Thinking Outside of the Web Design Box

Album Cover: The Bends

"All your insides fall to pieces; you just sit there wishing you could still make love."
Radiohead / High and Dry

Posted on August 25, 2003 10:17 AM in Web Design
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

It's amazing how often I see web designers using page elements just because they are new or different. For instance, more and more I have been finding web pages that use rounded corners around their hyperlinks. The effect is so new that it doesn't even show up in Internet Explorer. To each his own, I suppose, but this is definitely one web-trend I don't see myself following anytime soon.

I have to admit, I have tried for the longest time to be on the cutting-edge of web design by using these types of new and relatively novel techniques. Only recently have I noticed that these new techniques sometimes sacrifice the consistency or overall flow of a website...as the new effect often stands out like a sore thumb. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. For instance, as CSS3 becomes more of a reality, certain underlying features will serve to make standard web pages much more usable and customizable, which are two very important advancements. The Lucida Sans Unicode font, which I chose to use on my Coldplay site, is gaining momentum, and I think it is a great font to use when you don't feel like conforming to the Arial/Verdana norm.

This said, though, I must return to my main point. The use of non-conforming techniques often make a site prettier, but can deter users from the true value of a website, its content. If users are used to Arial/Verdana fonts and have adjusted their client-side font sizes accordingly, who's to say that they won't have to fiddle with those settings again when they come across a page that uses Lucida Sans Unicode heavily? Or who's to say that hyperlinks that only show an underline when the paragraph that encapsulates them is hovered over won't confuse users?

When I was student Webmaster at PLU, we were preparing for a website redesign by doing some usability case studies. We had several people from different walks of life use a design draft to perform various tasks we had laid out for them. One thing we noticed, which seemed very odd to us as experienced web users, was that over and over again people would skip over any hyperlinks that had been previously visited, as if they weren't even there. When asked why after the study was over, they consistently responded with "I didn't even notice they were links. If it isn't blue and underlined or purple and underlined I just assume it's regular page text."

So thinking a bit out-of-the-web-design-box and realizing that pretty doesn't always mean usable is something that we all, as web designers, should strive to do. Hopefully as the use of these new techniques increases, users will become more and more aware of what they are and how best to work with them. But then, the novelty wears off and we move onto something new. So maybe those of us who push the envelope are actually the pioneers that make the web grow, and become and even more diverse atmosphere for expressing ideas of all kinds. Yeah, that's it!

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