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1 June 1999

"[A web site forcibly] opening up new browser windows is like a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ash tray on the customer's carpet."
-- Jakob Nielsen
(personally, I don't view the practice that strongly, but I do basically prefer not to have new windows opened for me)

Interface criticism bonanza: Some extremely valuable new articles have appeared recently...

  • Interface Hall of Shame - QuickTime 4.0 [Isys Information Architects]
    One look at QuickTime 4.0 Player and it is clear that Apple, arguably the most zealous defender of consistency in user interface design, has abandoned its twenty-year effort to champion interface standards.

    While the graphical designer may be pleased with the result, the user is left in a state of confusion: unable to determine which objects are controls, which are available at any point in the interaction, how they are activated, where they may be located, and how basic functions can be performed.

    We should all be disturbed by this trend. Apple devotees should be enraged. Apple has amassed a dedicated following of users due, without question, to Apple's attention to the user interface and to the strict adherence to the basic principles of user interface design. If the user interface of the QuickTime 4.0 Player is an indication of the future of GUI design at Apple, Apple's leadership should certainly be worried. Without that attention to the user interface, there is no real reason for a dedicated following among its users.

  • A response to the above article from Bruce Tognazzini: Reader Mail 6/99 [AskTog]
    I echo almost all their comments. In two areas, however, I must disagree. I believe:
    1. It is OK to mimic real-world objects.
    2. It is OK to innovate, even when a new appearance is significantly different from what came before.
    The Quicktime player does both of these things; it just does it really badly.

  • Top 10 New Mistakes of Web Design [Useit]
    The more users' expectations prove right, the more they will feel in control of the system and the more they will like it. And the more the system breaks users' expectations, the more they will feel insecure...

On occasion, people I do work for will ask me where I learned to do this or that particular computer-y thing, especially since my degree is not in Computer Science. Other times people will ask me if I plan to go on and get an advanced degree of some sort. The answers are related:

I have learned (and continue to learn) by reading excellent discussions of principles like those linked above. And for the work I'm most interested in doing, it's my opinion that I learn more every day by reading, absorbing, trying and doing than I could by isolating myself and doing work on a thesis.

Regarding QuickTime, I have to say the playback-technology aspect of it is great; the Star Wars trailers in particular were a good showcase for how good QuickTime 4's encoding and decoding schemes now are. However, the interface is a completely separate matter; at first it looked pretty cool, but the Isys folks are right in pointing out that it is the victim of an astonishing number of bad design decisions that interfere with its user-friendliness (and, therefore, its efficiency).

I recently upgraded to BBEdit 5.1 from version 4.5, and I continue to be impressed by the folks at Bare Bones Software. The HTML tools have been overhauled, the grep functionality has been extended, and the menu shortcut keys are much more customizable than before. Add to that the improved Perl development environment and BBEdit continues to be the best <expletive> web page editor I've ever used. Well worth the price.

Moxy Früvous says their new album, "Thornhill", is coming out July 27 in the US & Canada. Bonus!

Product no one asked for: For $36, an Apple-branded wristwatch (with the old multi-color logo, not the new solid-color one) that says 'think different' and runs counter-clockwise. !!?

Available in white or black.

Um...none for me, thanks.

Carol Lay goes a very long way for a pun:

I'm not sure what I think of the rest of their programming, but I'd like to commend CourtTV for the 15-episode fan-favorites Homicide marathon. It's a great capsule of one of the best TV series in recent memory. I watched it off and on yesterday, and I taped it all; sweet stuff.

Does this page look different today? (Besides the monthly color change, that is.)

I made substantial modifications to this page's design yesterday, incorporating ideas from this page in particular (which I noted on May 5), in order to:

  • Get away from using the FONT tag (which was deprecated in the latest HTML spec and is basically inefficient and poorly conceived anyway)
  • Start using style sheets
  • Incorporate some better practices on the authoring side (which you won't see, but they're there)

After much tweaking and a little visual redesign, I've produced a page design that is compliant with the 'loose' version of HTML 4.0 (but am not going anywhere near the 'strict' version yet because of the lack of widespread browser support):

  • HTML 4.0 Transitional Document Type Definition [W3C]
    Authors should use the Strict DTD when possible, but may use the Transitional DTD when support for presentation attribute and elements is required.

    Authors should use the Strict DTD unless they need the presentation control for user agents that don't (adequately) support style sheets.

So, if your browser does not handle style sheets (specifically, some basic elements of CSS1), the bad news is, you will now see a bit less color and only one font on this page. The good news is, the newer features I'm using degrade gracefully, so that you can always at least see all the content, it's just not presented as spiffily as I intend if you use an older browser.

These changes will propagate backward to the older log pages over time as I get the time to review them.

If this page looks significantly worse than it did before, please let me know (include your browser version). My e-mail address is at the bottom...

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