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<Web Peeves #2>
By Daniel Will-Harris

In my previous column I complained about a bunch of stupid stuff that some sites do (things you should avoid). Now I have more complaints--along with some complaints from readers who posted on OpenWire.

>Frames again

Riddle me this, Batman. You go to a page and you want to bookmark just that page. But the site is framed. Yes, yes, I can right click and choose ďadd to favoritesĒ in IE, or ďadd bookmarkĒ in Navigator. Thatís all very well and good. Now letís go back to that page and see what we get.

Well, in many cases, what we donít get is navigation! Why, because the site designer was using the frames to keep that navigation on-screen, so why do we need silly things like links to the home page on every page? We donít... except... uh, we really do, if someone bookmarks the page. You can see an example of this at the Fellowes office products site--interesting products--sometimes annoying site. Unless you know how to edit the URL, you canít go home again.

This is just one more reason why frames, in their current incarnation, are not the most efficient way to design a site.

>Text you canít read

Now letís talk about sites that have backgrounds that make the text hard to read. This isnít as much of an epidemic as it used to be, but it can still be a problem. Background images have, on the whole, become a lot less intrusive. People are learning to keep the graphics to the edges and make sure whateverís behind their text is simple, low-contrast and in browser-safe colors that donīt dither.

But they still havenít figured out that in order for text to be readable it has to contrast from the background. I am still seeing color combinations so subtle that the text just barely appears on the background, or color combinations so much like the early issues of Wired Magazine that the letters appear to buzz on-screen and your eyes tell your brain to jump to another page as soon as possible.

Of course, you can always swipe over the text and highlight it, which is something Iím forced to do on some pages because the color combinations are so ghastly that the text is impossible to read. Swiping over turns the background dark and the text light and then at least thereís contrast between the two. I donít often bother to do this, because if a site is so inconsiderate it canít make the text readable I figure the text may not be worth reading.

If you do want a busy background, then at least put your text in a table and set the tableís cell background to a solid, web-safe color. Remember, though, this only works in IE3 and 4, some versions of Navigator 3 and all of Navigator 4.

>Text too small to read

CSS Style sheets are great for formatting text. But some designers are using them as a straightjacket. They insist on formatting text using points or pixels, thereby locking their size so that the font button (or keyboard shortcuts) which normally allow you to make type larger, donít work. Even sites such as verso.com and David Seigelís did this before I pointed it out publicly. These sites also tend to be designed by Mac designers (no, Iím not picking on Mac users, just making a point). This means that their type appears larger on-screen, because theyíre working at 72 dpi, as opposed to the normal Windows resolution of 96 dpi.

So their type size may look fine to them, but to me, viewing the web at 1024x768 on a Windows machine, the type is so tiny as to be unreadable. If they didnít lock in the size with CSS I could just make it larger with the browser. But their settings override the browser, since theyíve locked in the size, so Iím basically locked out, and I leave.

Thereís a simple solution to this: use a relative unit of measure, such as the ďemĒ (the width of the lowercase letter ďmĒ). Itís simple, and itís flexible, and it still allows the site visitor to make type larger or smaller, and when they do, all your type scales proportionately, because itís all based on the size of ďemĒ the visitor chooses for their own machine. Read my article about using the ďemĒ at Webfonts.com, but note that IE3 doesnīt display ems correctly, which is too bad. You can also set font sizes using %, so try that!

>Sites that should know better

One of the reasons I started writing about technology is that I read a lot of misinformation and it made me mad. I knew it was wrong, but did the people who were reading it? I felt like I had to do something, so I started writing what I was sure was solid information. When you put yourself in the position of being an ďexpert,Ē then you have to be careful that what you say and what you do, jive. Iím sure Iíve made mistakes along the line (hopefully my own sites donít elicit peeves, but perhaps they do!), but I do try to practice what I preach.

One site that should know better but doesnít seem to is the famous ďHigh-FiveĒ site that gives out awards to sites that supposedly are well-designed. Well, this site makes the fatal mistake of using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and locking the font sizes in by specifying them in pixels. Theyíre too small for me, but because theyíre set in pixels, I canít use my browserís font button to make them larger. So web visitors lose because they canít read, and the sites lose because visitors are less likely to come back.

Websavant is a site selling a $350 CD product that supposedly tells you how to make better sites. Unfortunately, their own site does so many things wrong itís easy to lose count. First, they set a lot of text as graphics, then they set that type too small so itís hard to read. They have large graphics for each section of their site, but click all you want, those graphics arenít links. To navigate you have to read their directions to realize that the navigation consists of easy-to-miss little unlabeled buttons! This site is so counter-intuitive that it makes you wonder about the advice they dispense in their product (which I havenít seen and so canít comment on).

>Using graphics instead of text
for too much text

Iím sick and tired of sites that think they can just put everything into one big graphic and stick it on their site.

Iím especially tired of sites that stick a whole bunch of text in a GIF graphic, without an ALT tag that contains the same text, and worse, when you do finally see the graphic, the typeface they used is so generic that it simply wasnít worth the time to download it.

Hereís an example. The font is ITC Officina, very hot at the moment. But who cares? Itís not like this face is so distinctive that itís really going to give their site some added brand identity. Itís one thing to set a heading or navigation button in GIF in a typeface that adds a distinctive touch. Itís another to set a whole paragraph. Thatís unnecessary.

I donít mean to keep picking on this site; overall itís nice looking and easy enough to navigate. But this is silly.

And theyíre not the only site to do this. I recently went to one site from a really big company where every single page was a big graphic.

>Sites that are all graphics

Take www.oldspice.com, please. Itís from Proctor and Gamble, a company so big, with so much advertising experience youíd think theyíd know better. But no, theyíve taken what looks like a print ad, and put it on-line. Itís all graphic, no regular text (thatís not good for them, because it wonít come up in a search engine). Worse, they have no ALT text! Of course, most of their corporate site, www.pg.com suffers from the same thing! So if you canít see the graphics, you canít see the site. Donít try this at home, folks.

>Jagged Graphics

Jen Worden says she canít stand seeing aliased (jagged) graphics. And sheís right, thereís no excuse for this, but I also see it all the time. Come on, people, anti-alias your graphics so they look smooth on-screen. If you canít figure out how to do it with your current program, use a program like Xara which does it automatically!

Jen also complains about web graphics that people resize using HTML. Sheís right--this isnít a good idea to do, because 1) the files are larger than they need to be, and 2) they donít look as good.

>Log in, link off

Keith Bell complains about ďthe increasing number of web sites that require you to create and enter a username and password (which you'll instantly forget unless you use your ďregularĒ login) before they'll let you look at part or all of their site (e.g. Microsoft, Allaire). And then the next time you connect, they ask you for it again (and you've forgotten, haven't you? Well I do anyway.)

Now when a site asks me to do this, I just hit the Back button unless they've got some information I REALLY REALLY want!Ē

 

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the webís only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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