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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Keeping It Stupidly Simple

Back in the 90s I was mostly working on web sites for small/medium-sized car dealership chains, and experimenting with browsers’ Dynamic HTML (JavaScript combined with CSS) capabilities. The former’s fondness for visual gimmickry led to requests to put the latter to use, so most projects ended up featuring some kind of special animated/interactive effect whether they needed it or not. IE 4 and Netscape 4 were pushed to their limited limits.

But no matter how careful I was with browser compatibility and reusing proven code, those effects always ended up taking up a hefty proportion of development time and were a major distraction during the design process. And eventually scripts would need to be updated to cope with new browser quirks and capabilities. Over time it became clear that the burdens were outweighing the benefits and the fun of trying new things, and so most projects were gradually steered away from DHTML gimmicks in favour of solid, straightforward graphic design. It was a shame to lose the clever hacks, but getting the interface basics right first undoubtedly produced better results.

Nowadays there’s a lot of hype surrounding AJAX techniques, usually involving little animated interface touches using XML requests behind the scenes to avoid page refreshes. There’s some great work being done, and I’m applying these techniques myself, but I’m sensing many developers are a bit too eager to embrace the additional complexity. Planning, testing and implementing nifty AJAXy interfaces tends to take longer (particularly if ensuring decent accessibility), and often that extra time would be better spent on less ‘glamorous’ design and coding improvements.

If you’re working on a project and a particular feature starts to feel complicated or dominates the process, change it or ditch it. Be very wary of nifty interface gimmicks until the HTML/CSS basics look great and work well. Keep it stupidly simple.


"solid, straightforward graphic design"

It never goes out of style, while a lot of the gimmicks are never heard from again.

hdw, 26th Apr, 5:06pm

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