Designer’s website design pt.2

Here’s an extended rant on things to avoid in continuation of part one. This section also includes do’s and don’ts for blogs.

Web design irritants:

  1. Re: google adsense. I found one site this morning that had google ad links sending potential customers to all of his competitors. Are you in the business of selling products or links? If you are a destination site in the business (or hobby) of providing content, go wild. Otherwise, adsense links make me think (a service or product based) business is too marginal to afford webhosting fees. This doesn’t increase consumer confidence.
  2. Like adsense above, flash sites are so bad they also warrant a rerun. Flash is lovely but these sites can’t be indexed by search engines and you’ll rank a lot lower than you could be. Here’s a quote:.

    Search engines analyze website based on text. Flash, unluckily, is not text. According to How to Design Website Guideline, search engines are not able to read content presented by Flash. They just treat Flash as an embedded object or graphics only. If you use a Flash Intro as your homepage, you will never get good rankings. In addition, many Flash intros do not offer additional and meaningful content to visitors. Ask your visitors, how many of them are really interested in seeing your Flash Intro before going straight to your website content? Ask yourself whether the Flash intro is really useful and does it offer usable information to your visitors?

    There is a difference between “decorating” and “design”, akin to the difference between being a designer or being a stylist. Most designers these days are stylists, using a template as a basis and using pretty fabric to sell it so they’re really fabric sellers. Design is akin to engineering, resolving problems and enhancing communication. Decorating -or styling- means making things pretty -and there’s nothing wrong with that- but a site must be navigable, usable and functional as well as attractive. Flash isn’t; it doesn’t serve your long term interests. Also see “frames”.

  3. Don’t use frames. It minimizes the likelihood that others will forward your links, or if they do, that the recipient can find the specific page to which they are being referred. Give site visitors the option of connecting directly to a specific page on your site (the specific URLS should be visible in the address bar). Don’t force them to land on the main page and wade through buttons and submenus to find that one page. One of my favorite people (a great resource too) does this and it irritates me to no end. I link to him a lot less than I would because I have to include convoluted instructions to get the right page. Sure, there’s ways to harvest URLs from framed pages but I’d guess the average web user doesn’t know (or easily remember) the work around. This is too much work for someone who is doing you a favor.
  4. Do not disable right click. Yes, I know you have content people can steal. I have over 2000 pages of content that people can steal but I don’t disable right click. It irritates users, don’t force visitors to learn an entirely different navigation structure proprietary to your site. Besides, if people really want to steal your stuff, they can, one way or another.
  5. Music: I can’t believe we’re still having this discussion. The default setting is OFF! Anything else amounts to an auditory ambush or assault of those who are doing you a favor. This is the web equivalent of being the bully in elementary school who enjoys jumping around corners scaring little kids. If you insist on ambushing visitors with noise, don’t make us hunt around to find the off button. If there’s no off button (or it’s hard for us to find) or navigating to an interior page restarts the tunes, I’m out of there forever. If you don’t know these things are dirty pool, I’ll wonder what else you don’t know about getting products together that you should know but don’t.
  6. Please, do not use blue text on a red background (an example that includes adsense sins). It’s not readable.
  7. Do Not Hijack My Desktop! I will hate you. An example of that is Cheek Magazine but there’s many others. When I say hijacking my desktop, I am referring to sites that are coded to fill my entire desktop real estate. I see this as nothing less than unmitigated arrogance. Why do the designers of these sites think their sites are so fabulous that they have the right to cover up anything else I may be doing? If your site does this, don’t send me an email promoting your site because I won’t link to it (other than for illustration purposes), especially if I write you back and you ignore me.
  8. Splash. As with flash, skip the splash page. Whatever is this for? It’s dumb. I shouldn’t have to click a link to enter your site, I should already be there.
  9. And lastly ~sigh~ watch the javascript. As with flash, many search engines can’t read javascript codes so you won’t be indexed or found. Aside from your site rankings, this is beyond annoying because it makes it much harder for people like me to write about you because we can’t copy and paste your material in excerpts and you are not so wonderful as to be worth the effort of retyping it all. I’ll go to the next similar site on my list instead. Good grief, your artist’s statement or philosophical meanderings over your sources of inspiration are not so pivotal or seminal that you need to protect them with javascript. HTML (or XML) is best, leave javascript in external files.

