A Piece from the Archives

November 25, 2014 § Leave a comment


This is something I wrote a long time ago, that never got used. So I thought I’d give it a home here. Bear in mind that after two years, some things may have changed. The links still work though!

Too smart for your own good? The perils of overdesign

Remember when the epitome of online cool was a MySpace page covered in GIFs? If you still shudder to think of that monstrosity, imagine how you’ll feel about your ‘awesome’ website in 20 years.

Too much of a good thing is always a bad thing. My mother told me that and though she’s no web designer, she is exceptionally smart.

<blink>

The man often blamed for the creation of the <blink> tag (the HTML element that causes text to go all spangly) is Lou Montulli. Poor old Lou once said “the blink tag has to be the worst thing I’ve ever done for the internet” but to be honest, it’s up there with the worst things ANYONE’s done for the Internet. What allegedly began as a nerd in-joke rose up to blight the pages of MySpace for many years.

The problem with flashing text is that it’s just so distracting. It looks cheap, dated, tacky…and any other word commonly associated with a 90s sports bar.

<blink> is so hated that there are actually laws against certain usages of it. Several governments have guidelines for its use, mainly stating that it could be dangerous for web users with epilepsy. Good excuse.

Shockingly, there are still sites out there that use the <blink> elements; sites that have clearly been updated recently! Here’s a cracking example: Electrifying Times.

It’s never big news that Internet Explorer doesn’t support something, but if Firefox strikes an element off the record you know it’s time to let it die. Amazingly though, there are still people asking how to create the effect in other ways that browsers do support – um, why?!

Huge images

Yeah, a nice big open image with minimal text overlaid looks good. No one is denying that. But many people will never get to see how good it looks because they won’t stick around long enough for it to finish loading.

Quite aside from the load time, you should never forget that while a web designer might sit and stare at a good design for hours, most people will go “huh, pretty” then try to find the service or product they came looking for. Never put style over substance, NEVER.

Ludicrous page length

Unless you’re NASA.

If you have too much content, make another page. Not forever mind you – you will have to start deleting the old stuff at some point!

Lack of consistency

My absolute favourite bad website (in the whole world) is Fabric Land. At first, you’ll shrink back in alarm and maybe even give a little involuntary whimper – that navigation bar, those colours, the GIFs! – but give it a while. Click about, read some of the text – in a charming selection of experimental fonts.

What starts out as a hilarious monstrosity actually starts to grow on you like cute mould. Sure, every page is a different colour, there’s a GIF of a sexy bunch of flowers, and it appears that it’s updated by a different blind badger each time…but who cares?

Fabric Land are not claiming to know anything about web design. They just sell cheap fabric and that’s what they stick to. After several days of staring at this site I came to really appreciate its honesty and sense of humour, and I have to say I think it’s perfect for them.

HOWEVER. Please don’t do this. There can only be one Fabric Land.

Learning from history

Of course, we should never seek to entirely eradicate the past. CERN are currently restoring the first ever web page for historical value, and some companies keep their old pages hosted on their new sites. A great example is Lotus Marketing’s 1990s offering, complete with flickering GIF flames and marquee text – check out their current site by getting rid of the URL paths. Pretty different, huh?

We can laugh at, love and learn from the past embarrassments of an ever-changing medium but just because it seems cool now and everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean it’s right. The one cool rule that never changes? Make it easy and pleasant for the user.

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