Saturday, 19 June 2010

Usability

    If you are a dedicated follower of blogs you may have noticed a lot of template changes in those hosted by Blogger over the past week. Those crafty Blogger developers have released a new template editor and not surprisingly many of their writers have enthusiastically taken to it.
    This blog has remained as it is though. It uses a variation on the most basic of the original Blogger themes, called Minima Stretch. White background, full screen width black text, no images, no fancy fonts. The web as it used to be, welcome to 1998!
   So why, given that for a living I stay a step ahead of the cutting edge on these matters, have I retained such an archaic look and feel? The answer is threefold: clutter, accessibility and bandwidth.
   Clutter, because this for me is primarily about writing. The occasional picture finds its way in here, but the word is where it's at. Too many widgets, banners and animations take away from that focus. I want you to read the text and I don't want you to be distracted from it. Of course, the text has to stand up on its own, but that's a function of my writing and your taste, I can't blame the design if you don't like it.
   Accessibility, because I want this blog to be easy to read. I used to work in an industry in which it is de rigeur for web sites to have a black background. Against that the slightest funny font or indistinct colouring made them almost impossible to read. Some of the Blogger themes seem anxious to replicate this to the extent that there are blogs I follow that even I with my near-perfect vision I find almost impossible to read through their web interface. So black text on a white background with an easy-to-read font means this blog is as readable as it can be, nobody should come away frustrated because they couldn't see the text.
   And finally bandwidth. Most people won't notice this one being on super fast broadband connections, but the more stuff there is on a web page, the longer it takes to load. As a recent adopter of an Android phone I've had this brought home to me recently, loading a large page over a rural 2G GPRS link can be painful at times. A minimalist template like this one is about as quick to load as a Blogger template can be, meaning that browsers on slow connections get their word fix quickly.
    This has been a geeky post but I'm not sorry. It touches on my professional life as well as my life as a blogger so it's a subject I have some views on and I've unloaded them on you. Thanks for reading and next time you change your blog template bear some of the above in mind. Your readers will thank you for it.

16 comments:

  1. I know and I'm one of them...but, but, but,, they're so new, and shiney, and sparkley. That's one reason for the redesign, but the other was that my design was almost identical to two of my favourite blogs- yours & Erin O' Brien. I changed and now I spend my days trying to fix the template. But the simple white background is elegant indeed.

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  3. Living in the wilds of Canada, highspeed is not an option. We have a medium speed system using satellite technology and it takes a long time to load some of the widget heavy pages. I do agree and appreciate the black on white.. it seems very hard to get through a long post when the background is dark.

    I like a geeky post like this now and then. It shows you care about us; I like that!

    Hugs,

    Halle

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  4. I'm defaulted to a GPRS connection when travelling to the office on the train (100 meters from the track on either sie and you get 3g according to the telco provider maps, but not the the tracks themselves - go figure) so I also appriciate the minimalistic approach.

    After saying that as Claire says they are so shiny :) Not that I am using a new template, but I do have the Venice water image I took a couple of years ago as my title banner :) )

    Stace

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  5. It hadn't occured to me that my blog might be slow to load for other people.. it is quite graphics-heavy, but that's part of its function for me. If it feels a bit cluttered, I look at MySpace and wince; that looks so bloody awful. And if I want to get aspirational, I go and look at something like Fuck Yeah Bristol! -which is so uncluttered it looks like it should be in the Conran Shop. Do people live like that? Coo ur gosh.

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  6. My apologies if I've touched any raw nerves amongst the recently retemplated. Pay no mind ot the demented rantings of a frustrated techie. :)

    Claire, that comparison is praise indeed!

    Dru, you said it in that disemmination of your artwork and photography is part of your blog's function. Please continue!

    There's part of me that loves minimialist design furniture. For that I probably have a black polo-neck sweater somewhere. I can't help thinking though that if I did live like that I'd soon be surrounded by cool modernist surfaces covered in piles of randm cr@p.

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  7. A few of the blogs I like to read have white or pink text on a black background. It takes several minutes after I've read them, for the image imprinted on my retina to calm down and go away. It's similar to the effect of a flash bulb on the eyes. It drives me crazy. I think the people who have blogs like that, like the overall dramatic look of it, but they don't realize how hard it is on the eyes of their readers. I've found that the easiest on my eyes, is black text on a light neutral (gray, yellow,etc.) background. I agree with you about all the clutter distracting ones attention from the writing. Best to keep it clean.

    Melissa XX

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  8. On a bandwith related issue, I think, Jenny, you have your RSS feed options to only show the first NN characters of a post, which means users have to call up your full blog site to read the full post?

    Allowing the full post to go out by RSS allows ppl to aggregate via google reader or similar in plain text.

    Just a thought.

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  9. @Melissa: those are exactly the colourschemes to which I was referring. Beaten only by yellow-on-blue for annoyance!

    @Jess: You've exposed my techiedom. I deal with RSS feeds and clever ways to do things with them on a daily basis as part of what I do for a living. In a commercial setting the aim is to draw people to a site so a taster is all that is syndicated. This isn't a commercial site so there isn't really a need for that, it must have been just my unthinking professional reaction to set it thus. I'll investigate changing it.

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  10. You don't have a monopoly on being techie...

    I had the same concerns about RSS feeds not bring traffic to both my personal blog and my business blog - blogger now lets you put adverts in the RSS feeds, which means you still get the chance to earn a few bucks.

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  11. This is true :)

    Full syndication enabled now, hope that helps.

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  12. yeah, my trans blog is white writing on a black background... i always think about changing it, but it has such a 'feel' and over 4 years of history. *sigh* i should change it.

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  13. No, it's your blog, pay me no mind! My ranting about black backgrounds came from my days in the computer games industry and had as much to do with background textures and funny fonts in a misguided attempt to convey some mystery to fundamentally awful products as it did to the colours themselves. Simple white-on-black is still high-contrast, there was a time when all PCs looked like that!

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  14. i think it's a good point, though - white on black is not the best for accessibility.

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  15. There is a blog I follow that I love, but it takes an eternity to load. She has one of the new templates, twitter, countdowns, and much more. I find that I can't even comment there anymore, as the wheels start grinding when the verification starts loading.

    And don't get me started about photographic or patterned backgrounds!

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