Blog design irritants:

  1. The descriptive nouns used to refer to the updates you add to your site are entries or posts. An entry is not a blog. A blog is the whole shooting match. If you only have one blog, do not say you write blogs. You write entries. You can manage blogs, program blogs and design blogs but you do not write them.
  2. There is no crime in using blogger templates while you stretch your legs and learn blogging; blogger is a great solution until you decide whether you’ll stick with it. Properly configured, there’s nothing wrong with using blogger as a long term solution either. However, do remove the links in the sidebar that say “edit me” especially if you are a marketing and PR consultant who’s selling proposition is that you know how to harness the power of blogging to promote your clients. As a kindness to you, I won’t publish your url until your site has been customized and minimally, the “edit me” links removed.
  3. If you have a WordPress blog, do not force people to register on your site, getting a login that is exclusive to your site just to make a comment. If I had to get a login for every blog I visited, I’d never comment. If you have a WordPress blog and are wondering why you hardly have any comments, that’s why.
  4. Ditto for Blogspot blogs that require a proprietary login. If you’re not a blogspot blogger already, you can’t comment. You are limiting participation on your blog to other bloggers -and only blogspot bloggers at that- because most people do not have blogs or specifically blogspot blogs (and those of us who do, we can’t remember our login). Allow anyone to comment and enable comment moderation if you’re worried about spam. Again, I’m never surprised to see how few comments these sites get. The people most likely to spread word of your site are people who comment. If they can’t comment, they won’t return to your site or tell anyone about it.
  5. I still intensely dislike MySpace and LiveJournal. I won’t click on most of those and I’ll never add a link to one. They are some of the ugliest websites I’ve ever seen -with music to boot. These may be options to start but when you grow up, you’ll need a real web page for your product line. As above, the average person cannot contact you if they don’t have an account. Why would you eliminate potential customers? They want to buy your products, not buy into your crowd or club. Do you only want to sell to people you like? If not, then why do you force people to be your “friend”? Isn’t breaking the market hard enough? If you could kick the butt of the person most responsible for everything wrong in your life (or product line) you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a month.

Web usability:
Again, the fastest to read, easiest to learn and apply as well as least expensive good book on web design and usability is Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. And yes, I know that Jacob Nielson is the guru but he’s harder and longer to read and implement. Krug is down and dirty for people who don’t have a lot of time.

I found a quiz on website usability that is educational although I wish it included blogs too. I missed one question on the quiz and I think it matters a lot. The question (#3) was:

3. An expert review is:_________.

I picked:

Representative of real users

The correct answer listed was:

Relatively quick to do

I disagree because an expert review is only valuable in so much that it should measure and analyze real users behaviors and many experts assess based on their own behaviors being too far removed from the average user experience. I also don’t agree a good review is relatively quick to do if it’s done right. You have to survey users. I don’t believe one person peening the site through a vise will be accurate. Experts tend to behave in similar ways but neophytes employ endless variety in navigation strategies.

A similar problem is using yourself as the testing model. Just because you can navigate your site well, doesn’t mean others can. I mean, you designed the site so if you can’t navigate it then it must be really really bad. It’s like making a pattern and expecting a contractor or sample maker to have an easy go of it because you didn’t have a problem sewing it. Silly silly.

Also, don’t design a site to match your browsing preferences. I was talking to the right-click-disabled guy yesterday (a very very nice man) and he thought disabling right click was okay thinking that very few people use right-click for the “back” feature because he never does. He uses the back button in the upper part of the screen. In this case, disabling right click meant he was forcing visitors to conform to proprietary programming on his site, working the way he does, meaning they’d have to change their behaviors for just his site. Now, I can see doing it if your way is more efficient but do not force more sophisticated web users to use a less efficient method. If you expect people to alter their behaviors, your site had better be worth it -and few sites are.

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  1. Ayanna says: has exceeded their server bandwith…unable to see your example. Although, I do understand what you are referring to. Seen it a million times.

  2. Kathleen says:

    The site is back up but they took down the blue text! Bummer. There goes my example. I guess the site owner (who posted a spam comment to the blog) read my email about it.

  3. Eric H says:

    Getting ready to launch a website? Please check out Eric Raymond’s HTML Hell website:

    gratuitous animation
    With animations you get the all the wonderful injuries of the blink tag with the added insult of the graphics download time. People who abuse these should have flip books rammed into every bodily orifice until they figure out that a two- or three-frame graphics loop is even less pleasant than that.

  4. Amen sister! And thank you for bringing this up. If a site comes up with flash or music I turn it off if I can. If not, I use my back button to get the heck out of there. Ditto with animations. And Google ads drive me crazy! The one area that I’m still not entirely convinced about, though, is anonymous posts. I allow them now, but I have had some really heinous comments in the past. I am willing to put up with hate mail if the writer will ID themselves – I mean, c’mon – it’s the internet! People can say they are David Hasselhoff if they want. But getting a nasty comment from anonymous just makes me think that the poster is a gutless wonder.

