Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Daring to criticise

As I said before, OnlineBlog recently criticised the design of Daring Fireball, and Jack Schofield, the author of the piece, was, in my opinion, a little too harsh in his criticism. Indeed, I would disagree with him on some points, so I’ve written my own blog entry on the subject.

The criticism about the small font-size that cannot be adjusted in IE is always a controversial issue. IE’s implementation is buggy, but if you use relative sizes that can be avoided. It’s a hack, but considering that over 90% of web users use the Infernal Exploder, and aren’t likely to change any time soon, it’s a necessary evil.
My other peeve with the site is its links. They’re the same colour as the text, and because they’re only underlined with a dotted line they’re not so easy to spot. They should really be in a different colour, with a more solid underline – this is the way links have always been be default and, as a result, users are used to seeing them that way.
OnlineBlog also criticises the huge block of text. Ideally, this should be broken down into sections with subheadings – most newspapers do this when dealing with long articles, particularly the tabloids which are aimed at people with shorter attention spans (this is what my English teacher told me anyway). In fact, the past three entries on this blog were originally going to be one entry, but seeing as they were about differing subjects I thought it would be easier for the user if they were kept separate.
Daring Fireball does do this, but perhaps it needs more. Alternatively, it could increase the gaps in between paragraphs. And if it had been me, I’d have made use of the Extended Entry feature and just had the first few paragraphs on the home page, rather than the whole lot, as all you need is 2-3 long entries and suddenly the home page is huge.
If he did do that, then I suggest he do the same as me an steals Tony’s idea by putting the number of words in the entry next to the ‘Continue Reading…’ link – that way the reader knows how long the entry will be and thus can decide whether it’s worth a read. In fact, in the RSS feed all entries have a word count (and number of comments if applicable) for this reason – an idea I stole from Mark Pilgrim.
The Google Adwords bar is also off-putting, mostly because of the difference in colours; however, I imagine that this is beyond the control of the owner of the site, and I imagine he has to earn money somehow. And besides, it’s far less obtrusive than flashing banners and popups, which the site fortunately does not have.
All in all, I think Jack was too harsh – the site looks good and its design is head and shoulders above most sites out there, including many that have been ‘designed’. The source code is clean, there isn’t too much clutter and it hasn’t been ruined ‘optimised’ so that it will rank highly in search engines. It’s actually pretty darn accessable, although the choice of colour scheme means that I don’t think it would go all the way (but feel free to tell me otherwise if that is the case).
Finally, to prove I’m not a hypocrite, I would welcome any suggestions about improving the design of this site. As a web designer, you have to serve not only the client, but the client’s customers, and if the customers can’t use the site properly then you have failed in your job. You guys are my customers – tell me what I’m doing wrong.

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