About this site's lack of design: Yes, it's supposed to look this way — I'm using a sandbox theme for WordPress (see it on GitHub).

Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977

Archive for December, 2003

Design and Usability: Part 1

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, as a design­er I val­ue aes­thet­ics high­ly. How­ev­er at a certain
point aes­thet­ics clash with func­tion­al­i­ty – or more specif­i­cal­ly usability.
Some­times I wish I were a painter. No con­straints, no font size issues, no low
con­trast col­or com­bi­na­tion prob­lems, no acces­si­bil­i­ty or usabil­i­ty concerns
and no angry users to face. You either like my work or not, no strings attached.
But I’m not a painter, I design websites.

The dif­fer­ence between a paint­ing and a web­site will be obvi­ous to most. A
paint­ing does not require inter­ac­tion, at least not on a func­tion­al lev­el. I
can not use a paint­ing. I can nev­er­the­less enjoy or dis­like
a paint­ing (the same anal­o­gy is to some extend applic­a­ble
to motion pic­tures
). A web­site, on the con­trary, has a func­tion that carries
beyond its visu­al attrac­tive­ness. Web­sites gen­er­al­ly require (func­tion­al) interaction
of some form. The most feared and tena­cious embod­i­ment of inter­ac­tion being
the homo inter­neti­cus.

You know what? Humans are nasty mam­mals. Humans devel­oped to per­fec­tion their
apti­tude to bitch, whine, moan, com­plain, nit­pick, nag, crit­i­cize, grumble,
protest and dis­ap­prove. Iron­i­cal­ly though, with­out users (thus inter­ac­tion) my job
is rather use­less. Design­ing web­sites is (unfor­tu­nate­ly?) not exclu­sive­ly about
visu­al­ly pleas­ing users, it is also about lim­it­ing inter­fer­ence to effectively
deliv­er con­tent and enable effi­cient inter­ac­tion. The lat­ter is of course a
sim­pli­fied state­ment; the process is more com­plex and con­sti­tut­ed of more factors
and elements.

In “Design and Usabil­i­ty: Part 2” I will dig a
lit­tle deep­er and try to dis­cern some of the fac­tors and ele­ments relat­ed to
usabil­i­ty and func­tion­al­i­ty. Last but not least, prov­i­den­tial­ly, humans can
also adore, cher­ish, care, appre­ci­ate, val­ue, under­stand, real­ize and love.
It is with these thoughts that I leave you and wish you a Mer­ry Christ­mas and
a Hap­py New Year. See you in 2004! 

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The Art of Navigation

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

When build­ing a web­site there’s an inevitable moment when it is required you think hard about nav­i­ga­tion­al ele­ments. I’m not talk­ing about infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture here. Infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture usu­al­ly helps answer­ing the ques­tion: “How will this function?” (among oth­ers). Nope. I’m try­ing to answer the ques­tion “How will this look?” – pure­ly from a graph­ic design perspective.

The above men­tioned stage of the design process is one that I spend a con­sid­er­able amount of time on and par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy with­in any project. In this post I want to share my lat­est exper­i­ment on nav­i­ga­tion design.

CSS based navigation!In my quest for ele­gant, clever and nice nav­i­ga­tion design I decid­ed to let go of cer­tain require­ments. In this case I decid­ed to ignore a few usabil­i­ty (and acces­si­bil­i­ty) best prac­tices (note: this should of course be avoid­ed in real life imple­men­ta­tion).

How­ev­er, I’ve set myself a few con­straints which make per­fect sense, even in an exper­i­ment. This design should of course be con­struct­ed using the sounder XHTML and CSS com­bi­na­tion, as opposed to tables. Fur­ther­more, once CSS is dis­abled, a nice unordered list should remain. Oth­er than that the sky is the limit.

The main pur­pose of this design exper­i­ment is to see how far we can push CSS. Is it pos­si­ble to cre­ate the most com­plex nav­i­ga­tion (in terms of graph­ic design) and have it marked-up as an unordered list? The answer of course is “Yes!”. And there are a few design­ers who ele­gant­ly proved this point in the past.

As said and proved by many before – CSS can han­dle your wildest dreams. Unfor­tu­nate­ly we are cur­rent­ly only lim­it­ed by the pace of web stan­dards imple­men­ta­tion in mod­ern browsers (specif­i­cal­ly one brows­er, no names of course). This small exper­i­ment should work in most mod­ern browsers, but your mileage may vary. Com­ments are more than wel­come, but keep in mind that this is only a tri­al in design, not in prac­ti­cal imple­men­ta­tion as such.

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