    Hmm, can you tell you hit a small nerve?

  5. Oxanna says:

    Might I heartily second the suggestion to read the “HTML Hell” website? I have seen too many poorly-designed websites. Fortunately, the number of professional/semi-professional sites that are *well* designed is increasing.

    Oh, and here’s a personal pet peeve, for anyone who has online shopping: Don’t. Make. Me. Accept. Cookies. OK, let me modify that. Cookies are OK once I actually decide to shop for things. A clear statement (like, before I enter the shopping cart, or below the “Add This Item to Cart” button) that says “Cookies are necessary to place an order/add to the cart/etc.”, is OK. If it’s legible, and I want to buy, I’ll deal with the cookies. BUT, please don’t be like Old Navy used to be and require me to accept your cookies before even browsing the website. Pretty please?

  6. Gloria says:

    I know what you mean, and you make a lot of good points. I especially thought the Xangas (when they were popular) had some of the worst layouts ever, and I hate it when I need to highlight the text -to invert the colors- when text is unreadable.

  7. Heather says:

    Trendy ads that make the page fold down (newpaper site) or have some animated guy trying to get my attention at the corner just make me leave. And not come back.

    Ditto with music, it woke up a sleeping baby far, far too often.

  8. Jan says:

    Excellent post Kathleen!!!

    On shopping sites, I cannot stand when there’s no breadcrumb trail…so I can see where I am at all times and can navigate however I like, not just forward or backward. If I have to “backout” of a product listing by more than 3 clicks to get back to a main shopping menu or another sublevel, then I’m done! Here’s an example of a breadcrumb trail on my own site. Look in the left corner, below the header. This is as “deep” as you can go, but you can go back to whichever level you choose easily!

  9. Portia says:

    Ok so I pretty much agree with everything said about Flash and music, etc. Even more important is having sites be user friendly is a must. However, lol, there is one site that I think is just perfect. I know it’s in a different field because it is a huge fashion house in Europe, but it’s a website nonetheless, so all still applies. I find the music just quirky enough to actually highlight the intro. Once it is over, I can get lost looking at the different products available forever.
    I am especially fond of the magnifying tool when viewing items. You can really get in close to the garment and see the fabric and detailing that makes it cost what it does.
    Being a male designer of womens clothing, I get really frustrated with many women’s fashion sites because not only am I not wearing any of it but I also have to deal with all of the bells & whistles. Marni’site is easy to handle. If you want to skip the video and music, they have the Products & Moods tabs right at the top from the get go. You don’t have to wait till the “show” is over before you can start navigating. Once you click on a garment a pic of it blows up. Keep clicking on it. Amazing(?) or am I easily impressed? I can tell you that i’m anything but that.
    The designs may not be everyones cup of tea as it is high fashion, but this thread is about websites after all.

  10. Tricia says:


    I’m a new reader; a web designer who’s a home sewer. I was really pleased to see this entry as there are a LOT of really bad sites out there, although I haven’t seen as many bad DE sites as I have bad craft sites–there’s some truly awful remnants of the 1990s out there.

    I took the quiz you linked, and as a usability student found that it was pretty industry standard. I have to wonder if you’re looking at the “expert review” issue in the proper context–an expert review isn’t conducted by an expert internet user, but by a usabilty expert. They’ve been in the industry, have done the user studies with actual users and know the common flaws. When they do an expert review, they’re making the first pass at making your site functional by eliminating all the stuff that they already know (based on that experience) will be a problem.

    From what I’ve read on your blog, it’s more akin to you looking at a pattern and knowing that it won’t work based on the sleeve shaping or lack of interfacing, etc, or “proving” it (I think that’s the right term). Ideally, I’d do an expert review first (fast, could be cheap depending on the expert), THEN do user testing with real users, which can take a great deal of time. When we do the user testing, we try to find the internet expert users and the novices (in my case, my mother..), and if we’re able, people who are in the site’s target demographic.

    If there’s interest, I could post some examples I’ve done for school.

    Anyhow, thanks for your informative site; my passion is in a totally different industry, but you’ve made me stop and really think about things I was in the habit of complaining about without really thinking them through (sizing and fit being chief among them).

    I thought you might find this article interesting. The author is much more articulate than I am on the subject of Expert Reviews and how they compliment User Testing.

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