Don’t blink.

Blinking is notorious as the least justifiable behavior on a web page. (But don’t blame Lou Montulli, who came up with the idea.)

It’s also British slang for annoying.

I just looked up something in the online documentation for PHP. Pages are generally clean and usable as they appear in the browser, although there are a few poor practices if you look at the underlying HTML.

However. Take a look at a typical page. Below each formal section are (often useful) comments. Try moving the focus down the page different ways—scrolling, moving the mouse, page down. One comment at a time appears in dark colors. The other comments are pale and washed out until you move the focus to them. Then, over 0.4 seconds, they become opaque and readable.

And most of the goodwill from how well thought-out the rest is is squandered.

There is no reason to make text unreadable. And less still to waste the user’s time as they’re made readable.

Since transitions are new to CSS3, my guess is that programmers were playing. As they had in 1994 with <blink>.

Playing is fine.

Then someone in the room has to say it’s great to know we can do this if we ever need it. But we don’t now. So take it out.

Give us a sign

For my money, businesses never have enough signs. To answer: Where am I? Where is the section I’m looking for? Where are the bathrooms, an open register, the entrance by where I parked?

Signs should use words. Then color as a redundant cue. (Some people are color-blind.) Then icons. (Most icons aren’t as recognizable as .)

Use walls, end-caps, shelves, and the floor. While it doesn’t help the color-blind, I love the cue of colored tape on the ground I can follow from here to my destination. Well-designed maps, with You Are Here marked, a legend, and an index. A floor directory at each entrance, and in every elevator. Single-floor directories at the top and bottom of every escalator. A grid system.

If possible, when an item could logically be located in more than one place, put copies in both. If you can’t, put a sign in one place that directs customers to the other. This is especially useful when you have to follow a system that may not make sense to them. Continue reading

The Design of Everyday Things

I’ve always been interested in human factors. That is, ergonomics or usability. I think I’d first heard of it as a kid, as applied in the Gemini space program. Which guaranteed I’d want to know more.

My opening was in graduate school. The only class offered was in the Department of Agricultural Engineering. One assignment: Here’s a hall of farming machinery. Analyze the ergonomics of each vehicle’s controls and displays.

But it was Don Norman‘s The Design of Everyday Things that fanned my interest into a lifetime zeal for usability. He “places before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.” (1776, book by Peter Stone.)

Thence I rage at shoddy design. Especially when those subjected to it blame themselves. Oh, I’m such a klutz. I’m not that good with technology…. No, you’re not that good with poorly designed tech.

Norman is always worth reading. But for me, that first retains the glow of first love.