Monday, November 19, 2001


Sorry, we don't have sneakers any more. We have Athletic Shoes. We have running shoes, outdoor walking shoes, indoor walking shoes, exercise class shoes, basketball shoes, tennis shoes .... No sneakers.

Anyway, I just figured out why most Web pages are so bad. Graphic designers can't read. If you look at what designers work with, they don't have any real text. Either they "greek" the text (replace the line of text with gray rectangles) or use something unreadable (traditionally, Latin text). Idea is, it lets the eye focus on the design without being distracted by content.

So what does this have to do with sneakers? Sneakers (sorry, Athletic Shoes) are made in Third World countries (Malaysia, mostly) by workers who make less than a dollar a day. They don't wear Athletic Shoes. They've probably never seen anybody wearing Athletic Shoes. The guys who run the factories probably don't wear Athletic Shoes. They make shoes to specifications from shoe companies using machinery designed and built by shoe companies. Similarly, Web page designers have nothing (verbally) to say. They don't write text; they do designs. When the time comes to put in the text, it's Somebody Else's Problem.

This violates the main lesson that Henry Ford gave to the world -- the people who make stuff should use the stuff. Holds true in general -- you don't have to worry that the guy whose job it is to close the hatch on a submarine will forget about it. He's inside the sub. He's not going to be distracted by something that's "more important". Life lesson: Pack your own parachute.

Problem is, the folks who want to read the text don't care that much about the design. They want the information that is in the text. Unfortunately, the designers have done things to the text that makes it "pretty", without concern over whether it's readable or not. For example, due to the way the Web is set up, design things have to be done in terms of pixels -- the little dots on the screen. So, to match the layout, the letters have to be a fixed number of characters high. If (like me), you have a high-resolution screen, the text in the snazzy layouts comes out the size of the Want Ads in the Sunday paper. The cheap want ads. Or smaller. Want to read it? Get a magnifying glass.

The other problem is that every Website insists that you read everything in a sans-serif font. Every study I've seen on readability says that serif text (Times Roman, whatever) is easier to read than sans-serif text (Helvetica, Arial, etc). Every newspaper I've seen is printed in a serif font. This should tell you something.

The Answer

Life Lesson: Nobody is interested in your problems. Come up with a problem, you should also have a possible solution. My solution is to pay a few bucks for a new Web browser. Yeah, you heard me right -- pay money for a Web browser. The Opera Web browser has this neat little button that makes all the fancy backgrounds and fonts go away. Note -- You can get a version of Opera for free that flashes ads at you while you're using it. I happen to hate flashing ads enough to pay for the version of the program that doesn't have them.

The main problem with Opera is that the graphic designers assume that everybody is using the latest version of Microsoft Internet Explorer. Many pages won't display properly in anything else. Opera follows the standards for Web stuff -- see the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for what the standards really are. Note that Microsoft is a member of the W3C -- they help make the standards, they just don't use them. Life Lesson: Learn what Primary Sources are. Use them.

For Web Designers

Learn to read. Read your freakin' pages, fa' cryin' out loud! Read them in every browser you can get ahold of. Don't forget Lynx. Be sure to use old versions -- not everybody can be at the bleeding edge all the time.

A lot of work? Yes. However, it's the difference between a professional job and hackwork. With the tools available for Webpage design, anybody can come up with a fancy page. It takes a pro to make an effective page.

When you are trying to communicate, "success" means getting your message across. If nobody can read your message, you've failed. Go back to flipping burgers -- you're not a real designer.


See Sneakers, Update.

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