 5th, 2008 Published Elsewhere, Web Development

2 Comments to Article: Web Primer – Mistakes, I’ve made a few…

  1. Some sound advice.

    -Tom

  2. Thomas Wilkinson on December 26th, 2008
  3. I agreed. As with almost everything, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Explaining these particular issues many, many years ago was the same as explaining today’s foreseeable errors to those with the same lemming mindset. As such, it is sometimes better to accept the lemming mindset and then change it once the lemming has realised.

    There are times when non standard features can be a better approach though. There was a reason for their creation, however fluffy the reason was. Justification however is hard.

    In general people will just do what others do. Many companies in the dot com days learn’t this at the investor’s expense. (boo.com … firesend.com) etc Their particular UI features were far to advanced / daft for the general population and as such were not accepted. Most of the time they didn’t work properly either.

    Best practice for mass population acceptance is obviously to avoid non vanilla features. This is the same for anything. With typical group behavior dynamics people in this web design field now adopt this thinking … until the herd moves again anyway.

    🙂

  4. Trevor Hinson on June 4th, 2009

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