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malevolent design weblog

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

Bad Ideas That Refuse To Die

Over the years I’ve encountered some stubbornly persistent web site myths/mistakes. At the risk of offending past/present/future clients, here are the ones I get asked to implement most often:

Launching external links in new windows
There’s still a surprisingly widespread perception that new windows mean you can keep visitors on your site and therefore improve its performance.
Inappropriate use of dropdown menus
Fancy navigation that immediately exposes the site’s structure can be great for knowledgeable users who know what they want; it’s often a poor choice for introducing products/services, where you need to lead users through a process of gradual discovery and interaction.
All-Flash sites
Hybrid HTML/Flash sites are usually a superior option in the long run, but design-led businesses find it hard to let go of full control of text rendering, transitions, etc.
Important information in PDFs
“We’ll just stick all that into a PDF.” PDFs are great for printing and packaging up a large amount of content into a single file, but using them for core content is a mistake.
Splash screens
This one can be tough to deal with, but I try to find ways to combine the purpose of the splash screen (visual impact, setting the tone) with that of the home page (offering introductory content and navigation options).

A decent developer knows when they’re being asked to do something that might be a bad idea. A good developer can understand the reasoning behind the request, even if they disagree with it. A first-rate developer knows how, and when, to use that understanding to steer towards sensible solutions.

I don’t think any of us ever feel we’ve truly mastered that last bit.


The "launching external links in new windows" is an interesting one. Do you think that all external links on a website should just open in the same window? If so, isn't this to the detriment of the original site as you're effectively routing the user elsewhere?

— Bev, 24th Sep, 3:46pm

In my view, you should only use a new window if the user really does need to (and expects to) hang on to the original one (e.g. they're launching a preview from a CMS, or a guide that relates to what they're doing).

Yes, you're "routing the user elsewhere", but that's the whole point of a link and the reason they've clicked it. It's how the web works. If they want to return they'll do so with the Back button, which is easier for most people than manipulating multiple windows.

I also think many companies should be more confident, relaxed and generous about linking in general. If you show you're not afraid to guide people to useful information elsewhere (sometimes perhaps even on competitors' sites) then it makes you seem less insular and more a part of the web, and encourages site owners to link to you.

Matt Round, 24th Sep, 4:43pm

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