Since August, 2001. Surely it can’t last…
Saturday, August 25, 2001 ↓
As a long-time motor racing fan, I was saddened to learn of the death earlier today of Ken Tyrrell.
Tyrrell was an immensely popular man, deeply involved in motor sport seemingly for all of my life, until he retired in 1998 after selling the Tyrrell Formula 1 team to British American Tobacco. Amongst his most significant achievements was launching and nurturing the career of another of my heroes, three-time F1 world champion Jackie Stewart.
Read more about Ken Tyrrell at the GP Encyclopedia.
THE CARE AND KEEPING OF CLIENTS
In a style similar to Web Pages That Suck, which teaches good design by showcasing the bad and downright ugly, Jeffrey Zeldman (hmm, that's his second mention in less than a week) describes How to avoid clients in a new article at PDN's Pix. We all know that reducing things to the ridiculous is an effective way to make a point; Jeffrey's added skill is in making sure that all the points are covered.
On this day in 79 AD, Pompeii (and its neighbour, Herculaneum) reached an abrupt "end of the world as we know it" with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the pyroclastic flow that followed.
Thursday, August 23, 2001 ↓
LEST WE FORGET...
Just before August 23 comes to an end, I should point out that it was on this day in 1305 that William Wallace ("Braveheart", for those whose only acquaintance with Scottish history is Mel Gibson with his face painted blue and speaking in a funny accent) was hanged, drawn and quartered. His head was raised on a pole on London Bridge, his right arm was sent to Newcastle, his left arm to Berwick-upon-Tweed, and other body parts to Perth and Aberdeen. Presumably this made Edward Plantagenet very happy.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...
Surely the world's most popular blogging tool, Blogger is two years old today. How old is that in "internet years", I wonder?
LESSONS FOR LIFE
Daniel has been rebuilding his site, and all the sections are back in place now. I've always particularly liked the howtos, where contributors pass on valuable tips on an eclectic range of topics, such as how to be dumped, how to convince others you're Australian, and the ever-useful how to avoid morning erections.
RUN RABBIT RUN
The current fashion amongst the blogging community seems to be to point to sites that involve rabbits in strange circumstances or doing funny things (like wearing pancakes on their heads. Yeah, hilarious.). So in the best tradition of internet memes, here's the one I like, because it's so clever. Who'd have thought of animating ASCII?
Wednesday, August 22, 2001 ↓
DID KILLER DESIGN KILL DOT-COMS?
"In an odd fit of myopia, Jakob Nielsen blames 'cool' design for the 'dot-bomb' meltdown. Funny, we thought the downturn was caused by a weakening global economy; overbuilt web agencies; and useless dot-com services structured around wishful business models. Design 'cool' or otherwise can't save a bad product, though it can make a good one easier and more enjoyable to use."
I'd already read the Alertbox, and hadn't interpreted it in that way. Of course, Jeffrey is bang on the nail in his summary of "dot-bomb" factors. And I don't think Nielsen would dispute them.
Now, I don't agree with everything that the good Jakob says on the topics of usability and web design. But it's become so fashionable recently to indulge in "Jakob bashing" (not that I'm suggesting Mr. Z is doing any such thing; I'm sure it's not in his nature to bash anyone) that it's perhaps too easy to focus on a few of Nielsen's pronouncements rather than the total message.
The article (which is really all about the dangers of basing a web design on users' essentially visual responses to design comps or mock-ups, rather than on their ability to accomplish tasks with each design) contains a few choice "Jakobisms", and perhaps it's these that caught the Zeldman eye:
"In past years, the greatest usability barrier was the preponderance of cool design. Most projects were ruled by usability opponents who preferred complexity over simplicity. As a result, billions of dollars were wasted on flashy designs that were difficult to use."
I don't read this as saying that cool design was solely responsible for the collapse of dot-coms. Rather, it says that cool designs made sites difficult to use which certainly might contribute to their failure, perhaps even significantly. The Web is still littered with examples of sites where the designers' key concern seems to have been knocking users' socks off with "awesome" graphics and animation, rather than helping users to get the information they want or make a purchase quickly and painlessly. I won't forget Boo.com for a long time: I went to look at it soon after it was launched to see what all the fuss was about. I couldn't get in to the site; not because I didn't have a Flash plug-in for my browser, but because I didn't have the very latest version. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but frankly I can't be bothered downloading new versions of every plug-in and media player as soon as they are released I resist doing so unless or until I have a compelling reason. And Boo.com wasn't that reason. (And that was with my PC. I use a Mac too, and as I recall, the Boo.com site didn't work at all for Mac users. I don't think they ever got that sorted out before they went bust. Do they wonder why? Not now, I shouldn't think.)
I suspect Nielsen exaggerates a little, though, when he says "Most projects..." I'm sure many projects suffered not so much from out-and-out "usability opponents" as from producers or designers who just hadn't come to grips with the needs of the new medium and its users. But I'm not over-sympathetic towards them, because they were charging big bucks for this work. For their clients' sake, they had a responsibility to learn about and deal with those needs.
"One of the main advantages of the 'dot-bomb' downturn is that cool design has suffered a severe set back. Companies are now focused on the bottom line."
Sure, because companies have learned from experience. It was easy to get swept up in the exciting possibilities of the web, and for businesses to take their eye off the ball for a little while. But then the realisation set in that a web site (for businesses, anyway art, entertainment and personal sites may be a different matter) is not an end in itself. Giving the user a mind-blowing experience is secondary to the purposes of providing product or service details, or making sales. That doesn't mean that your site has to be ugly or boring, but that you should think carefully about requiring plug-ins that restrict access, using techniques that demand high bandwidth, building incomprehensible navigation systems, overdoing metaphors and other "cute" approaches... the list goes on, and has been set out by many others before me. But these are the things that I think Nielsen means when he talks about "cool" design.
"Happily, glamour-based design has lost and usability advocates have won the first and hardest victory: Companies are now paying attention to usability needs."
...because it pays to do so. I'm sure Nielsen doesn't want that all web sites should look like useit.com. Commercial sites can be attractive, engaging and enjoyable, while at the same time being highly usable. It just requires knowledge, thought, and skill. Just like good design in any other field.
Does Nielsen believe cool design often results in poor usability? Clearly. Does he believe a lot of money has been wasted as a result? Yes, he says so. But does he say that cool design was at the heart of the dot-bomb meltdown? I think that's a bit of a leap to make.
Monday, August 20, 2001 ↓
A NEW START
This little blog entry gives birth to the fourth major incarnation of my personal web site. It all started in the AOL members pages, then moved on to a site at a now-defunct subdomain of bellweb.org. Latterly the site was housed under one of my business domains, campanile.org, but this month I acquired december14.net to make it more strictly personal. Each version has marked my progress to the point where today, I make part of my living through building and hosting web sites. Along the way, I'd like to think that as well as learning about the mechanics and the technology, I've acquired a little taste too. (We've all done the deep-bevelled buttons and animated logos, no?)
After messing around with a bucketload of layout experiments, ultimately I decided to go with something fairly clean and simple. One key decision I took was to build the site in accordance with current W3C recommendations meaning coding the pages to XHTML (or in rare cases like this page, to HTML 4.01 necessitated here by the fact that the Blogger publishing tool used to compile the page may throw in a tag that is not valid in XHTML), and completely separating presentation from content with CSS2. (Go ahead, try validating the HTML and CSS on this page.) No tables or other layout hacks here, no sir. Which means that for some of you visiting with older browsers (notably Netscape version 4.X), you'll see something more resembling a dog's breakfast than a piece of exemplary design. Sorry, but it's my site, and that's just the way it is. Don't know what I'm wittering on about? Then read the word from the WaSP
A final word of warning. Beyond the blog, there's unlikely to be much content here for a while, until I start building things up again. Don't be too cross if you try hitting a menu item and get a big fat 404 for your trouble.
Older material is stashed away under Replays.